I Think I’ll Pay The Pastor . . . Nothing?

I wonder . . . what do you think a pastor should be paid for a memorial service?

A friend asked what she should pay the pastor for her mother’s memorial service. Her mother was a long-time and devoted member of the church. I said, “Nothing.” I said being involved in a church meant the use of the church building and the pastor’s role were “covered.” In some cases, a person might pay for the musicians and food and other odds and ends, but the pastor was doing his or her job. Do you agree or disagree with that?

I added that as someone’s pastor, I’d prefer a personal thank-you card from the family over a check. However, I did mention that about $200 might be an appropriate payment to pay a pastor for helping in the death of a non-church member.

Interestingly, in the next week I helped a family with a death. Since I’m on leave, I’m not serving a church. Neither was the deceased, nor the family. I never mentioned payment, but received a lovely note and check for . . . $200.

Interesting for different reasons, I got an out-of-the-blue call this week asking me to do a memorial service. Without hardly a word of introduction, the caller told me about his now-deceased sister and what time they needed me and . . . I finally slowed the barrage of fractured explanations to clarify the situation. As I learned more, I recalled a memorial I did for this family several years ago. They never paid me then. What will I say to them now about any fees?

So what do you think? Should a church member pay? A non-church member? And by the way, I always feel awkward in talking to anyone about any payment. What about you?

20 Comments

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20 Responses to I Think I’ll Pay The Pastor . . . Nothing?

  1. Joy Cole

    As a retired pastor’s wife, I have to respond to this. In most denominations pastors get paid for weddings. So I’ve never understood why they don’t get paid for funerals, especially those that involve as much time as a wedding rehearsal and wedding do. In the Moravian church, the funeral includes a sermon-length memoir, outlining the person’s life and using many memories and comments from the family – which usually is a meeting lasting several hours and then quite a few extra hours writing the memoir. And with a death, the pastor has to drop everything, rearrange his/her schedule and work with the family at their convenience. So yes, I think pastors should get paid for funeral. I think when you get a call for a non-member, part of the initial discussion is: My fee for a funeral is $200.” Your time and talents are just as important as any self-employed person!

    • Larry

      Joy: thanks for the response. I would guess no denomination has a policy for wedding/funeral payments to a pastor. More, that it’s up to individual clergy to decide. I didn’t “charge” any church member for weddings, funerals, baptisms. Many did volunteer to pay me and I usually put the money in a pastor’s discretionary fund. But do you see a wedding or a funeral for a church member “above and beyond” what a pastor does within his/her congregation? As noted in the brief essay, I struggle with what to “charge” non-members. For me a funeral often took from a few to twenty or more hours for prep…but I did see it as part of my “job.” I really am curious how others deal with this…

  2. Bruce W. Marold

    This must be a fading intuition. My mother always remembered that the pastor got an honorium (makes it just a bit less painful when you say it) for officiating at a funeral. But I had two ordained pastors conducting mine, plus the church organist and a specially contracted vocalist. The church and church pastor were covered by the funeral home’s schedule of services, which covered use of the building, the pastor, and the organist. I paid extra for the second pastor and the vocalist. I rather like the fact that the Funeral home does that. It limits all the “business” matters to a single representative, who is probably really good at making it all go down as painlessly as possible.

    • Larry

      I’ll be careful here, Bruce . . . but I assume you mean you paid the pastors for your mother’s funeral…but not yours…right? When you said you had “two ordained pastors conducting mine” I hoped I was reading that wrong, and that you’re not commenting on my blog from heaven!

      I do appreciate the funeral director’s taking care of the “business,” but I’ve always been intrigued by the wide variety of fee amounts. Some are miserly; others generous. And I would guess the majority of payments I’ve gotten from a funeral home were linked to services for folks who weren’t church members.

  3. Joy Cole

    I like the idea of the honorium. Hal would probably answer this question quite differently since he was the pastor. I think he saw it as part of his responsibilities and I do understand that. However, with a funeral, a pastor has to drop anything previously planned and the mourning family becomes the priority. I personally feels the amount of time he spends on this needs to be acknowledged (which is why I like the “honorium” idea.) It would be nice if more funeral homes would addres the expenses within the church, but that doesn’t happen down here. Also, the salaries of many of our Moravian pastors in small churches are so poor that any extra money is badly needed.

  4. Brian

    I like the word honorarium, as Bruce mentioned. I learned this word in my event planning class this summer. It basically is saying “Pay up!” in an unobtrusive way.

    • Larry

      Brian…thanks for your thoughts. And I think most people (though not all) really prefer to be told what the “honorarium” would be. As Joy said in another comment, pastors can easily be taken for granted.

  5. Joy Cole

    Re: weddings. My home Presbyterian church had a list which the pastor gave to us when we approached him about our wedding. It told us how much to give the pastor, organist, custodian, and what was expected of the family as far as helping the custodian! I’m sure that was a local board decision (not denominaton) and frankly, I liked the idea. It took the guessing out of it. Re: funerals of non-members. Quite honestly, I think they’d use any pastor just to get it accomplished – same as non-member weddings. So I think announcing a fee is quite appropriate. I guess after 40 years in the ministry, I’m just tired of seeing pastors taken for granted.

