Summary: Dated 1988. Being paid not only means money, it also means self-worth. So when they complained to Malachi that evil people got rewarded, he pointed out that being God’s possession was reward enough, and that God’s justice would ultimately be done.
My seminary classmates and I were approaching graduation, and went through a little process requested by the alumni office of the seminary. They asked us to fill out a form that would help them place us in churches or other ministry positions, now that we were finishing our training. And one of the blanks on the form asked us what size salary we needed to have ... notice the language ... needed to have. Not what we wanted or what we fantasized, but what we needed.
Now you will remember that we are talking about seminary students here, and seminary students, young ministers, are not greedy in front of each other. They are not avaricious in public. Behind closed doors, maybe. In the closets of their hearts, probably. But not where anybody can see you … out there, on paper, you try to be at least a little modest.
It’s kind of like what they say about drinking alcohol, you know -- they say that the difference between Baptists and Episcopalians is that the Episcopalians will drink in front of one another, but Baptists ... well, you figure it out.
Anyway, as we struggled with that little blank, knowing we had to be reasonable and suggest a living wage; and yet not wanting to look greedy and certainly not wanting to price ourselves out of the market … I think I ended up putting down about $4500 as the salary I would need. Yes, 45 hundred, not thousand, for you yuppies -- who think of 4500 as the price of a week in the islands. 45 hundred.
Remember that we are talking about the late middle ages, 1963, and remember that I was going one up on my wife, who was earning about 42 hundred as a fulltime public school teacher.
Well, after a number of weeks a job offer came in ... to do campus ministry at a small college in eastern Kentucky. I said yes, that sounds good, I’d like to do that, and then called my wife on the phone to say, Guess what, we might be moving to eastern Kentucky. I have a job offer. And she, practical creature that she was and is, and carrying our first child, has the temerity to ask, "What does it pay?"
You know what? I hadn’t asked. I hadn’t asked because I was first of all too excited about having a job offer, and second, because, well, ministers are somehow not supposed to be interested in money. And she said, "Ask.” “Ask.” And I did ... and we both whooped and hollered and got all excited because the salary would be Five thousand five hundred and twenty dollars a year ... more than a thousand more than I had asked for. Wow.
Sitting in clover, with an eighty-five dollar a month mortgage payment on our first house and hospital bills of $312 for the subsequent childbirth -- what riches!
But of course what I really learned out of that experience is that there is no denying it … I did want and need and expect a payday. That’s not just a matter of practical survival: it is also a very human emotion. We want to be rewarded, we expect to be compensated, we need to have a payday. We need to have a payday someday not just for something to take to the grocery store, but also as a way of recognizing worth, as a way of building self-esteem.
You see, there was a day in this country, and some of you can remember it, when a white man and a black man, working the same kind of job, using the same skills, were paid on
a different basis. The white man a generation ago was more than likely paid as much as double the black man on the same job -- and the effect -- the intended effect -- was to say to the one, You are somebody, and to say to the other, You are
not worth much. Payday means self-worth, self-esteem day.
My fifty-five hundred and twenty dollar a year job? When I got there and started digging in the files, I found out that the woman who had held it before me was paid only thirty-six hundred. Simply because she was a woman ... and the system, even the Baptist system, said, well, you aren’t worth as much as a man, and so on payday we will tell you that you aren’t’ t worth much. Payday is self-esteem day, self-worth day.
Incidentally, if on the last Sunday of each month you see me and your associate pastor with a lean and hungry look, you will know that we are waiting for Mr. Powell and his little envelope of self-esteem. Yes, payday is important even to spiritual folks.