Should Pastors Receive Honoraria for Weddings?

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Is the pastor doing work that is either less important or less skilled than anyone else in the wedding?

Today, two emails on exactly the same issue from two pastors in the United States, one from the Midwest and one from Texas:

Pastor #1: Sure glad you wrote that article on honoraria.

I had a couple sign a covenant for five premarital sessions and they agreed to a hundred dollars for the honorarium. So we went through the counseling sessions, the rehearsal and dinner, the wedding and reception. The husband (not connected to the church) and his wife gave me a thank you card with 25 dollars in it and called it “your tip.” The lay minister for whom I did the wedding (upon hearing the story) immediately gave me 75 dollars to pay the difference.

I have read the comments you got, mostly in the “but it’s for God, so why worry?” category. As a female pastor (divorced and widowed) with three small children, my church salary fits in the “eligible for welfare” category. I have never seen anyone write on the subject and spell it out in good detail. Glad you did.

Pastor #2: I decided a long time ago not to take money for weddings or funerals.

With a wedding, not only do I do the wedding, I also do the rehearsal and several sessions of premarital counseling. It’s not unusual to meet the couple at a restaurant to discuss things and I pick up the tab. At $50 or $100 (and I know that many couples are just starting out, but they pay the caterer and florist big bucks), I’d rather not get “paid” because what they give shows they do not value what I invested.

Recently, I did a wedding for a couple and told them not to pay me. They did give me a vase from an expensive store. I decided to return it because it was about the last thing that I wanted or needed. The only store of this sort was over 30 minutes from my home and when I returned it I found it was worth $12. Hardly anything else in the store was that cheap and they would only give me a gift card credit.

Fortunately, it was Christmas and a young woman was looking at Christmas ornaments. I was able to give her the gift card and escape with a blunt reminder of why I don’t take money for weddings.

Let us not give in to outrage, natural as it would be to any sensible person upon reading these accounts.

Let’s instead be calmly reasonable and cost this out. Say, three sessions of premarital counseling at an hour each. Then a two-hour rehearsal, after which will be the rehearsal dinner (which may be pleasant enough, but hardly a social event for the pastor and his or her “+1″). Then the wedding itself and the reception, which easily take up four hours and possibly an entire day. And let’s presume that the pastor commits at least a few hours to prepare properly for the rehearsal and wedding and to compose a homily.

Total time on task: a minimum of 15 hours, by my reckoning.

John G. Stackhouse, Jr., draws on history, sociology, theology, and philosophy to explore the intersection of Christian faith and contemporary culture in North America and beyond. A graduate of Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, Wheaton College Graduate School, Illinois and The University of Chicago, he is the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College.

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  • Grant Alcorn

    I intend from here on in to write up an agreement with the couple that clearly sets out what my time is worth and if the couple cannot except this, they are then free to engage someone else to perform the ceremony. I am tired of having my services valued as worth little to nothing.

  • jeff

    It never really bothered me how much I got to do the wedding. I have not performed the duties of one in a couple of decades but when I did the $20 I got was more than sufficient for me. I guess it depends on the type of community you have at the church. If this seems normal then OK. But since weddings can be in the 10000 of $ range, a few extra bucks for the pastor who may not make all that much anyway seems rather small for the work that is often done.

  • deandeguara

    I give the couple a range of $150-300 for 6 counseling sessions, rehearsal (which many times I end up being the coordinator), and the Wedding. I will choose to help a couple out depending on their situation I wouldn’t under value our role or services because if you think about it the officiant can make or break a wedding ceremony.

  • Twinsfan1

    I have never “charged” for a wedding (although I have considered it from time to time), but I do tell the couple that it is traditional to give the pastor something for their time in helping them prepare for both the wedding and the marriage that follows. I’ve been tempted to say, “I’ll take whatever amount you’re giving the DJ at the wedding dance,” which can be upwards of $1000 around here; but I’ve never had the guts…

  • Joe Rhoads

    For church members, I don’t expect an honorarium. Same goes with funerals. I see it as part of my ministry to the people God has entrusted to me. Some pastors may think differently on this issue, and that is their right before God. I expect honorarium from non-members, but don’t push the issue if the money is nothing, or next to nothing. (It’s interesting; non-members who needed my service for a funeral are far more generous than those needing me to conduct a wedding, in my experience.) But what solves the problem with non-members is that I require 6 sessions of pre-marital counseling, if they are currently living together, they must live apart and abstinent for 6 months. They end up asking someone else to do the wedding.

  • tim

    I’m not a pimp. I don’t charge…

    • chellymay

      Really? A pimp? That’s not a fair comparison. A pimp collects money from the sexual favors of his women. That’s not what a minister does or is doing by asking for a fee.

      • tim

        Ok, lets compare it to Balaam, maybe thats better? But then again I don’t do everything that is asked of me.

  • Jim Weldon

    People have no problem spending tons of money on a wedding. On average, US couples spend $25,656 for their wedding. However, the majority of couples spend between $19,242 and $32,070. $1k to $2.5k or more spent on a DJ? $2k to $5k or more spent on flowers? Let’s face it, weddings though important, do not a marriage make. Pastors do more than help people with their wedding – pastors help people prepare for a marriage. I use to do premarital counseling until I understood the value of sending people to a trained, licensed, certified christian counselor. I have the couple go and see someone who can do the “Prepare/Enrich” inventory with them. It established a relationship with someone who can help them with when their marriage gets rocky – and what marriage does not get rocky? I meet with the couple 4 times: (1) The initial meeting to schedule dates, times and expectations. (2) To look at, explain and talk through the marriage worship service and talk about their relationship. (3) The rehearsal and (4) The wedding worship service. I charge around $500. Why? Because what I do matters. It matters more than the DJ or flowers or anything else. Our society tries to discount what we do as pastors. Sure we are not in it for the money, but, we send the wrong message by not having people pay, and pay well, for our services. By not charging for our services, we teach them that what they do with their money doesn’t matter. It is a stewardship issue. I have even toyed with the idea of asking the couple to donate 10% of what they spend on their wedding to the church… but maybe that’s taking it too far.

  • Chellymay

    Our church has a contract that they fill out for the purpose of a written date and the times they need and agreeing to be responsible for clean up. It also breaks down a section with a per day charge, per building charge, pastoral fee, sound person fee, etc., that way they see the charges up front and can pick and choose what they can afford. We try to be fair and just charge enough to cover the power bill/heating & air. If they are a member, we waive the building usage fees. The last few years, we have almost stopped having non-member weddings because it is such a hassle. Generally, if people have problems with the fees, then the pastor will not charge for his services. He does not charge for counseling.

  • rodney

    I remember a wedding where the Groom was so nervous that he kissed the Minister and gave the Bride $20.00. That said, $50 or more dollars an hour is outrageously high, though thanks for the thought. I do not charge for weddings or funerals, but I also do not refuse an honorarium when it is presented. If you do not want me to have the money, don’t offer it. My understanding is that minister’s are underpaid comparatively speaking. Honorariums can help diminish that somewhat.


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