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UUA issues new salary guidelines for congregational staff

Tenth anniversary of guidelines for fair compensation.
By Donald E. Skinner

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New salary recommendations for congregational staff, which take effect in January 2006, mark the ten-year anniversary of the first recommendations in 1995. The decade has brought significant progress toward adequate compensation for congregational personnel, says the Rev. Ralph Mero, director of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations Office of Church Staff Finances.

Traditionally, Mero says, many churches and synagogues assumed that people working for religious organizations were drawn by non-financial rewards. That has changed. “Economic realities now require that churches must give the financial aspects of employment a higher priority,” Mero says.

There was also a time, he says, when congregations were focused on arranging adequate compensation and benefits only for the minister. Today, he says, “it is widely accepted that all staff that work half time or more are entitled to adequate salaries and some employer-paid benefits.”

Other changes since 1995:

  • The UUA’s goal now is for staff working for UU congregations to receive base salaries consistent with those paid to persons of comparable qualifications who work for secular non-profit organizations of the same size.
  • Like other employers, churches now routinely adjust staff salaries annually for cost-of-living changes and merit considerations.
  • Female UU ministers earn salaries very close to those offered to male ministers, when adjusted for years of service and size of congregation. In many other denominations, there is a wide differential.
  • The UUA retirement plan and the UU group dental, life, and disability insurance plans have been adopted by many congregations for their benefit programs.
  • Congregations also have access now to the free services of trained volunteer compensation consultants in all UUA districts.

Providing employer-paid health insurance is still the toughest challenge for most congregations. “This is true across the U.S. religious landscape,” Mero says. “Many denominations scramble to find carriers to insure their congregational staff, or they create self-funded health plans.”

The UUA compensation recommendations cover ministers, religious educators, choir directors, organists, business administrators, office personnel, membership and volunteer coordinators, and custodians. The salary recommendations are developed by the UUA’s Compensation, Benefits, and Pension Committee and approved by the UUA Board of Trustees. The committee is composed primarily of laypersons with expertise in human resources, retirement plans, and personal financial management. Robert Messing is the chair.

Congregations are encouraged to aim for the midpoint of each pay range rather than the minimum. “The midpoint represents where a competently performing staff member would be after mastering the requirements of the position,” says Mero. “While the minimum may be a suitable starting salary for a qualified new employee, it is expected that most staff will grow toward the midpoint of their range within five years.

“It has been found that most UU religious societies see the wisdom of compensation patterns that are considered fair by both the congregation and its employees,” says Mero. “Over time, such patterns are conducive to better recruitment and retention practices, and to higher staff performance and congregational appreciation.”

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