Means of Grace: An Update from the Just Compensation Task Force

May 10, 2022

An Update from the Just Compensation Task Force - Episode No. 83

In this episode, Dr. Bill White, Jr., Conference Director of Equity and Justice Ministries has a conversation with members of the Just Compensation Task Force for an update on their petition for Annual Conference. Rev. Amy Coles, Assistant to the Bishop, Rev. Norma Villagrana, Chair of the Order of Elders and Rev. Brandon Lazarus share about the status of equitable compensation and the learning and proposals from the Just Compensation Task Force.


More information will be shared at as Annual Conference approaches and you can contact Brandon Lazarus at




Bill White  00:12

Hello, and welcome to the Means of Grace podcast of the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. I am Reverend Dr. Bill White Jr. and I serve as the Director of Equity and Justice Ministries for the conference. Today's conversation is about equitable and just compensation for the clergy of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Particularly women, and for just color: African Americans, LatinX and Asian Americans. Joining us are some members from the Just Compensation Task Force of the conference. And they are Reverend Amy Coles, Reverend Norma Villagrana, and Reverend Brandon Lazarus. Hi, friends. Would you please introduce yourselves?


Amy Coles  01:06

Hi, I'm Amy Coles. And I serve as Bishop Carter's assistant here in the Western North Carolina Conference Office, and have had the privilege of both working with the Just Compensation Task Force, as well as with equitable compensation, which is bringing this report forward.

Norma Villagrana  01:22

Hi, my name is Norma Villagrana. I am appointed as Senior Pastor at Zion United Methodist Church in Monroe, and I am honored to serve in this conference as a Chair of the Order of Elders. Thank you for having me this morning.


Bill White  01:40

Thank you Norma.


Brandon Lazarus  01:41

I'm Brennan Lazarus. I'm the pastor at Morningstar United Methodist, out here in Canton, North Carolina. I also chair the Just Compensation Task Force and currently sit on the Commission on Equitable Compensation.


Bill White  01:52

Thank you. For our listeners who may not be familiar with the various committees and task forces in our conference. Could you tell us about the role and purpose of the Just Compensation Task Force?


Amy Coles  02:04

Sure, Bill, I'll be glad to. So two years ago, a group of clergy brought to the Annual Conference a petition that talked about equitable compensation and the discrepancies that we had in the Annual Conference regarding women and persons of color and the difference between that and the compensation of white males. This was right at the beginning of COVID. And so we had moved the Annual Conference online and it wasn’t a forum in which we could have a really good discussion about this and talk about it. So Bishop Leeland agreed to start a Just Compensation Task Force that could explore this issue and could look at it, could bring some proposals back to the Annual Conference. That group has worked for two years, and now they're ready to bring their proposal back to Annual Conference this year.


Bill White  02:52

Thank you. Why do you believe there's a need to address these matters as a conference?


Norma Villagrana  02:57

Well, let me address that one, the Western North Carolina Conference, is aware of the need to offer equitable compensation to pastors across the Conference. The leadership of the church and the local congregation know the needs of the pastors. Yet some local congregations are not able to offer higher compensation due to the financial situation. Therefore, the Conference is creating a support system to alleviate, to address the best way possible, this concern. And it is important to mention that our conference leadership has studied all the possible barriers to real equivocal compensation to benefit the clarity and to reduce differential margin among all clergy. And I will say that, since this effort is not possible to be accomplished by the local congregation themselves, that conference to this team is working together to support our clergy who are in this position.


Bill White  04:12

Wonderful. Thank you so much Norma. What efforts have been made to address this specific issue and concern?

Brandon Lazarus  04:19

Yeah, so one of the efforts that we'll be proposing this year at Annual Conference is to change up the way we do actual compensation a little bit, primarily changing the way that we look at base minimum compensation. Historically, there's been one base minimum compensation or rather four base minimum compensations that are split up for elders and deacons in full connection, provisional and associate members, local pastors who have completed course of study or MDiv. And then local pastors who haven't yet completed a course of study or MDiv. And so that's the base compensation, whether you have one year of service or whether you have 20 years of service or whether you have 30 years of service. And so in researching the compensation, what we found  was, especially for black clergy, and especially for black women, they found that their salaries have set right above that base minimum compensation even after 20 or 30 years of service. So what we're suggesting is that we change the base minimum so that every five years of service that base minimum compensation increases, we would like to try to do that by one and a half percent. But what we're proposing in this first year is .75%. So in numbers for full elders, what that looks like is the base compensation from zero to five will be $43,260, from five years or 10 years, it'll be $44,932. And then going up to 20 years of service, their base minimum compensation will be $50,762. We decided not to go past 20 years of service, in part because then that would make it quite difficult for some of the churches to be able to continue to have a pastor who has that many years of service. But then again, it's because we're hoping, and this is just proposed, it's not something that will be voted on, because we only do it year to year, but we're hoping that next year and 2024, we can again increase that which would then for that after 20 years of service would increase it to a base minimum of $58,000 to $65,000. Again, we're not voting on that second number, we're only voting on the first number. And so the hope is that by doing this, we can close that gap a little bit, especially for women and people of color in our conference. Because in looking at the numbers, we see that black clergy, on average, make about $14,000 less than their white counterparts. Latinx clergy are at least sorry for full elders, we only have four full elders who are Latino serving in a local church. And they make almost $16,000, less on average than their white counterparts. Also women, on average, for full elders make about $11,000, almost $12,000 less than their male counterparts. And so what this does is it makes sure that at least we're accounting for years of service, so that those especially who are hovering around that base minimum, will continue to see some increase in their base compensation. So it's not something that's going to fix this gap, there will still continue to be a large gap. But this at least closes it somewhat. And it gives some relief for those clergy who have been serving for so long. And in the long run, it also helps with their pension, because pension is tied to in part a percentage of what their base compensation is.


