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Paying the Preacher, Paying the Druid

with the Rev. Don Dunn, October 10, 1987

When Cathy and I got married in 1987 we didn’t have a lot of money. We wanted a nice wedding but we couldn’t afford anything extravagent, and neither could our parents. Every decision was made with an eye toward keeping costs down, and every offer to provide this or help with that was accepted with both gratitude and relief.

A few weeks before the ceremony I asked my father “am I supposed to pay the preacher?” I genuinely didn’t know what was expected, and while I didn’t want to stiff the guy who was tying the knot for us, I was hoping this wouldn’t be yet another expense. To my surprise, my father said “I’ll take care of it.” Like many children of the Great Depression, my father was very generous with his time and energy but very tight with his money. I suspect he wanted to make sure the minister he worked with on a weekly basis wasn’t insulted, but I just said “thank you” and didn’t ask any questions.

My primary motivation for seeking ordination was to be able to perform legal weddings. When I got the first request I could accept (for a handfasting next February), I had to decide what I should charge for my services. I talked to some people who do these things and I did some digging on the internet. Officiating weddings and other rites of passage is sacred work, but like everything else there’s a market for that work and you don’t want to price yourself either too high or too low.

Let’s make one thing clear: we should pay religious professionals for their services just like we pay doctors and lawyers and plumbers. A healthy society runs on reciprocity. Sometimes that means giving when you can give and taking when you need to take. Sometimes that means supporting institutions that in turn support the community. Sometimes that means a favor for a favor. Sometimes, particularly between strangers or casual acquaintances, that means cash for services.

One of the reasons we have so few religious professionals in Paganism is that we haven’t found a way to support them. There aren’t that many of us, we’re spread out over seemingly countless traditions, and there are very few rich Pagans who can be patrons and benefactors. And many of us are where I was in 1987: wanting to do the right thing but also trying to avoid paying any more than we absolutely have to pay for anything.

So what should you pay the Druid who does your handfasting or the naming ceremony for your child or the funeral for your grandmother? It depends on how much time and effort is involved, and also on your ability to pay.

If you’re a member of Denton CUUPS my services are free. You’re part of my local community, you support the same institutions and events I support, and you’ve probably done favors for me over the years. If you value my work as a ritualist and as a celebrant highly enough to ask me to officate for you, my work will be my gift to you on your special occasion.

If you’re anyone else, then what I charge depends on multiple factors. If you want a basic ceremony that’s already written or just needs a few tweaks, if I need to meet with you once or twice and then show up at the event, and if I don’t have to drive outside the DFW area, then I don’t need a lot of money – $50 is probably enough.

If you want a custom ceremony that’s going to require hours of research and more hours of composition and editing, you should expect to pay more. If you need multiple planning meetings plus a rehearsal you should expect to pay more. If I have to travel more than an hour or so, you should expect to pay more, for the travel time as well as for transportation costs.

If you’re planning on a dozen guests in your back yard with a cake from Kroger, then I’m going to charge as little as I can for the work involved. If you’re inviting 300 guests, renting a fancy building for the ceremony and serving a catered dinner for the reception then you can afford to pay your officiant $400 or more.

Officiating weddings will never be a significant source of income for me, but if I feel like my work is valued and I help some people in the process, I’ll be happy.

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08647500969442410706 Allyson Szabo

    I hear you. My usual price for performing a wedding or Handfasting is about $250.00. Most of the time, that means several hours (15+) of research and writing, plus 2 hour long meetings, plus unlimited email and phone calls (within reason). You also get "your day" with me, with no other interruptions. I don't book 2 weddings on a day. I don't think that's too much, and it's a price I came up with by examining what other people charge in this area.

    On the other hand, I've never refused to do a service for lack of money. I often ask, "What can you *afford*?" I did a ceremony for a couple for $75, because it's what they had. I've done ceremonies for $250, and gotten $100 tips for making the day special. I don't sweat it too much. Money should not be a reason to keep two people from getting married. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13046348046273693706 Rev Wes Isley

    I definitely think we should be paid for the service provided when you're performing a wedding. And it's fine to adjust the fee based on the time involved. But it's surprising to me when others in the pagan community expect it to be free or sneer at the mere fact that ministers charge. Why is this? Any Baptist minister or Catholic priest would charge, if that person isn't a member of the congregation. And you have to pay for that Kroger cake! I think it gets at something very deep within the pagan community–that our path isn't valuable, not really, and so it should just be free. But I believe it IS valuable! If we respect ourselves and those leaders within the community, then we should honor their services with some sort of exchange, whatever that may be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08647500969442410706 Allyson Szabo

    It's my strong opinion that the "wanting it free" expectation comes from those who have grown up (emotionally if not physically) within the Wiccan paradigm where it's preached that you NEVER charge for teaching. While I understand the vehemence with which that statement is made, and personally agree with it, it doesn't apply to services provided.

