Big Questions

Church/Bible/Doctrine

My grandfather passed away recently. He had been a member of his church for 30 years. When the pastor visited my father and uncle to make funeral arrangements, he outlined costs the family should expect. These included paying him for performing the service. Doesn’t his regular salary cover this? Is this “double dipping” allowed within the Christian Reformed Church?

Your question totally baffles me. I had no idea such a practice existed anywhere within our denomination. I have struggled for some time to come up with possible motives that would allow me to provide a reasonable rationale for it. Slim pickings there.

A minister of the Word is to feed the flock, not feed on it. He or she is called to “preach the Word, administer the sacraments, conduct public worship services, catechize the youth, and train members for Christian service” (Church Order, Article 12a). Other duties include exercising pastoral care and shepherding the congregation, a subset of which is the solemnization of marriages and the provision of funerals and memorial services (CO, 69–70). For all this and more, the local church is expected to “provide for the proper support of its minister(s)” (CO, 15). So yes, the pastor’s salary covers this.

Early Reformed liturgical forms for ordination warned against the sin of simony, the selling of sacred things for material gain. The word simony is based on Luke’s account of Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8. In the ninth and 10th centuries, the practice was rampant in the Catholic church. Priests, for example, would provide absolution for pay. I do recall warnings against it in my seminary education in the late 1960s. Perhaps that has fallen by the wayside precisely because simony has largely disappeared from the scene.

Couples who came to me for the solemnization of marriage or families that asked me to lead a funeral or memorial service were routinely told that a monetary gift should only be given to volunteers—an organist, for example—and not to a minister or anyone else already being paid for the service provided.

About the Author

Henry De Moor is professor of church polity emeritus at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich. He is author of the Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary (Faith Alive, 2011), which interprets the CRC’s Church Order and offers practical advice on how to apply it.

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Comments

Perhaps it would helpful to remind everyone that Church Order Articel #70 stipulates that "funerals" are not ecclesiastical affairs, but family affairs. Also, pastors are technically not salaried employees, but self-employed professionals under the provisions of the IRS tax code. If accepting a stipend for a funeral is simony under the logic of Dr. DeMoor, perhaps the Church Order should so stipulate. Until then, how pastors set up their compensation packages with congregations they serve is a topic specific to those two parties. Perhaps Dr. DeMoor could exercise a little more descretion regarding degrees of greed plaguing the pastorate ostensibly.  

When I was married in the CRC 26 years ago I paid the Pastor to perform the marriage ceremony, when my father passed away later that year the family paid the pastor to conduct the funeral. Church order states that funerals are “private family” events and a Pastor can only perform a marriage if licensed by the province or state, and is acting on their behalf, much like an independent contractor.. At the church I currently work at fees for the Pastor, musician, sound tech and custodian are part of any rental fee for weddings or funerals. This is common, accepted and appropriate practice in most churches in the CRC and other denominations that I am aware of.

I have never felt guilty for recieving a stipend for conducting a funeral or officiating a wedding until I read De Moor's resonse.  I was told in seminary that weddings and funerals are family matters, not church matters.  I have performed a few weddings and funerals where I did not recieve a stipend, however, almost all families have graciously offered me something and I have appreciated their kindness.   I do not have set fees for weddings and funerals, I accept whatever I am given with gratitude.  When people ask what I charge, I answer, "I don't charge anything."  However, I offer some examples of what others have given, including nothing.  I leave it up to them, whether or not they want to give a gift.  If they give me a gift, am I suppose to feel like I am double dipping? 

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Although I would not go so far as to set a fee schedule, I do not see this as an example of feeding off the flock. Funerals and weddings, as others have commented, are family affairs. I would guess that paying an honorarium to a pastor for doing a funeral is a rather common practice throughout the CRC as it is in other denominations just as it is for doing a wedding. When I was a hospice chaplain I would frequently receive honorariums from the family or from the funeral home after doing a funeral - many funeral homes include an honorarium in their fees that is passed on to whover presides over the funeral. If asked about a fee my response was, "I do not charge a fee, however many choose to provide an honorarium. If you have any questions, I'm sure your funeral director would be happy to explain what their policy is". 
As each church sets their own minister's compensation I think that an individual minister's fee schedule is a matter best discussed in the individual church not by making blanket statements for the denomination.

I'm listening carefully.  It's good to have this conversation.  Please read the QUESTION carefully.  I was not asked whether a pastor might receive a spontaneously offered gift without feeling guilty about it.  I was not asked whether a funeral home (that doesn't listen to my request not to do it) might send me the regular fee it charges on behalf of the officiant.  I was not asked whether a family might send a stipend to an organist or pianist or decorator etc.  I was asked whether it is OK for a pastor to set and exact a fee for performing a funeral service when the deceased is a member of the church he or she serves and to inform the family of this while they're grieving and making arrangements for the funeral in the meantime.  I do not know where the question came from and am aware of cultural differences in this regard.  But I'd like the opportunity to say that it is not OK for a pastor to do this specific thing I'm being asked.  I had that opportunity and I said it and told exactly why I felt that way.

Unfortunately it's hard to nuance things when there's a limit on the amount of words I render.

But kindly take note of the above.

Thanks.

Lambert, Vern and Brent,

Article 70 of the Church Order no longer states that funerals are family affairs.  Synod 2010 decided it was important to recognize that the whole community is affected by a passing since all of us are brothers and sisters in Christ.  So it now reads as follows: "Funerals and memorial services within the body of Christ should reflect the confidence of our faith and should be conducted accordingly.  Such times provide opportunities to minister love, provide comfort, give instruction, and offer hope the bereaved."  As I suggest in my Commentary, however, on page 376, Synod 2010 did not abandon the principle that "it is the family -- not the institutional church -- that has the 'final say' in the events of the day.  On the other hand, the current article now "points to the positive role of the Christian community."

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