Economics of Ministry, 1856 edition

Before the #sustainmininstry thread fades (presumably to revive at General Assembly) I wanted to meditate on how our ancestors coped. In my last blog post, I opined that ministerial shortages were practically a tradition. So is coping with meagre funds. This theme cropped up continuously when I worked on my never-finished master’s thesis — golly — about a quarter century ago. But those lessons learned over microfilmed antebellum newspapers made an impression.

  1. Have a sideline. Perhaps seasonal. Perhaps not farming.
  2. Your sideline? Call it media production. There was a reason why there were so many Universalist newspapers. (Which inspired me to create my first websites.)
  3. But don’t expect to get paid. Those minister-editors had a terrible time getting their subscribers to pay.
  4. Seminary may not be in reach, but an apprenticeship may be.
  5. If you can’t get a minister full time, perhaps you can be in a circuit. Some little societies only saw the minister every few months. But it was consistent. Ish.
  6. Be ready to pool your resources to memorialize a dead minister, or to support surviving dependents. But people may still mumble and grumble about the expense…
  7. Plant churches to make better use of public transportation. Who can afford a carriage, horsed or horseless?
  8. And follow migration patterns. When church members move, start a church where they go.
  9. Inactivate churches when there’s no minister, leadership or money. Call them dormant, but don’t lose contact with with a would-be reorganizer: it may be re-started.
  10. Use home hospitality at conventions. Well, I guess that one never really went away.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

3 thoughts on “Economics of Ministry, 1856 edition”

  1. Long ago I wrote a paper about female Universalist ministers in Ohio (1870 – 1920). The majority of those women were not trained in theological schools (a minority went to Lombard in Illinois). Many were graduates of the teachers school at Buchtel College (now University of Akron). And most coped economically by being school-teachers during the week, and pastors come the weekend.

    But they were also often shut out of larger parishes, being viewed as less qualified pastors. And gender seemed to be the larger issue than education, since a good number of men also had similar educations but better access to larger parishes.

  2. I’m curious to know how much family funds helped to subsidize ministry. In our own generation I think there are a good many clergy who can negotiate the pay and hours available largely because they have a spouse who works. In days gone by I imagine there where a fair number of clergy who had some cushion from family fortunes at least with a few of the Unitarians I would assume but wasn’t sure if that was in fact the case or not.

  3. Ralph brings up a huge historic point. The famed Universalist missionary preacher, Eliza Tupper Wilkes, was in some sense subsidized in her vocation by her husbands law practice. A reality that raises specters of economic privilege into the practice of religious vocation.

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