    • Larry

      I think weddings are easier to deal with regarding reimbursement. And often, in a memorial or graveside service, there are only a few “professionals” involved (pastor and maybe music) compared to a wedding. Weddings…yikes, don’t get me started. Still, as I’ve mentioned, I have tended not to “charge” church members…though even the smallest church I’ve served (rightly) expected members and non-members to pay for the custodian, musicians etc…

  6. What an interesting dilemma, Larry. To be honest, I never really thought about it, mostly because I’ve never had to (thankfully!) but your time is just as valuable as anyone else’s and I’m sure this does take a significant amount of prep time — you should be compensated. Me personally, I’d probably go for a sliding fee scale. Perhaps a thank you note would suffice for poorer families (or say, a sudden death of the breadwinner), but I’d have no problem requesting a $200+ honorarium or church donation from families that I know could afford it — members or not.

    It IS a terribly awkward matter, isn’t it? It’s not really something you want to bring up before, during the time of grief, but slapping the family with a bill in the mail two weeks later seems callous too. Ideally, the fee should be broached by the funeral director or church secretary but if they approach you directly, gosh…can you refer them to your wife for scheduling? Is she the type that could just come out and say something?

    • Larry

      Jen…thanks for your comments. The whole “payment” (or fee, honorarium, etc) for pastors can be very interesting. I had to laugh out loud when you mentioned my wife. Should would NEVER handle any scheduling for me, among all kinds of other things she wouldn’t do. And I wouldn’t want her to do. Her mother was also a pastor’s wife and handled music, teaching Sunday school, cooking, organizing…all for the church. But times have changed!

      • Heehee! I only say it because every time I’m faced with an awkward situation such as this, my husband is always “You want me to do it for you? I’ll do it. I’d love to do it!”

  7. Becky Goodwin

    I think we should ask people to pay the pastor on these occasions. For the record, since I know how it is from the pastor’s perspective, I made fairly good offerings to the church that hosted my husband’s memorial, and the pastor who presided. A different pastor presided for the burial a month later, and I paid her well, too.

    Whether it’s the happy occasion of a wedding or the sorrow of a death, it absorbs a pastor’s time way beyond normal. It really helps if the church has a printed brochure with “suggested offerings.” We had a nice hand-out at UMC Rancho Cordova that I used when I met prospective couples. I wrote it in nice language that included a “We will work within your overall wedding budget” disclaimer. This enabled us to reduce amounts greatly for the poor. But it caused no problem at all to the couples who were doing typical weddings. Nobody ever complained. The church part of the typical wedding budget is sometimes less than the bride’s gown! We should not be timid about this.

    • Larry

      Thanks Becky. Good points all. You (like me) are an “insider” with weddings and funerals, and know the time, work, disruption, etc. A part of me still thinks, especially with funerals/memorials of church members, that they are already “covered.” But I understand the various viewpoints. I enjoy what our colleague Steve Lundin once told me regarding weddings he did…

      A couple would ask, “How much do you charge, pastor?”
      “Tell you what, just pay me 10% of the wedding’s costs,” Steve said with a straight face.

      They would usually stare in shock. He told ‘em he was kidding. Mostly…!!

  8. Gail

    The pastor at the nursing home knew my mom for 11 years.
    I have asked him to officiate at her graveside memorial service next month and I plan to give him $100 for his trouble. The family will be going out afterwards for a meal at one of the local restaurants. Should I invite him to go and do I need to pay for his meal?

  9. John Esse

    In the ELCA the job description for a pastor is to baptize, confirm, marry and bury for all congregants. That is almost always stated in the congregation’s constitution. If any honorarium is given, it really belongs to the congregation.

    • Larry

      John…

      Really? But when you say “almost always stated”…does that mean the church may choose not to include it?

      But I think I like that it’s included, as a reminder to pastor and congregation of their shared work in the baptizing, confirming etc.

      Thanks for the comment!

  10. I’M JUST NOW READING THIS AND WHAT AN INTERESTING SUBJECT! I ASKED A FAMILY MEMBER, WHO HAPPEN TO BE A PASTOR, TO READ THE EULOGY AND BOTH OF MY PARENTS MEMORIAL SERVICE. HE WAS USE TO PUBLIC SPEAKING AND DID A FINE JOB. IT WAS ALL WRITTEN OUT FOR HIM AND HE DIDN’T HAVE TO PUT MUCH WORK INTO IT, OTHER THAN READING IT BEFORE HAND. THIS WAS BACK IN 1987 & 89.
    I GAVE HIM AN ENVELOPE WITH $50 IN IT AND THANKED HIM FOR DOING SO WELL. I THEN SAID IF HE FELT ODD ACCEPTING THIS, TO PLEASE DONATE IT TO WHAT EVER HE CHOSE. SMILING, I SUGGESTED HE TAKE HIS CHILDREN TO McDONALDS.

    I HAD NO IDEA IF THIS WAS RIGHT OR NOT. PEOPLE TRY AND DO THE BEST THEY CAN.

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