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U.S. bishops prepare to tighten belts with salary cut

United Methodist bishops are reducing their salaries, but not their giving.
A UMNS photo illustration by Mike DuBose.

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 10, 2009

Bishops (from left) John L. Hopkins,
Elaine J.W. Stanovsky, Felton E. May
and Peggy Johnson gather in a
small group during the November
Council of Bishops meeting.
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

In a day and age when just having a job is the new raise, it came naturally to the spiritual leaders of The United Methodist Church to take a pay cut.

“It’s as plain as the nose on your face,” said Bishop Peggy Johnson, Philadelphia Area. “It makes perfect sense.”

In less than two months, Johnson and her fellow 49 active U.S. United Methodist bishops will open smaller paychecks and see about $5,000 less in 2010.

Last May, the bishops voted to forgo a raise for 2010 and roll their salaries back to the 2008 level. Their annual pay will drop from $125,658 to $120,942 beginning Jan. 1.

“It is a great opportunity to be in solidarity with a lot of our churches,” she said.

“I say we should keep it the same for five more years. But that’s not very popular,” she added.

Churches rocked by economy

The lingering recession has caused pain throughout the country, with unemployment rising above 10 percent for the first time since 1983. In The United Methodist Church, apportioned funds were down $4.7 million and Special Sunday offerings were down $286,000 in 2008, the General Council on Finance and Administration told the Council of Bishops earlier this month.

United Methodist general agencies receiving apportioned funds have made significant reductions in staff and will not increase salaries in 2010, said Moses Kumar, top executive with GCFA.

Bishop Julius C. Trimble, Iowa Area, said the bishops’ decision to lower their salaries isn’t so much a sacrifice as an opportunity to “practice Christian generosity.”

Bishops and most Americans are wealthy by the world’s standards, he said. “If you can eat two meals a day for five consecutive days and you own more than one pair of shoes-- you’re wealthy.”

Bishop Peter D. Weaver, Boston Area, said he did not go into ministry for a salary. “I went into the ministry to serve Jesus. So whatever is the physical remuneration is very secondary to the spiritual remuneration that we get in following Christ.”

He said the decision to take a lower salary was important and was a “small” way to stand in solidarity with many who are experiencing economic challenges.

Good intentions

The cuts mean the bishops will tighten their belts and adjust their family budgets.

“We (will) re-evaluate our family budgets and think about what we can do and what we can do without. And it will have some impact on all of us. A lot of people are hurting. And we recognize that,” said Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president-elect of the Council of Bishops.

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What will not be cut is giving.

“All of us know that we have a tendency to live at the level of our income,” said Bishop Alfred Gwinn, Raleigh Area. “But this is a wonderful time to rethink why we spend the money that we spend and how we might redirect that to more meaningful causes. So I think it’s an opportunity to grow spiritually in a personal way and an opportunity to lead in a spiritual way.”

The money trimmed from the bishop’s salaries will go into the Episcopal Fund because the 2008 General Conference has already approved the budget for 2009, said Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Los Angeles Area. That was not the intention of the bishops, she said.

The bishops wanted the money used for ministries of the church such as the Central Conference Pension Initiative, a program providing retirement funds for clergy and their spouses in Africa, Asia and Europe. In Africa, most retired clergy live in poverty because they do not receive any pension funds even after serving for more than 40 years in the church.

At the November council meeting, the bishops voted to ask GCFA to explore ways their salary cuts can be directly deposited in ministries such as the Central Conference Pension Initiative or the Global Health Fund.

Giving back

Swenson said the financial realities started hitting about a year ago. Before the council could gather to make recommendations, Swenson decided to give her 2009 raise back to the annual (regional) conference.

“The first thing I did in 2009 was calculate how much my pay increase would be over 2008 and wrote a check to the annual conference for that amount in January. It was my personal giving.”

Johnson, who was elected a bishop in 2008, said she always gives away the extra money she receives.

“I was making a little better than minimum salary before I became a bishop,” Johnson said. “So I received a fantastic raise the minute I was elected. I’m just not used to having money anyway. So I don’t miss it all.”

* Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Bishop Peggy Johnson: "Whatever I have that I don't need I give away anyway."

Bishop Julius Trimble: “One of our roles is to practice Christian generosity.”

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