A few months ago (inspired in large degree by a workshop I attended by Marie Fortune on working pastorally with the survivors of domestic abuse) I posted an entry on this blog describing some of my reflections and experiences about having voluntarily censored an even earlier post in which I described some of my experiences transitioning out of the congregation I had previously served in Carlisle, Massachusetts. As part of that second post, there was one paragraph in particular where I recounted in some detail the amount of money I felt accepting that call had cost me over the four years I served there, which included the statement “Finally there's the four years without a raise or a COLA, and the nearly six grand they decided to stiff me by refusing to pay me through the entire three months of the contractual 90 day severance period.”
Not long after that post appeared, I received an e-mail from UUA Settlement Director John Weston offering to help mediate my dispute with my former congregation, with the assistance of UUA Office of Church Staff Finances Director Ralph Mero and Clara Barton District Executive Lynn Thomas. Naturally, I jumped at the offer. Now this group (all of whom I respect deeply) has met, and guess what? I was wrong. Even though everything I had described in that post was factually correct (and to my knowledge, undisputed), apparently because I had already started my new ministry in Portland Maine on August 1st the panel determined that my former congregation was NOT obligated to pay me in full through the entire 90-day severance period stipulated by the Letter of Agreement, as I had thought at the time. Furthermore, my willingness to air all this dirty laundry in a public blog was felt to be manipulative, and “unworthy of our ministry.”
So. Bitter medicine. You can read the entire text of John’s e-mail below (along with the lengthy response I wrote back to him), but first here’s my more concise and less defensive reaction. I didn’t become involved in this line of work thinking it would make me rich, but I did expect to be treated honestly and fairly. Scripture tells us to turn the other cheek and to give anyone who asks for it the shirt off our back, but let’s face it (Walter Wink’s brilliant exegesis of this passage notwithstanding) going through life feeling half naked and constantly slapped around is a helluva way to make a living. Is that really what I’ve signed up for? And if so...well, maybe I really OUGHT to be thinking about finding another line of work.
At the same time, I really love my job (most days); I believe I’m good at it; I believe it has given me some small opportunity to help make the world a better place by my presence in it. I try to take my vocation seriously, and I would never intentionally do anything to bring my sacred and revered profession into disrepute. So knowing that I am perceived that way by colleagues I respect gives me pause, and has caused me to re-examine some of my fundamental assumptions about both my motives and what I am attempting to accomplish in raising these issues, and even doing this work in the first place.
Devoting one’s life to attempting “To Speak the Truth to Power” is a pretty daunting undertaking. Because after all, What is Truth? I would have confidently testified under oath to everything I posted in those earlier blog entries, but who among us really knows “the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth?” And there have certainly been other unpleasant consequences to my decision to speak out openly about my experience the way I did, not the least of which are the random, anonymous “poison pen” comments that filter into this blog from time to time. Generally I just delete them, in part just to save the authors the embarrassment of their own words (My favorite was one which began “Are you a morom?”), but mostly I do it because I have absolutely no desire to stir up any more bad feelings than I already have. And of course, it also always amazes me that anyone actually reads this blog at all. I guess I’m not the first blogger to fall victim to THAT little illusion.
In any event, I do feel duly chastened and humbled, if not actually humilated, by this entire experience, and will now be very grateful to be able to put it all behind me. And if you do have something you would like to comment on in this blog, please be willing to sign your real name and have something positive to contribute, rather than simply making threats and calling me vile names.
Clara Barton District Executive Lynn Thomas, UUA Church Staff Finance Director Ralph Mero, and I met on Monday January 7 to consider the claims that Tim has asserted against Carlisle:
The claims as Tim presented them:
$2364.00 - 27 days cash salary (July 25-Aug 20)
$1075.00 - 16 days Parsonage Allowance (Aug 4-Aug 20)
$1239.30 - Unreimbursed Professional Expenses (basically GA)
$ 990.00 - 27 days pro-rated Pension Contribution
$ 284.20 - UU-GIP insurance premium (July 1-Aug 20)***
We take up the claims in three categories:
1. that Carlisle owed Tim for a full 90 days of salary and housing and pension contribution following his giving notice
2. that Carlisle owed Tim for costs associated with the UUA General Assembly that exceeded his professional expense budget, and
3. that Carlisle owed Tim for utilities costs for the parsonage during his service in Carlisle
1. Tim resigned on May 21, giving, 90 days notice. However, his last day of service in Carlisle cannot have been later than July 31, since he started serving Portland on August 1. According to Carlisle treasurer Mary Hult, Carlisle compensated Tim for the full month of July. She writes:
I am sorry for the confusion on Rev. Tim Jensen's pay for July, 2007. All of our monthly checks say "period ending" somewhere between the 24th and 28th of the month. Largely, that is so the check can be printed by our payroll service and received by our employees by the first of the month. For some people, this has been very important.
