Episcopal compensation is a quirky topic among AMEs. We have an official salary for bishops which is unrealistically low. Then, there is the “other” compensation. I went through much of my ministry oblivious to both the magnitude and the process of the “other.” Colleagues continue to act as though no one knows. The truth is: most know…hardly anyone knows “how much.”
So, let’s outline the package. The official budget salary is $63,067. There are travel funds ($21,022) also budgeted. A district may provide housing, a car, and other normal amenities, including office/staff. The Ecumenical Officer receives a housing allowance ($16,404) and an assigned administrative budget ($74,705). Now, the unspoken-not really a secret items:
1. Gifts from the Annual Conferences
2. Gifts from Planning Meeting, Midyear Meeting, and Christian Education Meeting
3. Honoraria from preaching within the assigned episcopal district.
4. Special Occasion Gifts: Christmas, Birthday, Wedding Anniversary, Preaching Anniversary, etc.
5. Miscellaneous gratuities and occasions like shopping outings (not as common these days, but I can remember key pastors taking shoes, suits and other items to their bishop).
In most cases, the Annual Conference gift is the heavy piece of the package. Historically, Bishops Richard Allen and Morris Brown received a set amount when they presided over an annual conference. This practice continued for a while before matters got out of hand. Culturally, many bishops considered the annual conference gifts like “class dues.” Presiding Elders jumped on that train, and we allowed “meeting income” to become compensation/gifts. (Let’s not digress.) For the sake of the future of our Zion, we must get a handle on the matter of compensation.
The 1956 reformers thought they had the solution. One bishop was quoted as saying after 1956, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” It soon became clear that the power of appointment and co-conspiracy of clergy/lay leaders would nullify the intended reforms. The code of secrecy and nondisclosure has made the actual amount received by a bishop a mystery, with the exception (maybe) of a predecessor/successor.
As the demographics of our Zion shifted, so too, did the compensation gap between bishops of larger/smaller districts. The result is fierce competition among bishops to serve in a specific district where the rewards are greatest. It is an honor to be a bishop in our church, presiding over any district. If they all are the same, why the strife? This is not a critique of the respect for leadership, or the generosity of the AME Family. It is a commentary on a malicious feature of our church which detracts from our gospel proclamation, loving service and liberating activities. Remove (minimize) the dollar factor, and we will see a very different environment around episcopal assignment and episcopal ministries.
Can we equalize the compensation? Not easily, though we can lessen the gap a bit by allowing one bishop to serve two smaller districts. Can we limit the abuse? Absolutely! Next blog post.