Rockland Saint Andrew’s Pastoral Charge, a small but vital congregation in Eastern Ontario, just got served notice that they will be charged $55/month by the United Church of Canada for the privilege of being invoiced for their monthly Pensions and Benefits remittances.
Rockland employs one settled minister, who was recently moved from ½ salary to ¾ salary. It’s his partial pension and healthcare benefits cost (@ $790/month) that is the sole issue here.
A couple years ago, the General Council of the United Church passed a measure requiring all pastoral charges to enrol in the services of a large payroll company. The reasoning was that payroll was getting complicated and church treasurers couldn’t handle it any more.
Additionally, this would mean that ministers would always get their paycheque on time, automatically deposited (Oh! The Marvels of Modern Technology). Churches could enrol all their staff if they wanted to, but they “were required” to enrol order of ministry personnel. It only costs about $25 per cheque.
For some churches this program made sense. Other churches capitulated because they felt they had to. Some pastoral charges, 264 of them according to the billing notice sent this September, decided that this program was unsuitable for their situation, and silently opted out. After all, the United Church believes in diversity. After all, the United Church is a counciliar church, not a hierarchy, and the Manual specifically states that the organization of the pastoral charge is not to be interfered with by General Council. For two years, the 264 churches that have opted out have saved at least $25(per paycheque) x 12(months) x 2(years) x 264(congregations) equalling $158,400! That’s assuming only one order of ministry staff being paid monthly. If some of those congregations are in the practice paying their staff twice monthly (as in Rockland’s case) or have more than one order of ministry staff the savings are greater. On the other hand the 3100 pastoral charges enrolled will certainly have paid more than $1,860,000 in the last two years for payroll services.
Rockland, like many churches, operates on a shoestring budget, and makes many cost saving choices, suited to their situation. If the decision of General Council Executive stands, they will choose to pay for the $25 payroll service (and pay their minister once per month) rather than the $55 “invoice fee” from head office. But it feels like extortion.
And they have a couple questions:
- If they want to check on the payroll service to be sure that they being billed correctly, will they be charged $55 for the information they need?
- If they hire a secretary for enough hours to qualify for pension and benefits, will they be required to add those cheques to the payroll service, or failing that be charged $55/month to find out what the cost of the secretarial benefits package is?
- How many extra staff are being paid at head office to invoice the 264 non-compliant churches? At $55/month, that’s $14,520 each month to send out less than 300 invoices. It would seem there are some inefficiencies if it costs that much to do such a small task.
There will be those who wax eloquent about how good it is that General Council has decided to micromanage congregations. There will be those who say that it’s wonderful that their treasurer doesn’t need to understand all that pesky payroll stuff, just pay the bill. There will be those who scold the non-compliant churches for being different. Let them remember this situation though, when the United Church makes some withering comment about evil banks and their exorbitant service charges. Let them remember this when the General Council lambasts wicked corporations for leveraging their monopolistic power to force the poor to buy their product.