• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

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?

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