Due to COVID-19 and the country’s economic challenges, the church in Zimbabwe is struggling to provide adequate salaries to pastors.
To help, the lay leadership of the Zimbabwe East Conference is appealing to church members to contribute toward pastors’ allowances during the pandemic.
“The little salaries of our pastors have been completely eroded by inflation, thereby reducing some of the net earnings of many to less than two United States dollars per month, when converted,” said Simon Mafunda and Justice Hlekani Mwayera, Zimbabwe East Conference lay leaders, in an appeal sent to local churches in September.
“This situation is deplorable and needs our collective and urgent attention,” the letter said.
The COVID-19 appeal requests that every member contribute at least $1 (U.S.) per month for five months. The letter said that the conference and district lay leaders are committing to contribute $20 and $10 per person each month, respectively.
The conference hopes to raise a minimum of $19,000 per month to provide an allowance of $100 to each pastor, according to the lay leaders.
Zimbabwe’s political and economic turmoil over the past two decades has affected churches and pastors whose welfare is dependent upon the giving of members.
Loveness Mutezo, Zimbabwe East Conference equitable compensation chairperson, said inconsistency and limited resources are major concerns.
Because of the economic crisis, Mutezo said some circuits are failing to remit assessments to conference.
“This has impacted negatively the smooth implementation of salary adjustments, and salaries have not been reviewed for over 7 years,” Mutezo said.
The Rev. Archford Muchingami, pastor of Buhera West United Methodist Church, said the most vulnerable pastors are those serving rural areas or struggling urban circuits.
“Despite the evident proof of the weakening local currency, no effort has been made to adjust clergy salaries in line with continued depreciation of the Zimbabwe dollar,” he said.
The situation is stressful for pastors who cannot meet their financial obligations.
“It is of no secret that pastors are getting next to nothing as far as salaries are concerned, hence the life of a pastor is becoming difficult every day,” said the Rev. Takura Bango, pastor of Mutambara South United Methodist Church.
Many clergy members are struggling to feed their families and pay their children’s school fees.
“We are no longer able to put food on the table — breakfast, lunch and supper — for our families,” said the Rev. Douglas Maundukuse, Chitakatira United Methodist Church pastor. “I am no longer able to buy clothes to look presentable, even shoes to wear, as I go for visitations.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary of common pool, the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area’s consolidated revenue fund that pays pastors’ salaries, medical aid and funeral coverage, regardless of their geographical location. Before the pool, each charge was responsible for its own pastors.
“Before the introduction of the common pool, the majority of pastors in marginalized areas, especially in rural areas, would go for long periods without salaries,” Mutezo said.
Mutsa Mujaji, Zimbabwe East Conference finance and administration chairperson, said the despite the equity provided by the pool, the country’s economy still is taking its toll on the livelihood of pastors.
“We have no control over medical aid and funeral policies. This bill has been rising at an alarming rate,” said Mujaji. “Most of the church members are out of employment, a factor which affects their giving to the church, resulting in not much money being in the common pool.”
Mutezo agreed, noting the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse.
Local churches remit 40% of their total income to conferences — 10% is for ministry and 30% for the common pool. Mujaji described the conference demography as 75% rural and 25% urban. According to annual conference reports, only 25% of the conference’s charges remit enough funds to meet their pastor’s salary, medical aid and funeral policy.
“In some cases, we have taken funds budgeted for ministry to pay the salary bill,” Mujaji said.
In addition to the basic salaries paid from the pool, pastors receive monthly allowances from their assigned charges. Before a local church gains a charge status, it must have a parsonage. All pastors, rural and urban, receive free housing with water and electricity, where available.
Pastors also receive travel, communication and hospitality allowances. Bigger charges sometimes offer allowances for schools fees for children and gas or fuel for cooking or lighting. The allowances range from $100 to more than $1,000 monthly.
But many rural churches and a few urban churches are failing to give their pastors allowances, often for months at a time.
St. Paul United Methodist Church is one of the urban charges listed in the conference report as a “non-able charge,” which means the funds remitted are not sufficient to pay the pastors’ salary bill. Like many other urban charges, St. Paul has negotiated with its pastors to cut down the travel allowance during the pandemic.
The Rev. Moore Ganda, St. Paul senior pastor, said he appreciated the church’s efforts amid harsh economic conditions. “There has been a rampaged loss of jobs and finding something to give to the church is difficult,” he said.
Mutezo said another concern is that there is no equity in allowances between rural and urban pastors.
Muchingami said the allowance cushions the salaries of those in in well-to-do circuits, while those in rural or struggling urban circuits had little or nothing.
“This has, to a greater extent, demotivated the clergy to do their best,” Muchingami said.
Some pastors have resorted to self-help projects to sustain themselves and their ministries.
Pastor Emmanuel Namatai Rambeni of Murambinda Dorowa United Methodist Church has a typing and photocopying business, but that business has struggled due to the COVID-19 lockdown. “You end up taking funds from your project to service church business,” said Rambeni. “If you do not do that, the ministry will die.”
Pastors’ pension benefits also have taken a hit due to the country’s high inflation.
“Our wish as pastors is to build retirement homes, (but) unfortunately our salary can’t even buy a half bag of cement,” said Bango.
Muchingami said the future is bleak. “I wouldn't be surprised if pastors are scared of retirement because their future is eroded,” he said. “In a nutshell, one will have nothing to celebrate for the years of service given to the church.”
Despite the challenges, lay leaders are appreciative to individual members, both local and abroad, who have helped or plan to help augment clergy incomes through allowances.
“The COVID-19 allowance is only coming in as an extra-special initiative to cushion our clergy. We appeal to those who have been supporting individual pastors to feed into this common pool if so willing for the next five months,” the lay leaders urged in their letter.
The conference finance and administration team said plans also are in place to embark on a massive agricultural project that will inject funds into the common pool and ministry.
“We are working towards this and a land audit has already been done throughout the conference. We are now looking for capital to jump-start the project,” Mujaji said.
Muzerengwa is a communicator for Zimbabwe East Conference.