My dear brothers and sisters, PAX!
In our efforts to try to update the Diocese of Quincy in all of its aspects of life and mission, I would like to share with you one of the biggest problems I see affecting our Diocese and of course, affecting the future of some of our congregations.
The theme that I would like to share with all of you is about the present and future existence of some congregations in our Diocese.
In 1877, the Diocese of Quincy came into being. In those days, congregations were established in towns, cities, and places where there were groups of people who lived and worked. There was commerce exchange, farming, expansion of communication through roads, railroads and bridge building, etc. These congregations were established to meet the various needs of the people of God in those days and in those places.
With the passing of the years, things changed. Where people used to meet, they no longer meet. Where congregations were growing and developing, now they are practically empty buildings with the wrinkles of time. People of all ages have moved and unfortunately, nothing was planned ahead of time to provide for a future alternative. Therefore, today we are confronted with the difficult situation that we have churches where there are no people and people where there are no churches.
In years past, providing for clergy was more viable with the ever growing economy, until we confronted the depression in the 1930s. This is where some of the problems began in our congregations. Today, we have congregations in those same places. Some of these congregations, unfortunately, can’t move forward any longer. There are few people in the pews. There is less money to support a priest. With the millennial mentality, it is pretty difficult to attract people that are not attracted to church. We are confronting a big dilemma, a painful and sad one. If a congregation can’t provide for a proper support for their clergy, that congregation can’t survive.
Indisputably, the Bible teaches the importance of a church’s financial support of its pastor. However, there are many questions that arise from the pastoral compensation issue. For example, what is a reasonable salary for a pastor today? What components should make up a pastor’s compensation? How should these matters be discussed between the pastor and the church’s lay leaders?
I Timothy 5:17 states: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.” Worthy pastors should receive proper respect and remuneration. Paul concludes in I Corinthians 9:14: “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live off the gospel.”
The means of the priest’s support should come from his ministry. Paul supports his conclusion with five illustrations: the soldier’s support, the vineyard keeper’s partaking, the shepherd’s sustenance, the ox’s eating, and the priest’s portion (I Corinthians 9: 7-13). Galatians 6:6 reinforces that basic truth of the necessity of providing financial support for those who provide a ministry to the flock.
I have tried hard to convey to the people in the pretty small congregations of our Diocese a simple yet painful message, congregations that cannot provide financially for their clergy will not survive in this Diocese. Wouldn’t it be better for neighboring small congregations in our Deaneries to unite with others to form stronger congregations? Shouldn’t the congregations concentrate not on trying to find money for their pastors as their first mission, but in working for the kingdom and being a stronger presence of kingdom-minded people in their neighborhoods? It is abusive to require a small congregation to provide a proper stipend in this modern society and it is also abusive to require a priest who comes out of seminary with tens of thousands of dollars in debt to minister to a church in decline with no future.
Wouldn’t it be better to abandon our comfort zones and be confronted with the reality that we need to take a necessary risk of faith and set aside what we understood to be a “glorious past” for a challenging present and a wonderful future for those who will come after us?
With the creation of new and stronger congregations, the challenges would be less overwhelming than those of a small congregation. The challenge for a small congregation is to endeavor to honor the priest for his diligent oversight and ministry of the Word by freeing him from the distracting material concerns of living on the edge financially. The church should consider his family’s need for housing, utilities, food, clothing, automobiles, medical needs, health insurance, life insurance, and his children’s education should all be taken into account as his compensation package is determined. Wouldn’t it be easier to handle all of this in a bigger and stronger congregation?
It is very difficult for our Diocese, as an institution, to assume the stipends of all the new clergy on a permanent basis because, in order to do so, the Diocese will need an increase of the financial support from all the congregations.
What can we do?
First, give thanks to God for sending new well-trained clergy into our Diocese.
Second, to realize that it is time to reorganize our Diocese and unify neighboring small congregations, assigning our younger generation of priests to places where they can thrive.
Third, give thanks to the Lord for those clergy who are in our Diocese for a long period of time, for their continued witness and sacrificial work for the kingdom.
Fourth, pray for the members of the small congregations in our Diocese that are struggling, asking the Holy Spirit to help them get on board with the plan we have for them.
What is the plan?
I am working with my Canon to the Ordinary and Canon Missioner and other members of my staff to put together a new structure that will help our Diocese move forward.
Right after Synod, I will be calling for a special meeting with members of the clergy that are taking care of small congregations, in order to put a strategy in place, that will help us address the decline and help form stronger congregations in our Deaneries.
Here are some Scripture verses for personal meditation or group Bible study to help us understand that we are called to grow the kingdom.
Jeremiah 23:4 – I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.
Matthew 16:18 – Jesus said …Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Exodus 8:1 – Thus says the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
Acts 2:47 – Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Joshua 6:16 – Shout; for the LORD has given you the city.
Isaiah 54:2-4 – “Enlarge your house; build an addition; spread out your home! For you will soon be bursting at the seams. Your descendants will take over other nations and live in their cities. “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.
Isaiah 43:4-9 – Because you are precious in My sight and honored, and because I love you, I will give men in return for you and peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east [where they are dispersed] and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, Give up! and to the south, Keep not back. Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth. Even everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, whom I have made. Bring forth the blind people who have eyes and the deaf who have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together and let the peoples be assembled.
Genesis 49:10 – … unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.
Bp J. Alberto Morales, OSB