During this new economic reality, many people are losing their jobs and others are taking pay cuts to help their organizations survive. You can now add the Bishops of The United Methodist Church to that second list. At our Council meeting earlier this month, we bishops voted to request that our salaries for 2010 be rolled back to the 2008 level, effectively taking a pay cut of several thousand dollars. We took that action to be in solidarity with the many, many persons who are hurting during these tough economic times and also as recognition that our United Methodist Church is feeling that economic impact, too. 

We bishops do not set our own salaries, so our vote was a recommendation to the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) of our denomination, of which I am a member. At our GCFA meeting last week, there was a lively discussion about whether to accept this recommendation, with many positive statements made about the work of our bishops, but ultimately the GCFA voted to accept our recommendation.

One of the reasons for our recommendation is that our salaries are set by a formula based upon the Denominational Average Compensation for all United Methodist clergy, and because of the schedule for the setting of those salaries, our salaries as bishops are always about two years behind the actual trend of clergy salaries. Since 2007 and 2008 were “good years” for clergy salaries, our salaries as bishops were scheduled for an increase in 2010. But all of us bishops know that 2009 is a tough year and 2010 will likely continue that trend, so we did not want to be receiving increases in 2010 while others might receive the same or even lesser salaries. Rolling all the way back to the 2008 level is a witness to those economic realities. This impacts only the 50 active UM bishops in the US, not our retired bishops and none of our bishops in the Central Conferences outside of the United States because they are paid on a scale based upon the economies of their countries.

So for the first time in my life, I am taking a pay cut. None of us bishops are going to starve, and this cut in my salary will not change my giving habits, but it is a good reminder that many people, many pastors, and many congregations are going through tough times.

I am not recommending that anyone else should voluntarily take a pay cut, but I know that many senior officers in many organizations are already doing just that. I do recommend that all of us abide by the words of scripture in II Corinthians 8:13-15 which says:

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’

I do recommend that we all seek ways to provide this “fair balance” from our own abilities to help others – even if it means taking a pay cut.