Amy Coles  07:28

So Brandon, as you propose those increases. We do know that some churches that have a pastor that's been serving for many years, may see a need to increase their salary. And that may be doable, or they may need some assistance. And so we have also worked with the Commission on Equitable Compensation to increase the conference budget for that fund by $100,000. So that the Commission can provide grants to local churches to help clergy have a minimum level of compensation. And so as this proposal is passed, we hope then we do have some resources behind it to assist churches in making this transition. Also want to share that as a part of the proposal. As you read it, you'll note this that we are allowing a six month grace period so that our local church has up to a year to kind of make the change. These changes will take place starting in January of 2023. But if a church needs to, they can make the change starting July 1 another six months, so that they also have the opportunity to look at how they can raise the funds or apply for a grant as needed.


Bill White  08:41

This proposal sounds wonderful, and I think is a great step in the right direction. I've spoken with African American clergy, in groups and with individuals, I’ve spoken with Hispanic and Latino ministries committee. I've heard stories from clergy, women and Asian Americans about how salaries are sometimes decreased when they arrive at a congregation or how they've served twice as long as some of their Anglo clergy and their salaries are significantly less because of their context, which has had obstacles to equity for many years due to racism and injustice. And I'm wondering what examples or stories can you share that you've heard about or know of personally about inequities, unequal salaries due to race and gender in the Conference? 


Norma Villagrana  09:33

Well, I want to share my story. As part of a minority female pastor and Hispanic, let me share my experience with this simple example. According to the studies that we have and we take randomly, five pastors as Brandon said, elders in full-time position find Hispanic or Asian pastors and five African American elders, full time pastors in five Anglo in the Methodist tree, we will see that African American pastors made on average 34% less than the Anglo and the Hispanics and Asians made 23% less than Anglo pastors. Of course, the compensation varies according to the zip code, the size of the congregation, the place where the church is located, the context and we know that not all the pastors can have the same compensation. We all are aware about that. Not all the churches can offer a high compensation, even when they try to be fair and just with a pastors, that is something that is not possible and this is why it's so important these, the work of these taxpayers, because we are aware about that. So in that regard, we want to partner not only with the churches, but with leaders on this conference to work on this important task, to fill those gaps that currently are affecting our minority saying they have need seen family needs and personnel need said, we need to just help them to receive a fair and equitable salary.


Bill White  11:31

Yes, yes, thank you Norma. Are there other stories that some of you have heard that you want to share today?


Amy Coles  11:37

So Bill, a couple of things that I've experienced, as I've served both as a District Superintendent, also now as Assistant to the Bishop, is that from time to time, churches look at salaries like they're looked at in the marketplace. And so oftentimes, as the Cabinet will try to close this gap and perhaps appoint a minority person of color, or appoint a woman to a higher salary, the church will then look at what they were formerly making, and come back to the Cabinet and say, “you know, they're getting a significant increase. And we don't, we don't think that they need to get that much money. And so we're going to suggest that we're going to lower the salary,” they'll still get an increase, but it doesn't help us close the gap any merely because they are looking at it from a marketplace perspective, and what happens in the secular world. I've also seen the same thing happen with men who are appointed to a church, and maybe their appointment is lateral. We don't make appointments due to salary, but we also try to keep people whole, that's one of our values. And so maybe there'll be moving and just a slight increase, and the church will get wind of that. And then they'll come back to us and say, you know, we believe that they deserve some more money. And so we'll, we'll be glad to do that. And so there again, it just perpetuates that distance, and that gap between salaries of different groups of people. And so from the appointment standpoint, it just makes it difficult for us to address the gap. So we felt like doing it through equitable compensation would then help those who are serving all of our churches, and particularly those at the minimum level, have an opportunity to increase their salary and to be rewarded in that way.


Bill White  13:25

Wonderful. Thank you, Amy. What do we say to people who say, since the local church determines the salary and support for the pastor, why not just let each church pay what they're able to pay? And not to be concerned about equity? When it comes to compensation? How do we respond to that?


