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Gottesblog

A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

A Worker-Priest Responds

Chaplain Dean Kavouras
By Dean Kavouras

[Note: Fr. Kavouras has responded to my call for discussion about the controversial - and yet increasingly common - situation of bi-vocational pastors.  My original article "Diary of a Worker-Priest" is in the current print edition of Gottesdienst.  I am meeting more and more pastors who work secular jobs either part-time or full-time, and so we need not only theological discussion about this trend, but also practical insights from men who live this pastoral life.  Pastor Kavouras is well-known in the LCMS for his chaplaincy work with police, the fire service, and the FBI, as well as his magnificent little book on his chaplaincy work following September 11.  He is a true mentor to men serving in such chaplaincy capacities.  I really appreciate his insights, and hope you do too!  Published with permission. + Larry Beane]

Fr. Beane seeks responses from others who are worker priests.  For 28 of my 34 years in the ministry I have provided my own support.  After 6 years of nothing but trouble, getting kicked around, run around and ruined financially, I decided that I don't mind this happening to me, but I will not let it happen to my wife and children.   That was back in 1984. At the time I stumbled upon a job selling debt collection services to businesses.  Within 3 years we decided to strike out on our own and have been at it for 25 years on our own.  In addition, about five years ago, I learned how to buy and sell coins for a profit.  Both of these businesses are immensely enjoyable because I like the world of finance, I like business in general and I love sales, which besides managing the business took up most of my time.

Time management is no problem for two reasons.  When you are self employed, especially when engaged in sales, your schedule is flexible.  We had the good fortune of making a liveable wage in less than half of a normal work week.  Besides this many pastors don't use their time wisely.  As far as I can tell a pastor's duties are as limited as they are important: prepare for and celebrate the Mass, catechize, hear confessions (not very time consuming these days), visit sick and shut in members.  These last two duties, however, are not the exclusive domain of the pastor.  A well trained, qualified deacon (not just a warm and willing body) who is locally ordained for that purpose can do it.  While there may have been a need for a professional clergy when parishes were large, and prosperity was flowing, today we must 
recognize that confessional churches are small and getting smaller.  Why would they have a full time pastor for the limited duties needed?  We need to break free from our mental mold and deal with reality.  I recognize it is hard.  But try if you will.

Further, I suspect that if we survey all of Christendom over the last 2,000 years, we might find that part time clergy are the rule, rather than the exception.  We would probably find pastors who spent a good part of their day growing their own plot of food, farming, tending animals, and going to market in order to live.  And, think of the pastors today who are full time clergy, but only by the grace of their wives who take on the double burden of bearing children and providing for the household.  If a wife is willing and able I see no problem with it, but if she is not willing or able, or only haltingly so, then the pastor needs to man up.  There is no theological requirement for a full time, professional clergy.  Indeed I believe that I have accomplished as much, if not more, than others on a part time basis because I never got involved in the busy work.  Almost everything I do is pure ministry.  We have eliminated, of necessity perhaps, all busy work in our parish.  We have one meeting every two months with the Board of Admin.  We celebrate Mass every Sunday and hold a bible class and SS preceding the Mass.  I do my preparation, personal studies, visit the sick and shut ins, and provide some pastoral counseling, as well as carry out my chaplain functions.  We also sold our building two years ago, it was drowning us, and now we rent from a sister congregation, but maintain two very separate congregations in the same building.

As for ups and downs?  In my case it is mostly ups.  The money is good, the independence is better, the wide range of people I meet and things I get to see as I consult with business owners, learn about their businesses, and counsel them on their collection needs is vast and stimulating beyond what one would imagine.  The switching back and forth from one reality to another took a little getting used to, but I find it happily satisfying.  When one mistress gets trying, I fly to the other.  But I love them both and serve them both.  I consider them both gifts from God, both as fields of service.  If there is a down side it is that some people don't consider you legitimate if you are less than full time (especially if you own a collection agency, and are a coin dealer).  I don't like to create confusion in people's minds but that is their problem, now isn't it?  I have never had that problem personally because I kept my two worlds separate, purposely so.  I never talk about my business ventures to the church, not ever.  It's none of their business.

Cleveland, being a large city, means that I don't run into members in my business dealings very often.  As for types of employment that could muddy the waters.  If you live in a small town, and end up dealing with your members as customers, especially if it is what some wrongly call "menial" employment, it could cause some confusion in people's minds.  But if dealt with properly that goes away and there is no such thing as menial labor if done with honor.

But I have a suggestion for pastors needing extra income, viz., that you consider self employment, and especially sales.  Sales is an art and a science that can be learned and acquired just like any other skill.  It pays very well.  With that ability a person can make an above average income, in less than average time, and work in whatever field he enjoys. If you like men's clothes, welding supplies, corporate jets or silk flowers you can turn selling those things into you own business.  There are also other professions and skills which people might possess: construction trades, accounting, law, medical professions, computer programmer etc.  Use them.  What's wrong with being a part time plumber and part time pastor?  Or practicing law or accounting on a limited basis to supplement your low pastoral income?  Again, this takes a re-think on our part, and on the part of our people.

Also as Fr. Beane mentioned, being out there leads to some interesting discussions.  I have lost track of the number of people I have counseled and prayed for in my business dealings because of my dual vocation. People open up to us.  Also, people can read you in the business world, they can perceive if you are a man of integrity, and pastors excel in that area.

Lastly, I would suggest that since confessional churches are magnet churches, and not neighborhood phenomena, that two confessional churches would do well to share buildings, two separate parishes
housed under one roof.  Find someone you can live with, and do it. Why do we maintain buildings that are bleeding us to death?  Sell one, make the other sound, if you can find reasonable people of like mind.