While deputies and bishops are meeting in Salt Lake City, our lay professionals are watching and following the events. Employees who have worked for many years for the Episcopal Church have watched positive steps made on our behalf, as we did away with mandatory pro forma resignations whenever a new rector came to a parish. The past two General Conventions established a mandatory lay pension system (2012) for employees working 1000 hours per year. Those were great strides at previous Conventions. Items under consideration at this Convention include a Re-Evaluation of the Health Plan, Parental Leave and Short-Term Disability Insurance for all Employees. An inherent problem with this and other resolutions is that it is easy to classify employees as part-time or to de-professionalize a job by using volunteers. The church’s witness to those we employ, who watch how we behave toward them and each other, is another way to either evangelize or to hurt. Unfortunately, given the average size of our parishes and the increasing numbers of bi-vocational clergy, most lay employees are not full-time or benefit-eligible. That being said, a fulfilling position with real opportunities for personal growth, deep spirituality and genuine appreciation will, for some, outweigh economic deficits. For example, many musicians seek Episcopal positions, attracted by our legendary tradition of fine music that allows growth and artistic expression. Those with a passion for ministry, though, are often ill-equipped for self-advocacy.
In a church that prays for “justice, freedom and peace,” we need to monitor our hiring practices. Are our positions posted and open to all to apply for, or is the old network still in place? The future church needs fresh practices. By limiting ourselves, we limit our possibilities. Are job safeguards, found in canon law for many clergy, considered for other professionals? Is there parity for highly-trained, skilled laborers in our field? Usually not.
Sadly, CREDO for Lay Employees is no longer offered. A quality Wellness program for lay employees would be a great next step, testifying that we care not only about their whole lives. Our employment practices are a huge opportunity for the mission field. Many lay professionals come to the Episcopal Church as members of another church and then find their home. They often join, tithe and give back, too, as it becomes their church. Those outside the church are watching our compensation levels, whether our positions have revolving doors, and whether our employees are happy. To simply ask an employee, “are you being fed here?” speaks volumes.
One of the most riveting moments at General Convention was during the Presiding Bishop interviews, when one candidate, asked about his management style, said that he would “hire the best people.” It was encouraging to hear that the work of lay employees is valued in his evangelism plan. Other than that, wellness and retention of key lay employees wasn’t discussed. Can we “travel lightly,” but pay our lay employees as much as we spend on other items that we care about? After General Convention, lay employees will be ready to help you “follow Jesus into the neighborhoods,” as we all follow one Savior and work to carry out his mission.