Clergy Salaries

Interesting piece from here. Is the last sentence of this article still true to this day? I was always under the impression that it was.

“… recently, I took another look at the 1916 Census of Religious Bodies, conducted by the US Census Bureau. The census includes data on numerous aspects of American Orthodox church life in the mid-teens, including clergy salaries. Of the seven Orthodox groups reported in the census, six — all but the Syrians — provided data on clergy pay. Of those six bodies, three — the Albanians, Bulgarians, and Romanians — provided salary information on just two priests apiece:

* Albanian priests averaged $780/year, or $15,187 in 2009 currency.

* Bulgarian priests averaged $850/$16,549.

* Romanian priests averaged $570/$11,098.

Obviously, the sample sizes are small, but it’s clear that none of these priests were making much money. Here is the data for the larger groups:

* 93 Greek priests reported an average of $913/year, or $17,776 in 2009 currency.

* 149 Russian priests reported $762/$14,836.

* 11 Serbian priests reported $1050/$20,443.

The average salary for all American Orthodox priests in 1916 was $828, equivalent to just $16,117 in modern terms. (Inflation data courtesy of I should emphasize that these numbers are based only on the clergy who reported their salaries to the Census Bureau; other priests did not report, including, as I said, all of the Syrian clergy.

Obviously, the 1916 salaries are startlingly low. Even the Serbs — the highest-paid group — were scraping by by modern standards. However, things were quite a bit different in 1916 than they are today. Many parishes had rectories or parsonages, so a lot of these priests didn’t have to pay for their housing. Some of our biggest expenses — health care, transportation, various forms of insurance — would have been minimal 94 years ago. And while I don’t have any hard data to support this, it’s my impression that a higher proportion of clergy were unmarried in 1916 than in 2010.

In addition to all those facts, there is a high probability that the reported salaries don’t include honoraria for weddings, baptisms, funerals, house blessings, and the like. In other words, simply taking the 1916 base salaries, plugging them into a calculator, and figuring out their modern equivalent, is not really an accurate way to determine how well American Orthodox clergy were actually compensated in 1916.

Beyond the seemingly low numbers overall, I was struck by the fact that the Russian clergy reported significantly lower salaries than their Greek and Serbian counterparts. The Russian Church in America was substantially subsidized by the Russian government in 1916, whereas the Greek and Serbian parishes primarily relied on local funding. Nevertheless, the Russian clergy were among the lowest-paid in America.”

[This article was written by Matthew Namee.]


5 thoughts on “Clergy Salaries

  1. Labor productivity counts, too, not just purchasing power.

    All attempts to measure the “general price level” have flaws because there’s no such thing. The purchasing power of the currency unit consists in the totality of goods and services for which that unit can be exchanged. Rather than try to compare 1916 and 2009 salaries–or New York City and Podunk salaries–we’d be better off seeing whether the clerical salaries are reasonable for a particular locale, probably on a diocesan or deanery level.

  2. George, You must mean the average GREEK-American priest’s salary… The Serbian Church of the United States and Canada calls for a minimum salary of $1600/mo. for priests. And that’s now, in 2010!

    The average salary of Serbian priests in this country is closer to $2000 per month, regardless of years of service or community size. $24,000 per year, before taxes. (Yes, priests must pay income taxes as well) In other words, the average Serbian priest in this country with a wife and two kids is living below the poverty level of $22k per year. And, sadly, the same can be said of many other jurisdictions as well.

    But, isn’t a priest an educated, trained professional in a specialized field? Not to mention on-call 24/7/365. When considering his counseling responsibilities alone, how much do you think a good priest is worth? Who would even go to a secular psychiatrist or family counselor who commands only $10/hr?

  3. We need to keep in mind that in 1916 the American dollar was really worth something. It could probably buy about 20 times more than it can buy today. Of course, inflation has skyrocketed in the United States — especially during the past 30 years — making the dollar practically “worthless.”

    Nonetheless, priests’ salaries today have also skyrocketed — even at a greater pace than inflation — since many Orthodox priests in the U.S. make $100,000 or more a year. This amount does not include the “tips” Orthodox priests receive for baptisms, weddings, funerals, cemetery visits on Memorial Day, etc., which many priests do not include as taxable income.

    If you multiplied $828 — the average salary for American Orthodox priests in 1916 — by 50, the result would be $41,400. This means that even with a salary 50 times greater than it was in 1916, American Orthodox priests are averaging much a higher salary today (considering inflation) because priests today tend to make much more than $41,400 a year.

    But in order to be fair and realistic, we must include other factors in today’s American lifestyle that were not necessary — or were not available — in 1916. These include such expensive items as a half-million dollars for an “average” home; $25,000 for a car or SUV, $500 for a TV, $1,000 for a computer, $200,000 annual tuition fee for a child to attend a private college or university, etc.

    On the other hand, I believe that American Orthodox priests were much less materialistic in 1916 than they are today. Today’s American lifestyle — not so much of priests but of American society in general — is one which focuses on money and possessions, much more than it focuses on God. I call it “the worship of gold instead of God!”

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