On Honoraria for Pastors in Weddings

Today, two e-mails on exactly the same issue from two pastors in the United States, one from the Midwest and one from Texas:

Pastor #1: Sure glad you wrote that article on honoraria. I had a couple sign a covenant for 5 pre-marital sessions and they agreed to a hundred dollars for the honorarium. So we went through the counseling sessions, the rehearsal and dinner, the wedding and reception. The husband (not connected to the church) and his wife gave me a thank-you card with 25 dollars in it and called it “your tip.”  The lay minister for whom I did the wedding (upon hearing the story) immediately gave me 75 dollars to pay the difference. I have read the comments you got, mostly in the “but it’s for God category, so why worry.” As a female pastor (divorced and widowed) with three small children, my church salary fits in the “eligible for welfare” category. I have never seen anyone write on the subject and spell it out in good detail.  Glad you did.

Pastor #2: I decided a long time ago not to take money for weddings or funerals. With a wedding, not only do I do the wedding, I also do the rehearsal and several sessions of pre-marital counseling. It’s not unusual to meet the couple at a restaurant to discuss things and I pick up the tab. At $50 or $100 (and I know that many couples are just starting out but they pay the caterer and florist big bucks), I’d rather not get “paid” because what they give shows they do not value what I invested. Recently, I did a wedding for a couple and told them not to pay me. They did give me a vase from an expensive store. I decided to return it because it was about the last thing that I wanted or needed. The only store of this sort was over 30 minutes from my home and when I returned it I found it was worth $12. Hardly anything else in the store was that cheap and they would only give me a gift-card credit. Fortunately, it was Christmas and a young woman was looking at Christmas ornaments. I was able to give her the gift card and escape with a blunt reminder of why I don’t take money for weddings.

Let us not give in to outrage, natural as it would be to any sensible person upon reading these accounts. Let’s instead be calmly reasonable and cost this out. Say, 3 sessions of premarital counseling at an hour each. Then a two-hour rehearsal, after which will be the rehearsal dinner (which may be pleasant enough, but hardly a social event for the pastor and his or her “+1”). Then the wedding itself and the reception, which easily take up four hours and possibly an entire day. And let’s presume that the pastor commits at least a few hours to prepare properly for the rehearsal and wedding and to compose a homily.

Total time on task: a minimum of 15 hours, by my reckoning.

If you’re a member of the church in good standing, by which I mean you’re actually a member of the church—not just attending regularly, but also volunteering significantly and tithing your fair share—many pastors will see their work at your wedding as part of their pastoral duties. If that’s the case (and find out from your pastor if it is), then a card and a tasteful gift would be sufficient tokens of thanks.

This, I suggest, is the world of the etiquette books and wedding planning guides, a world long gone in most parts of North America. For in many churches, pastors already easily earn what they’re being paid long before any weddings get added to their schedules. So we should not assume that pastors are automatically on call for any congregational wedding that comes along. This question ought to be sorted out with the church board as a term of employment so that everyone is clear about expectations.

And if you’re not in fact helping to pay his or her salary, then you certainly need to pay properly for services rendered.

What is “properly”? Well, is the pastor doing work that is either less important or less skilled than anyone else in the wedding? The photographer? The caterer? The florist? The dressmaker? I would say . . . no. If you’re serious about a Christian ceremony, be serious about the quality of pastoral leadership. That means paying what it’s worth.

Fifty bucks an hour would be a good minimum, it seems to me. A hundred would be better. (That’s still much less than a qualified counselor charges per hour-long session.) So a payment of $750-1500 for a wedding would be a good range to consider when you’re trying to treat your pastor right.

And aren’t you? “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Do you really think it’s a good idea to start your married life by going cheap on the spiritual and spending the rest on decorations and food?

10 Responses to “On Honoraria for Pastors in Weddings”

  1. Linda Wightman

    Allow me to suggest that church musicians are in the same boat, often expected to be on call for any and all weddings and funerals, and that little or no compensation. And in my experience their salaries are significantly less than the pastor’s.

  2. Jon

    I would also through in sound technicians with that Linda.

    I am both a musician and a sound tech at my church, and I cannot count how many times I have had to reschedule my work week to make time for these things, and then not be compensated at all. I don’t mind if it is someone who is a church member, as John defines them, but most times it isn’t.

  3. Robert

    What is interesting about wedding honorariums is that in the scope of the costs of a wedding the pastor gets next to nothing. Where I live the average cost of a wedding is about $15,000 or so. I usually get about $150-$250 for a wedding. (This is kind and I’m not complaining.)

    What is curious is that the photographer who gets $1000 does nothing for the couple legally. The venue which gets anywhere from $1000-10,000 (depending on scale) does nothing legally for the couple. The caterer gets $1000 – 5000 (again depending on scale) does nothing legally for the couple. The dress which is $500 – 5,000 is based on the type does nothing for the couple. Yet the officiate, who is the authorizing agent legally, gets $100 or so. Kinda ironic I guess.

    I love doing weddings, it is a wonderful time. However, it is pretty weird how it all gets paid out.

