Over the last year I have been functioning as a semi-itinerant minister. While the majority of my time has been spent on my graduate studies, I have been doing fairly regular pulpit supply, preaching on average of slightly more than once a month, and officiating the occasional wedding or funeral. This experience has increased my appreciation for my professional association, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA). It has also strengthened my belief that the UUMA functions as a labor organization. It helps its members negotiate with congregations and other employers around working conditions and wages.
I find myself relying increasing on, and increasing grateful for, the UUMA’s Scale of Minimum Fees for Professional Services. This document has provided me with the leverage on several occasions over the last year that I needed to get paid more for my services than I might have otherwise been paid. It has also helped me get other ministers paid more for their services than they would have otherwise been paid.
Within the last couple of years the UUMA increased its fee scale. The going rate for leading one service is supposed to be $250. A lot of smaller congregation in New England seem to think that it is acceptable to pay ministers $200. I have decided that I am going to follow the UUMA scale. I do not accept any invitations to lead services that don’t pay at least $250. This has had an interesting impact. Twice within the last few months congregations have contacted me to ask me to preach and offered me $200. I have told them that I would only preach if they paid me according to scale. In both cases the contact person has then told me that they’d like me to preach but they need to go talk with the worship committee about the higher fee. And in both cases they have called me back a week or so later and told me that the committee has met and agreed to not only paying me the higher fee but to raise their preaching fee for other clergy.
I have found the fee scale similarly useful when negotiating with funeral homes. In one instance a funeral home needed me to do a service, the family specifically wanted me to do it, but the funeral home didn’t want to pay me all that much because they were paid through an insurance policy (which meant they got to keep whatever wasn’t spent on funeral expenses). I told them if they wanted me to do the service then I would only do it if I was paid according to the fee scale of my professional association. That ended the discussion quickly and resulted in me getting paid according to scale.
These experiences have reminded me that ministers are workers. When we remember this we can also remember that like other workers we have the power to withhold our labor and, by doing so, create better working conditions for ourselves and for our colleagues. The only reason why some congregations think it is acceptable to pay at a rate below scale is because some of my colleagues will accept that pay. If they stop accepting that pay then the congregations won’t be able to get away with substandard compensation. And what’s true of congregations is also, or especially, true of funeral homes and those who come to us to officiate weddings and other rites of passage.
My experiences have also increased my appreciation for the UUMA. While some of my colleagues complain about the dues rates I know that as a semi-itinerant minister they are worth every penny. The amount of additional compensation they have aided me in negotiating in the last year far exceeds what I pay annually in dues. And simply being grateful for the additional compensation doesn’t take into consideration all of the other things, like collegiality and continuing education, that the UUMA facilitates.