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Board of Pensions releases data showing benefits trends, gender disparities

The Board of Pensions has released an updated report on salary and benefit trends in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – a report that shows continuing evidence of gender disparities.

It also states that in 2017 both the number of ordinations and the percentage of those receiving benefits increased for the first time in a decade — a statistic that’s of interest in part because some predict the PC(USA) may be bumping up against a potentially serious shortage of ministers.

The report, “Living by the Gospel,” is available online and will be discussed at the Mid Council Leaders Gathering, being held in Chicago Oct. 5-7.  The 2018 General Assembly instructed the Board of Pensions to update the document annually and to distribute it to mid councils, Committees on Ministry, Committees on Preparation for Ministry and pastor nominating committees.

The new data shows the number of newly-ordained ministers participating in the benefits plan increased from 203 in 2016 to 218 in 2017. And the percentage of new PC(USA) ministers receiving benefits increased from 58 percent in 2016 to 65 percent in 2017.

All graphics from the Board of Pensions’ “Living by the Gospel” report. Click on each chart to enlarge. Or, download the original report.

Of the 218 people ordained in 2017:

  • 122 were women and 96 men.
  • The average age was 39.6 years.
  • 141 participated in the benefits plan, and 77 did not. Those who did not were disproportionately female — 51 women and 26 men.

The report also demonstrates significant gender gaps in salaries and ministerial roles, with the average salary of women in the plan being $56,173 and the average salary of men $65,367.

Nearly three-quarters of those serving as PC(USA) pastors or co-pastors are men. As of Jan. 1, 2018, of 3,855 pastors or co-pastors who were plan members, 999 were women (26 percent) and 2,856 were men (74 percent). Men in those roles also out-earned women — with male pastors or co-pastors earning an average of $67,983, compared to $56,937 for females.

Women outnumbered men as associate pastors – with 405 women and 316 men – but the men still out-earned the women in that position, with males making an average of $64,463 and women $62,910.

Last year, the Board of Pensions president, Frank Spencer, told mid council leaders that the board is looking for ways to “bend the curves” — to help more congregations be able to afford to hire ministers, and to give more ministers access to health and pensions benefits.

That work includes specific initiatives intended to increase participation in the plan, including Pathways to Renewal, which offers reduced dues when a congregation of 150 members or fewer that has not had an installed pastor or a Pastor Nominating Committee for at least two years calls a minister under age 40.

Spencer provided data on ministers whom the PC(USA) ordained, but who never join the Board of Pensions plan — data that revealed “real and distinct and disturbing gender disparity,” particularly in the job patterns for women, he said at the time.

The trend was this: For years, the PC(USA) each year ordained fewer ministers than the previous year. And each year, a smaller percentage received benefits.

That changed in 2017, with the number of ordinations and the percentage receiving benefits ticking upwards. It’s too early to say if that’s a blip, or the start of a new trend.

Of the 2,950 ministers the denomination has ordained in the last 10 years, the report states, 918 (or 31 percent) were ordained to positions that did not include Board of Pensions benefits. “Not only is that unjust, it is unwise, increasing the likelihood that these new ministers will leave the ministry prematurely,” the report states. “Indeed, our research shows a 50 percent greater rate of departure for ministers ordained to positions without benefits.”

The report also addresses concerns about small congregations that “find themselves in financial stress. Perhaps the congregation desires to call and install a minister as our polity envisions but feels it simply can’t afford it. The solution, in part, to both these issues is expanding the number of calls and the number of candidates simultaneously. ”

The Board of Pensions also has been trying to increase participation in the benefits plan by offering a menu of options for those who don’t participate in the full benefits plan as installed pastors. That could apply, the report states, to hospital chaplains, those serving in validated ministry or in new worshipping communities — some of whom may have benefits offered from other sources.

“The hospital chaplain may have wonderful healthcare options, but would benefit greatly from pension and death and disability coverage,” the report states. “The startup minister may get healthcare from a spouse and find pension payments unaffordable, but might love the opportunity to save in the Retirement Savings Plan, which features a subsidized, low annual fee. All of these combinations and more are now possible.”

Here are more findings from the report, which is based on research from the Board of Pensions and Office of the General Assembly.

Gender.  “A clear distinction exists between average salaries for men and women across all pastoral positions and congregation sizes,” the report states. “Congregations are driven by their unique circumstances. As a community of faith, we need to work together to help them be the best employers they can be and ensure that local compensation practices reflect the Church’s vision of wholeness.”

The report also addresses gender disparities when it comes to receiving benefits.

Over the past decade, “there has been a distinct gender disparity as to the provision of benefits in the PC(USA),” it states. “Women outnumber men ordained, 1,547 to 1,403, but men have obtained benefits at a far greater rate — 76 percent to 62 percent. Although there are areas of progress, the gender distinction in compensation is clear. … While the Board cannot know the individual circumstances and choices of those seeking a call, the overall pattern cannot be ignored. “

In light of that, Committees on Ministry need to “embrace a goal of gender equity in reviewing and approving terms of call for all ministers,” the report states.

Age. In 2017, nearly two-thirds of candidates for ministry and inquirers (62 percent) were in their 20s and 30s. “This continues a 10-year trend,” the report states, as from 2008-2017, more than half (55 percent) of those ordained were under age 40.

Salary. The most recent study, as of May 1, 2018, shows that the median annual effective salary of all PC(USA) minister members of the Benefits Plan serving U.S. congregations is $59,100, an increase of 1.9 percent when compared to $58,000 one year earlier. The average annual effective salary of these ministers is now $65,242, a 1.9 percent increase from last year’s average $64,015.

There are regional variations in salaries as well.

Congregational size. Most PC(USA) churches have fewer than 150 members, and these churches are more likely than larger congregations not to have an installed minister who participates in the benefits plan.

Only 474 ministers were serving the 3,331 PC(USA) congregations with 50 members or fewer, the report shows, with some of those serving as interim pastors or in temporary pastoral relationships.