  4. Joel

    One of the first weddings I did as a pastor was for a young couple where the bride grew up in the church but she and her husband-to-be had transferred to a mega church across town. They decided they wanted a little more personal touch for their pre-marriage counseling (one vs. two instead of a class setting) and there was the nostalgia of the church she grew up in (and her parents still attended). They asked me to officiate and I happily agreed. The bill for the wedding (so I’m told) was $25,000. I believe I received a $25 gift card to Dairy Queen as a tip for my services. I’m quite certain that did not cover my costs for childcare for my children (and am I suppose to bring the lovely couple a gift?!). I On my better days, I remember that that I got a meaningful opportunity to speak into a young couples’ life. On my not so good days, well…
    I’ve learned to expect nothing and that way I am never disappointed.

  5. gingoro

    In today’s money we had less than $3000 plus the wedding gown which came from the Hadassah Bazaar.. So we really had to stretch things. Maybe if ministers want more, then Christian couples should simply get a civil marriage rather than a church one. My father was a minister and I realize how little his income was and how cheap congregations can be with visiting pastors. But young couples often just don’t have the money and are in debt from university.

  6. Roger

    As one who watched my father dedicate many hours in counselling, weddings and receptions for little compensation and without complaint, can I sugest that we are perhaps in danger of comercialising the pastorate?
    A what point is it the responsibility of the local church to so compensate their pastor so as to anticipate and perhaps regulate his partcipation in acivities of any sort. In this way he has protection against abuse of his time and can set limits on what services he will provide and what activites he will particiate in.
    There is no rule that says they have to go to rehersal dinners or receptions for that matter for free or even for a fee. In that case they could provide a useful sevice to the community without distraction from their call to preach and sheperd his congregation.
    If we go to far along the fee for service route does not that lead us to a fee for funerals, hospital visits or counselling the bereaved. In many cases the pastor wil be called on to serve within these contexts for individuals not associated with the Church in any way at all.
    I am all for honouring the work our pastors do and for compensating them in a way that reflects the importance of their call and the realities of mortgages, college tuition and holidays.. I think that responsibility lies with the local church. I am far less comfortable with the the fee for service option being discussed.

    • John

      I doubt that we are in much danger of commercializing the pastorate, Roger. What we need to do, it seems to me, is to professionalize it in a minimal way–that is, the children of light ought to treat their servant-leaders no worse than the children of darkness treat theirs.

      Basic to proper treatment of anyone who works for us is a clear job description, an agreed set of expectations within which everyone is then happy and upon which everyone can focus on the good work that brought them together. I am certainly not suggesting a full fee schedule per medical practice, but I am certainly suggesting that pastors should be so clear about the congregation’s expectations and so well compensated that they go about their work able to focus on that work and on the people they joyfully serve, unworried either about disappointing people or paying this month’s bills. I am confident you agree.

      Indeed, as a heuristic, it might be well for pastors to offer their boards a time-and-motion profile of just what they do in a week. Most of us laypeople don’t have much of a clue, so we cannot make a good decision about expectation or compensation. Once the actual job is made clear in the subsequent dialogue, then compensation can be assessed appropriately, and everyone then can get back to the business of the church.

      One more caution. Without such clear agreements or a fee-for-service model (the latter of which, again, I am not advocating), pastors can be exploited by endless “add-ons,” such as being expected to show up to (= validate) every activity in the church calendar, serve on every board, preach at every service, perform every wedding, etc., etc. So I hope I am being clear that paying a good salary is a necessary but not sufficient way to deal with the problem I am highlighting. In short, When can a pastor legitimately say no? Sort that out clearly, pay people properly, and things ought to be pretty good.

  7. Chris Appleby

    Here in Australia we tend to be more upfront about costs. For people who are not part of the congregation and who come to us because they like the look of the church or they want a “religious “ceremony’ we apply a scale of charges that cover the maintenance of the church, a little (very little) of the time of the minister, the flowers if we’re providing them, the musicians, the person who cleans up afterwards, the PA person, etc. The amount we charge is almost always a fraction of what they’ve paid for a photographer or even the cars for the wedding party, let alone the reception, the flowers, the hairstylists, etc.
    Yes there are cases where the couple are poorly off and that would make a difference but we don’t see many of those.
    On the other hand if they’re active members of the congregation we charge nothing at all other than the processing fees for the pre-marriage counselling material I use.
    I might add that in Australia, funeral directors have a set scale of fees for ministers who take funerals for them and they look after that, unless, again, it’s a congregation member in which case the fee is waived.

  8. althea agape

    We require a 7 week marriage preparation class. A wedding takes approximately almost 20 hours of prep, counseling, and presence. I charge nothing for members. They do pay a small fee for the organist (ours is not salaried) and sound guy. Members are part of my pastoral flock, and the counseling and wedding is part of that responsibility. For non-members, I charge. $150 suggested. Which is less than most of them spend on the flowers for the church. (BTW, I don’t do rehearsal dinners and receptions unless I would have been invited even if I weren’t officiating).

  9. RC

    Wow, I will honestly say, this has brought to light a shock of behavior I had no idea was out there. And it sounds like it’s prevalent! I loved and cherish the advice we received in our 6 weeks of marriage counselling. We still use it after 15yrs!

    We were a low-income couple & had to pay for our own wedding (we saved up for a year and set a budget) but our first priority was our pastor. He’s a professional, he went to University and deserved his degree just like other professions. On hearing this I praise God He is the first to cover us with His love and gives us worth.

    As a woman having been in the missions field in the past for 6yrs, I of course know what it’s like not to get paid what my services and time is worth. I’m sorry this has happened to you out there but I pray this article starts the conversation and continues in grace. ~ RC


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