Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Eng Ben Rafemoyo: Zimbabwe's Centralized Clergy Salary Payment System, the ‘Common Pool’

Today's post is by Dr. Eng Ben Rafemoyo, Chairman of the Council on Finance and Administration (CONFAD) of the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference (ZWAC). It is the third in a series on missional appointments and models of pastoral payment. See here for the introduction and here for the German model.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is one of the so-called mainline churches in Zimbabwe, with strong presence in both rural and urban areas across the country. The church employs both clergy and lay workers, and the pastors are on an itinerant appointive system. Salaries (base compensation) for pastors are determined through the use of a grading system that takes into account the individual’s training, qualifications, and years of service. In this, the hope is that some semblance of equity is maintained.

Until ten years ago, the payment of salaries and allowances was the responsibility of the circuit (charge) to which a pastor is appointed. The charge was expected to also care for the pastor’s housing, transport, communication, etc. However, the demographics and economic capacities vary from one charge to the other, with some circuits being financially poor to the extent of failing to meet these basic obligations. This was more common in rural areas than was the case in most urban areas. These disparities would obviously put paid to the achievement of equity and the general wellbeing of some pastors and their families. Given a choice in such circumstances, every pastor preferred to get an appointment a more able urban charge/circuit. With over 68% of the Zimbabwe population being in the rural areas, this is not possible; churches in the rural areas also need pastors.

Though pastoral work is not just a job but a calling, the pastor has responsibilities to provide for his immediate and extended family like any other person. Pastors serving in those impoverished communities would go for several months without a salary and/or allowances, while their counterparts in well-to-do charges would be better looked after. In the past, it was not difficult at huge gatherings, such as Annual Conferences, to identify those serving in impoverished rural circuits by their general presentation as compared to their well-cared-for colleagues.

No doubt, it must have been a daunting task for the Bishop and his cabinet to carry out appointments: Who do you send where? Because of those known disparities, those who were fortunate to receive appointments to serve better-off charges were viewed as being more favored, and of course those that ended up at poorer circuits were considered disliked by the leadership. Of cause these were mere perceptions and not backed by facts. Each change in appointment meant a change in one’s standard of living, either for the better or worse. Pastor’s children had to endure economic and social changes, with new appointments at times disrupting their education when the parents suddenly became unable to pay school fees.

Strategy to Deal with the Challenges
During Annual Conferences, year in and year out the matter of pastors’ salaries (base compensation) and the lack of equity consumed a great deal of time and energy. Being an emotive issue, such discussions would always end up in an antithesis of “Holy Conferencing”.

The Book of Discipline ¶ 624 provides for the following: “Each church or charge has an obligation to pay the base compensation, the benefits adopted by the Annual Conference, and other ministerial support (including housing) adopted by the Charge Conference, to its pastor(s)” No doubt this concept worked somewhat well in the past, but with the increased disparities among the charges in terms of financial capacities, the glaring lack of equity in base compensation and pastors going without salaries for several months could not be allowed to continue.

There was therefore a clarion call for a paradigm shift and the need to think outside the box. The church leadership considered a number of options and ended up settling for the introduction of the “Common Pool” centralized salary payment system for pastors. The benefits were obvious, among them the equitable base compensation and guaranteed salary payment to all pastors on time every month regardless of their geographic location. The pastor is able to focus on his/her calling and mission work instead of focusing on his/her economic challenges.

Like all new concepts and ideas, the resolution took much longer to implement than had been anticipated. Several years went by before there was a shared vision and adequate buy-in by all stakeholders. There was a time some were starting to feel that the resolution was never going to see the light of the day. Some of us were convinced that this was a good idea maybe ahead of its time, and at the right time, a shared vision will materialize. Indeed, this came to pass, and in 2010 the Common Pool was finally implemented successfully. This year marks the ten-year anniversary since the introduction of the Common Pool. No Pastor has gone unpaid since the inception of the Common Pool, we thank God. A total of 332 Pastors are currently benefitting from the new salary payment system. In the past, pastors’ benefits like funeral coverage and medical aid were not guaranteed, as both depended on the financial capacity of each circuit, let alone the pastors’ pension contributions. Now all these benefits are guaranteed as they are catered for through the Common Pool.

The Common Pool Funding Structure and Logistics
A 40% levy was introduced on the standard income lines, such as tithing, Sunday offerings, Thanksgiving, and any other undesignated funds. However, the said levy does not apply on designated funds and any such other special fundraising efforts by the charge, such as building funds, among others. Every charge remits the 40% levy on a weekly or monthly basis direct to the Conference Treasury, and the remaining 60%, along with the other designated funds will be used by the circuit to fund its mission work within the charge. On its part, the Conference Treasury Department, in close consultation with the Council on Finance and Administration (CONFAD), will put aside 25 – 30% of the levy towards the Common Pool. Salary payments for all the Pastors are then paid from the Conference Treasury directly into each individual’s bank account, at least by the 25th of every month. Other benefits such as medical aid and funeral coverage are also paid from the Common Pool directly to the service providers.

We are pleased that in spite of the economic challenges we are facing as a country—inflation and erosion of disposable income among others—the levy has sustainably provided capacity to pay salaries and benefits without fail.

The pie chart below illustrates the fact that the 40% levy stands out as the mainstay of the Conference income, accounting for 74% of the total annual income for the year under review.

Coming second as a major income line is the Harvest Thanksgiving at 15%, with the rest of the other smaller income lines accounting for the remaining 11% combined. We are hoping to grow this levy further in order to create capacity to cater for payment of all other allowances, such as transport, communication, office consumables, and the like. Currently this is already happening, where the Conferences pay the said allowances only in cases where the charge has failed to do so due to lack of capacity; we call them “unable circuits.”

If there is one major achievement we are proud of as a church during the last decade, it is without doubt the implementation of the Centralized Clergy Salary Payment System (Common Pool). It has worked for us, and we have no hesitation to recommend the system as a solution to address the many challenges associated with the decentralized obligation to pay the base compensation to pastors.

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