Tim was on salary so his annual salary was basically divided into 12 months. Tim's pay stub might have said the 24th but, like all of the checks he received from us, it was for the entire month. His monthly checks for August-June 2007 were rounded up to $2,634 so the last check, for July 2007, was rounded down to $2,626 ($8 less) in order to end with the $31,600 annual salary total.
Thus we see no valid claim for salary and housing. We did not consider the pension and insurance premium issue.
2. We are not able to accept the premise that expenditures exceeding a budgeted amount create indebtedness. The time to address a budget shortfall is before the expenditure is incurred.
3. Attachment B of the agreement between Carlisle and Tim contains the provision that the utilities costs are included in the housing allowance.
Thus we are not able to validate any of your claims, Tim.
That said, I believe that the Carlisle leadership is entitled to know, Tim, that we find your public claims against the congregation to be unworthy of our ministry. Furthermore, the discord between you and the leadership having centered on money for some months if not years, your attempt to maneuver the Transitions Office into settling old scores is similarly unworthy. Given the publicity you have brought to this issue, we believe that you owe, immediately, a post on the Money chat and on your blog withdrawing the assertion of such claims against Carlisle.
Speaking for myself, I owe notice of our take on this issue to the ministers who have indicated interest in Carlisle in this year’s search round, and have started the notification process..
My snotty and hot-headed (not really) reply:
Having accepted in good faith your offer to mediate this dispute for me, I now feel obligated to honor your decision, although I could not be more disappointed with the result. But having also released this concern to the Universe during our annual First Sunday of the Year "Burning Ritual," I’m also not too inclined to complain much more about it either.
As you request, at my first opportunity I will post the text of your letter with its findings to both to my public blog and the Money-CHAT. I do wish however, simply for the sake of the historical/public record, to reiterate a few of my concerns that do not seem to have been explicitly addressed by your findings.
1) I may just be incredibly thick-headed (or perhaps just the opposite, that too much time in academia has made me hypersensitive to the nuanced subtleties of close analysis), but I still fail to understand the connection between your finding that because I started work here in Portland on August 1st I could not possibly have been serving the Carlisle congregation beyond July 31st, and your decision that this somehow relieves FRS of their contractual obligation to compensate me in full through the entire 90 day severance period stipulated in the Letter of Agreement. I accept your authority to make that determination (about what was really the only issue that mattered); I just don’t understand the logic of it.
The so-called "double-dip" has long been a reality in our movement, and although I certainly don’t have access to the hard data, my anecdotal understanding is that some of the most egregious double-dippers of all are in fact Accredited Interim Ministers, who are routinely paid in full through the month of August even though they have also often at that point already started new assignments somewhere else. From your knowledge, is this true, or have I been misinformed?
And if this is true, do your findings in my situation now obligate you to insist that all those ministers who have "double-dipped" in the past now return that money to the congregations they previously served?
Or to look at it another way, would your decision have been different if I had arbitrarily set my starting date in Portland as August 21st rather than the 1st? And do you honestly believe that FRS would have then happily and willingly paid me in full for the final month of my contract with them, during which I would have ordinarily been on vacation anyway?
2) The issue I raised regarding the professional expense budget and my unreimbursed General Assembly expenses referred specifically to the question of whether or not unreimbursed professional expenses incurred in one fiscal year might be "rolled-over" into the next fiscal year, a practice which had routinely been the policy at FRS until suddenly it wasn't.
As I believe I mentioned in an earlier e-mail to you, this same practice of rolling over expenses to the next fiscal year was the principal reason the 2006-07 professional expense budget came up short in the first place, all of which goes back to the underlying problem that the budget itself never actually met the fair compensation guidelines to begin with, and (like the rest of my compensation package) had not been adjusted the entire time I served there.