    I teach because I am called to do so, not to make money. But services like weddings, funerals, blessings and coming of age rituals, and other things of that kind take up time in my day that would otherwise be providing me with the writing that pays my way. :)

    My website states it pretty clearly. "Here are my fees; if you can't pay that amount, talk to me." I have only once turned someone away, and it had nothing to do with money (in fact I was offered double my usual). There's no price to be put on ethics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00875369837359076688 John Beckett

    It's not just the Wiccan "teaching should be free" idea. Most of us have attended – or at least are familiar with – churches where the plate is passed, but putting money in is optional. You don't pay for Sunday services, you don't pay for mid-week classes (unless there are materials to purchase) and if you ask the preacher to visit your sick mother in the hospital he doesn't ask for your credit card. Everything else is free – why not weddings?

    Of course, none of that is "free" – someone is paying for the building, for the electricity, and for whatever paid professionals the church has called and/or employed. But that's largely hidden, and in a typical church or other non-profit 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the members.

    Even if the minister is paid and you're a pledging member of the congregation, a wedding is going to consume time she would have spent on other things – frequently the all-too-scarce personal time.

    But I didn't know that – or at least, didn't recognize it – at age 25.

    I love leading handfastings and other rites of passage – but not so much I want to make a habit of doing it for free for people I don't know. All I want is for people to show me they value my time as much as the time of the florist and the cake decorator.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08647500969442410706 Allyson Szabo

    It's odd… while it's true that you can attend church and not put anything in the plate, it's the odd person who doesn't put *something* in. Successful churches (ones that are growing rather than shrinking) tend to have little problem getting donations from across the board, though of course people who don't make a lot of money don't donate a lot, even if they donate a larger percentage of their income.

    That said, weddings are considered a part of what you're paid for as a part- or full-time pastor of a church. There is time set aside each week for "church business." Sometimes that's visiting people in the hospital. Sometimes it's talking to people with substance abuse issues. Other times it's a wedding, baptism, or funeral. But it IS built in, and unless a minister is terribly bad at organizing her time, it shouldn't come out of personal time.

    I'm not talking out of turn, either. :) I'm an interfaith minister, and although I am not a pastor at a church, I have done the work involved with it as an intern, and seen all the various sides of it. I thank my gods for providing me with the mentor they did, because she led me through ALL the parts, from the internal politics to the pulpit. :) Fun stuff, very interesting.

    I do get paid for preaching, most of the time. I volunteer my time at Cathedral of the Pines (a local outdoor interfaith worship space) by choice, partly because it is in my home community and is a great way to give back, and partly as a gift to my gods. But if I end up preaching for a pastor out on leave, on sabbatical, or on sick duty, I get paid for doing it. Sometimes it's more, and sometimes less, and I don't generally ask how much. But weddings and funerals and such are not a part of my day-to-day ministry, because I don't have a home church where I am the recognized pastor.

    Honestly, as someone who's spent most of her life interacting with Wiccans and pagans, and only just found Christianity as a viable side path (long story, has to do with my interfaith journey), I feel I can say with authority that the people I see in churches do not expect "something for nothing." Those who've grown up in a church setting know that they will pay the pastor something for a wedding or funeral, even if it isn't a requirement. They know that they need to help pay the electricity and heating bills. They know that someone has to provide the flowers and bread and wine/juice, etc. There's no question about it; it's simply understood.

    This is NOT true of the pagans I have known (most of… there are notable exceptions, as always). Most seem to think that everything should be free. I'm not sure if it's because there's no church building to support, or because they figure all our clergy tend to work other jobs, or what.

    I'd like to see the pagan community treat their clergy in a similar way to the Jewish Rabbis. Most Rabbis are not "settled pastors" as in Christian churches. While there are more now than there used to be, the Rabbi used to have a full time job that fed him and his family. Being a Rabbi was something he did because he felt a call. Yet the people who attended synagogue paid for his services when they had weddings, funerals, blessings, bar/bat mitzvahs etc. Those were considered outside the scope of his offer of service as a Rabbi. That seems to fit the model that pagans seem to be most comfortable with.

    Don't charge for Circle, because that's a religious mandate or call or whatever you wish to call it. But charge for the things that eat up the time of the Priest or Priestess who's got to work 9-5 to put food on the table.

    Just my take, of course. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10388428489163998550 TommyElf

    Interesting thought there, John. From my perspective…I think you're on the right track with the way you're approaching it. But…this is also coming from an individual who has no desire to be clergy (other than for myself), and wouldn't know the first thing (or even have the desire to be) an officiant of anything.

    Switching mocs for a moment…if I were in the place of the groom…$50 would be a bargain….I'd be looking more along the lines of Allyson's noted fees…(putting my own mocs back on)…however, I sincerely believe that pricing out your fees really comes down to pricing out the value of your own time, effort, etc etc. That's my two pence…which ain't much…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08647500969442410706 Allyson Szabo

    Heh… you'd be surprised. Wedding officiants (at least in NH) are in lock step over pricing. If you go too high or too low, you get… well, shunned I suppose is the right descriptor. I've had comments made because I lowered my prices for a couple who wanted to get married but were really hard up for money. I know them (not friends, but acquaintances) and I knew their need was real, not imagined. I did the wedding up very nice, and charged them "what they could afford," which wasn't much. I heard through the grapevine that I was "wrong" to do so. LOL… Such is life!


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