I recall spotting the best man striding purposefully towards me. It was after the wedding service, but before the reception had begun. He was pale, skinny, and so (so) young! In a tuxedo looking like heâ€™d co-starred in a teen slasher film that ended badly and predictably at a prom, he stopped in front of me.
â€œThanks,â€ he said, â€œfor doing Tommyâ€™s wedding.â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome.â€ (I donâ€™t remember the groomâ€™s name, but why not Thomas? Tommy to his pals.)
â€œHe wanted me to give you this.â€ The best man reached into a jacket pocket and then handed me a folded envelope.
â€œGotta go take pictures for the wedding party thing,â€ he said. â€œBut thanks, again.â€
I slipped the envelope in my Bible. Since the wedding was for the granddaughter of one of the long-time church members, I knew quite a few in attendance. I socialized, soon moseying over to where pictures were being taken and posing for a friendly photo with the new newlyweds. The reception followed. Boring me, I left early.
It was on the way home that I glanced at the envelope.
No note. No thank-you card. Other than my name block-printed in purple ink on the outside, nothing personal. There was cash inside: a Hamilton and three bucks. â€œHamiltonâ€ is the slang based on the guy depicted on the currency. Alexander Hamilton, one of Americaâ€™s Founding Fathers, may currently be better known because of the Broadway musical.
Mr. Hamilton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is worth ten dollars.
I was given $13 in cold cash by a skinny kid in a shiny tuxedo.
Hey, I wasnâ€™t in ministry for the money!
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Based on the number of comments from multiple years, one of the most popular posts* on this site wondered about how much to pay pastors for ceremonies like weddings and funerals. In the Internetâ€™s vast and restless ocean of web pages, there arenâ€™t many who care about my faith-based pontificating. However, several â€œstrangersâ€ have stumbled onto my digital beach, their search engines hinting that I may have the answer to a troubling question:
What should I pay the pastor?
After all, a minister will soon help my beloved and I declare, â€œI do.â€
Or, a minister is burying Grandpa next Saturday.
A friend (and fellow pastor) told me his standard response when asked by couples about how much he charged for weddings. He then served a congregation in a popular California zip code. Many out-of-towners wanted their ceremony in his picturesque sanctuary. Heâ€™d tell â€˜em, â€œI have no set fee. Just pay me ten percent of whatever the wedding will cost.â€
Many out-of-towners wanted their ceremony in his picturesque sanctuary. Heâ€™d tell â€˜em, â€œI have no set fee. Just pay me ten percent of whatever the wedding will cost.â€
He was joking. Iâ€™m sure it was his way to start a discussion about finances during the pre-marital counseling. Then again . . .
At that church where I was handed thirteen bucks for a wedding, several retired ministers were in the congregation. One had been in Reno, Nevada right after World War II. He received calls 24/7 from eager couples desperate to exchange vows. Overwhelmed by the requests, he prepared a packet that included practical advice for newlyweds, information on personal finances, a brochure about sexual intercourse (whoa!), and the fees for him to perform the ceremony. (Witnesses and music cost extra!)
Now thatâ€™s organized!
Some churches Iâ€™ve served had guidelines for building use by outsiders; details for weddings and funerals were clearly spelled out. Other churches left decisions up the minister.
Iâ€™ve always assumed if you were a church member, you had no â€œobligationâ€ to pay. I was your pastor. For others, I often asked that people pay me what they could, but to make the check for the Pastorâ€™s Discretionary Fund. Wedding and funeral â€œincomeâ€ contributed to the churchâ€™s support for those in need.
If youâ€™re a pastor reading this, what do you charge? Does it matter if the person is a church member? Does it matter if itâ€™s a fancy wedding or a simple graveside service?
If youâ€™re a layperson, how much do you think pastors should be paid for a wedding or funeral?
Along with thirteen bucks, Iâ€™ve been paid with:
- A case of beer.
- Bottles of wine.
- A plate of cookies.
- Nothing (at times intentionally, other times . . . not!)
- Lovely notes.
- Gift certificates to restaurants.
- A couple of twenty-dollar bills warm from an ATM.
- $1,000 check.
What am I worth as a pastor? How often have I said, and meant every word, pay me what you are able? Is it fair to put the decision back on those seeking my services?
Occasionally, Iâ€™ve thumbed through magazines devoted to â€œperfect weddingsâ€ and found nothingâ€”or nearly nothingâ€”on the clergyâ€™s role. Weddings involve fancy clothes, exquisite food, memorable honeymoons, and . . . oops! Does anyone know someone who can do the ceremony? Now, in a lot of places, anyone can legally marry the couple. Complete an online form or two and youâ€™re ready to say, â€œDearly beloved, we are gathered here today . . .â€
And yet people who arenâ€™t part of churches, or who simply wish to do what is right, want to know how much to pay for â€œservices rendered.â€
- This is my best answer: ask the person doing the ceremony. Donâ€™t be shy!
- My second-best answer: based on what you can pay, overpay her or him! (Hey, Iâ€™m biased and most clergy arenâ€™t getting rich!)
- My third-best answer: give yourself.
Which is to say with #3, tucked in my desk, are notes thanking me for being a part of a personâ€™s life during a wedding or funeral. Or thanking me for a sermon that touched their heart or a prayer in a hospital shared during a crisis. Personal notes are treasures.
And that case of beer on the list of what Iâ€™ve been paid? Years ago, I had next-door neighbors barely making ends meet. We had some fun (and cheap) dinners together. We swapped stories about this and that, including the beer I enjoyed drinking after a backpack. They asked me to marry them. It was a simple, lovely ceremony. And because their finances were tight, I got a case of my favorite brew. Back then, it likely cost a Hamilton, give or take a few nickels.
Iâ€™ve done bunches of weddings. I still think about the couple that lived in the apartment next door and their generosity.
* My earlier “popular” post about paying pastors is HERE.
Image is actor Rowan Atkinson from 1994’s â€œFour Weddings and a Funeralâ€