But to stick to the topic at hand, this practice of "roll-over" is once again a vestige of the bad old TCM days in which congregations and their ministers typically had a gentleman's agreement to handle professional expense accounts in this manner. The Carlisle congregation has never claimed that my expenses were not legitimate; they simply asserted that since they didn't budget for them, they weren't obligated to reimburse them. Can you imagine the result if the rest of the world adhered to this logic? My argument was that they were indeed contractually obligated to reimburse me for those expenses, whether they had budgeted for them or not, and that even under the old TCM paradigm there was (or should have been) sufficient money to do so in the 2007-08 budget.
3) I honestly can't recall having ever made any formal claims regarding the cost of utilities at the parsonage, unless it was in some way related to my request to be paid in cash 20 days equivalent of the Fair Rental Value of the parsonage (based on their expressed desire that I vacate the parsonage prior to August 20th -- which I accommodated at significant inconvenience and expense to both myself and my new congregation).
I have written elsewhere about my experience regarding the way I believed (and still believe) the parsonage utilities were (mis)handled in my original contract negotiations, and about the treasurer's subsequent unilateral decision to deduct the increased cost of heating oil from my cash salary, rather than absorbing it into the general church operating budget as called for by the compensation guidelines. But I have never asked or expected to be "made whole" in this regard; I simply mentioned it as an example of one of the ways I felt I was unfairly taken advantage of financially by that congregation during my tenure there.
The most disappointing aspect of this entire process has come right here at the end, with the easy way you seem to dismiss my legitimate desire to achieve a fair and impartial mediation of my complaints as "an attempt to maneuver the Department of Ministry into settling old scores," and characterize my willingness to raise these concerns in the first place as "unworthy of the ministry."
I am not the one who wrote the UUMA Guidelines, or set the Fair Compensation standards; I merely had the bad manners to mention them in public. I'm not the one who refused outright to meet with the District Compensation Consultant to discuss these issues early on in my ministry in Carlisle, or who declined to raise these sensitive issues with church leaders in a timely fashion because "they aren't ready to hear it," or who initiated any of the other "non-standard" employment practices I factually and accurately described in both earlier e-mails to you, and on rare occasion referenced (in what I believed at the time was an honest and balanced way) in various other public forums. I sincerely wish that a few of my former parishioners had given me a happier tale to tell. But since when is it "unworthy of the ministry" to tell the truth?
I never asked anyone to help me settle old scores; I simply asked for your help in resolving this issue of whether or not 90 days really means 90 days, or if it actually means something else. I do agree that it is unworthy both of our ministry and our movement in general that situations like the one I experienced in Carlisle continue to exist, and that there seems to be no good way of quietly and effectively resolving these disputes absent the good will of all the parties involved. I regret deeply any way that my own growing frustration with that situation may have influenced my ability to minister effectively to the members of that congregation, most of whom I consider wonderful people who certainly deserve the very best that any minister has to give them.
And I likewise hope that my willingness to speak openly about my experience in Carlisle will not dissuade other ministers from exploring a call to serve that congregation. If anything, I hope that bringing these issues out into the open will help head off any future problems similar to the ones I experienced, thus creating a more happy situation for all concerned.
And I will also say this: this entire experience has been extremely unpleasant for me personally, both as I suffered through it in silence and relative isolation at the time, and then later as I suffered the consequences of having spoken openly and candidly about it in public. It's not an experience I would wish on anyone, and certainly not one I would ever wish to experience again myself.
In any event John, as you share your "take" on these issues with other ministers currently in search, I hope you will also see fit to share a few final words to the wise. If something really matters, get it in writing. Well-intended promises and handshake deals aren't worth the paper they're not printed on. Don’t sign anything until you've had it reviewed by an attorney. YOUR attorney. If the Guidelines and the Fair Compensation standards, for example, are important to you, have them written right into the contract; that way, if you should ever (God forbid) feel the need to litigate, they will have the force of law, and not just the moral influence of custom and tradition.
We all would like to believe that our communities of faith aspire (and adhere) to higher, and more generous and compassionate standards of behavior than are typically found in the "real" world. Unfortunately, they often don't. And for what it's worth, the integrity and credibility of our entire movement suffers as a consequence. How does the saying go? -- "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?" I freely admit that on the grand scale of things, the tiny injustices done to me in Carlisle are small potatoes, and that perhaps I am a small person for taking them to heart. Now they are behind us, and I have more important things to worry about, as I'm sure you do too. My apologies for having written so long a response; if I'd had more time I would have made it shorter.