Fringe benefits may be great when you work for the Lord, even if the pay is sometimes meager.
About 1 1/2 months ago, the Schmitt family was in a bit of a financial bind. The Rev. Perry Schmitt is minister at the Church of the Nazarene in Provo. "The church had run out of money and had nothing to pay us."That's when a man from Delta stopped by with a check for $500. He told the Rev. Schmitt he felt impressed to do so by the Lord. "It saved our necks," the Rev. Schmitt said. "Yeah, you could call it a miracle. Or providence, anyway."
The Rev. Schmitt is married and the father of three children. He has a master's of divinity, an advanced degree that took eight years to complete. Besides his church work, for which he made $9,000 last year, he moonlights as a carpenter.
"We don't really worry about money," said the Rev. Schmitt's wife, Sylvia. "We kind of wonder sometimes when it's going to get here."
Welcome to the world from the other side of the pulpit, where professionals often preach for a pittance. In a modern, high-priced world, ministers often need a second job or a working spouse to support a life of applied faith.
"I would suggest that many of them are just getting by," said Rev. France Davis, of Central City's Calvary Baptist Church.
It takes financial sacrifice to answer the call, but a handful of Utah ministers say they aren't complaining. Tales of financial miracles abound.
The Rev. Dave Roberts, an ordained minister for 26 years with the Worldwide Gospel Church, says his average monthly salary is $500.
"I've always lived below the poverty level, but I still pay my taxes," said the Rev. Roberts, who resigned parish work last year and is now counseling with Deseret Christian Ministries. "My support comes strictly as the Lord moves on people to send it. I've always had just enough to live on."
"I ended up buying a house this year, only because two different couples just felt impressed by the Lord that I was supposed to have my own home. That had to be a gift from God."
In small, independent congregations, a pastor's salary might be the largest item in the budget, yet still below what most college graduates collect their first year out of school.
The Rev. Jim Wakefield, director of the Campus Christian Center, served as a Baptist minister for seven years. "When the congregation didn't give, I didn't get," he said. "There were many months when I received less than $1,000 for a 70-hour work week."
Second-career ministers, those who feel impressed to take over a pulpit after a successful career doing something else, say they rarely make up for their financial backstep.
"I'm not making as much money now as I was 17 years ago working for the state of Alaska," said the Rev. William Whorton of the Salt Lake Christian Fellowship in Sandy. "But I didn't go into the ministry for the money."
Clergy have traditionally received housing or a housing allowance, but it's only recently that churches started paying retirement and health benefits.
Many of Utah's ministers have to hold onto their day jobs out of financial necessity.
"I would guess that half of the clergy in Utah are `bi-vocational,' " the Rev. Wakefield said.
Father Bill Hartung, priest at the Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Christian Church, started teaching kindergarten in September at Ensign Elementary School. He taught elementary school for 17 years before he became a full-time clergyman, and returned for supplemental income to support his six children. His church has more ideas than dollars.
"There's so many things we want to do as a parish, I just thought it was the smartest thing to do at this time. We're trying to build a building. We've got all kinds of programs."
Pay in the mainline denominations can be a little more reasonable. In larger churches, most contracts forbid clergy members from moonlighting. National denominations often set guidelines, which local congregations consult before setting salaries.
Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans pay their clergy better than other denominations, according to Marvin Myers, executive director of the National Association of Church Business Administration. The association just completed a 370-page document from a national survey of church salaries in ten denominations.
In the West, a pastor who leads a congregation of several hundred people might receive a salary ranging from $24,900 to $68,000, according to the churches that responded to Myers' survey. He said church salaries are up about 5 percent from last year.
But national averages might not always be relevant in Utah, where smaller congregations struggle with financial burdens.
"Pastors seem to have a reputation for making lots of money, especially the television ministries," said Pastor Greg L. Sahlstrom, of the Hope Lutheran Church in West Jordan. "People probably need to realize that that's not really life. That's a very small minority."
The Rev. Davis said his family can count on two or three financial miracles a year. "Always. I have to or I wouldn't be able to make it."