Amy Coles  13:46

So the way I respond to it is, if we say that what we're doing is perpetuating systemic racism, that we are continuing a pattern where churches in particular zip codes in particular communities, where their socioeconomic status has been held down by white privilege, and why white power will continue in that way. So unfortunately, I think we have to do something different as a church, we have to lead the way to showing the world what equitable looks like and can look like that's the kind of conference I want to serve, where we're treating people fairly and as Norma said so well, for a livable wage, and a way that they can continue to provide for their family and provide for their retirement. Now, throughout my tenure, I've watched that gap widen, between the highest paying Church and the lowest paying church and you know, it's well over $150,000 for full time elders. And so as that widens, then there's more inequity. And so I think it's time for us to address it and for the church to lead the way and to also acknowledge that salary is a way that is a motivator. It's a way that we affirm a person's gifts and the person's skills. And so it's just not just for somebody to serve at minimum salary their whole life, when they're doing just as good of work as the person that's making a higher income.


Brandon Lazarus  15:14

I would add to that, that, yes, each church can make decisions on their own, but we're also part of a connectional system. And so by taking this zooming out approach of looking at the inequality and the injustices across the conference, you know, we're able to say, hey, here's something that we can do. Again, that isn't going to completely close the gap, but we'll start to work towards it. Because the same thing could be said, Well, you know, why then, would we send a woman to a church that says that they don't want a female pastor? Why would we send a black clergy to a church that says, they don't want a black clergy person, I don't know of a single female clergy that at some point in her life hasn't had a church or a person say, “you know, we didn't want a female pastor”, or “we didn't even know that females could be pastors” comments like that, which I've never heard that comment about, being a male, I've never had any church complained about being white, or me being a male. And so in addition to having this pay inequality, they're also having to deal with trauma and abuse the way that we white males haven't had to experience. And so I think that's another part of this conversation that needs to be had is that this isn't just talking about dollars, this isn't just talking about salary, it's talking about taking one step to address a larger systemic issue that has been around since the beginning. And so I think by having this conversation, by saying here's one of the things that we want to do, then hopefully, this can open up the conversation to continue to talk about other injustices that are going on that aren't just about salary. And so the just compensation task force will continue. We're not saying okay, our job is done, we can, you know, hang up our coats and move on, we're going to continue to look at that, we're going to continue to study the salaries to see hey, from year to year, is that gap closing is that gap growing, also looking at the number of clergy that we have, because that's another thing that kind of adds to this is that here in our conference, we only have 23 full elders serving in a local church who are black. We only have four Asian clergy who are full elders serving in a local church. We only have four Latinx clergy that are full elders serving the local church. We only have two Native American clergy that are full elders serving the local church. And so that's a part of a larger issue, that we're not just looking at salaries, we're looking at, hey, what's been going on? Because those numbers don't reflect the people living in this area. And so what are some of those things that can be done. So again, this isn't something that's going to fix everything, but it's at least continuing the conversation. And I do want to say it's starting the conversation, because it's continuing the conversation, and it's having one more thing that we can do, because I know that the Cabinet, and other levels are doing other things to address the inequality and the injustices going on. 

Bill White  17:59 

It is important for us to do things differently, to overcome the history of racism and inequity, and the discrimination against clergy women. So these are excellent proposals, ideas, plans. And as we come to a close, I wonder for our listeners, what can they do between now and Annual Conference and even at Annual Conference to support this proposal? And in the years to come to address this issue? What can our listeners do to help? 


Brandon Lazarus  18:27

Well, one of the things is if you are a clergy in the Annual Conference, if you are a lay member to Annual Conference, to vote in support of this proposal that we're putting forward, but again, this isn't ending here. And so my hope is that our SPRC chairs, our local church pastors, that everybody can begin to look at how they're approaching their salaries, that they can look at who is and isn't serving in certain appointments, and to look at what are some of the injustices going on? And what are some of the things that we're noticing? And another thing that folks can do is if listening to this podcast, or if you're hearing about this through other ways, or reading it in the Conference Journal, we are going to compile a list of frequently asked questions and give answers to those. So some of the stuff that was mentioned with Amy about if a church can't meet that base minimum compensation, or you know, who all does this apply to? Or does this mean you get an increase even if you're not at base compensation? And so feel free to send those questions to me, you can send it to And so we're going to compile all of those questions and put them out with the answers so that hopefully by the time you get to Annual Conference, most if not all of your questions will be answered about this proposal.

Bill White  19:54 

We're grateful for the information that has been shared today. We're grateful for the work of the Just Compensation Task Force. And we're also extremely grateful for all those who serve in ministry and our conference in late and clergy. I want to thank our participants today and those who are listening for joining us for this means of grace podcast, which is produced by the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. We invite you to share this podcast with others throughout the Conference. We pray that wherever you are, God will continue to bless you and keep you in God's care. Peace and love. Goodbye.


Speaker:  Thank you for listening to Means of Grace, a podcast produced by the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. We hope you enjoyed listening to these podcast and use them as a way to stay connected to our community. Remember to subscribe to Means of Grace for free on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Please leave us an honest rating and a review. It helps others find this podcast. Follow the WNCC on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @WNCCUMC. Once again, that's @WNCCUMC. Means of Grace is produced by the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and Andy Goh of GohJo Studios.

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