We’re living in an era in which many Americans aren’t able to keep up with mortgage payments— let alone give money to their house of worship. When nearly a third of Americans have reduced the amount of money they give to their congregations, no amount of prayer can prevent the inevitable: layoffs of religious leaders. Members of the clergy have unique difficulties to deal with when they find themselves unemployed. Many are ineligible to collect unemployment benefits, thanks to the tax status of their religious organizations, and it can be particularly difficult for clergy to conceive of working anywhere other than behind the pulpit. Beth Kobliner, bestselling author of "Get a Financial Life," offers the vitals that America’s clergy need to know.
- Ask about severance. Not all congregations are flush enough to offer severance packages, so ask about it before you take a job. You need to know what resources would be available to you, should the unthinkable, job loss, happen, says Alan Straus, a certified public accountant in Airmont, New York who has extensive experience negotiating clergy contracts.
- Plan for retirement. If you’re not offered a 401(k), make sure to sign up for an individual retirement account, such as a Roth IRA, so your future is secure.
- Know if you’d be eligible for unemployment benefits. Religious organizations are exempt from paying federal unemployment tax, and they’re also exempt from state tax (Oregon is the exception). This means employees who have been laid off will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits (right now, workers can get a maximum of 26 weeks’ worth of benefits in most states). These organizations can opt to pay the tax if they want to, but most don’t, Straus says. Be aware of the tax practices of your house of worship, and set aside savings to fall back on, should the need arise.
- Consider other career paths. Clergy possess highly-specialized skills like counseling, communication and public speaking that can be applied in other fields. It might pay off to explore careers in teaching, counseling or human resources, for example, says Tom O’Neal, clinical director of Davidson Clergy Center in Davidson, North Carolina. Certified chaplains can also pursue a hospital or college chaplaincy.
- Find help and support. Many churches have benevolence programs for congregants in general, usually a temporary stopgap to help pay your mortgage for a month or two, says Brian Kluth, past president of the Christian Stewardship Association (now called the Christian Leadership Alliance).
- Tap the Web.
Sites for the Jewish community:
- www.IAJVS.org The International Association of Jewish Vocational Services will link you to your local JVS agency, where you’ll find career counseling, job hunting help and other support.
- www.UJAFedNY.org/connect-to-care UJA-Federation’s Connect-to-Care program offers free employment and financial counseling to anyone in the Jewish community.
- www.JewishJobs.com Here, you’ll find most Jewish job openings listed in one place.
Sites for the Christian community:
- www.ChristianJobs.com A catch-all for Christian jobs across the United States and Canada.
- www.MinistryEmployment.com Offers job listings and recruitment services for Christian businesses, ministries, educational institutions, mission agencies and churches.
- www.NACBA.net NACBA offers members job hunting tools and educational and networking conferences to help pastors with administration experience find work. The NACBA also offers scholarships to help with the financial end of registering for a conference or certification program.
- www.DavidsonClergyCenter.org This center offers a five-day counseling and therapy program for clergy in a career transition. The program is $2,700, but in many cases, a minister’s church will pay.
Sites for the general community:
- www.Indeed.com A jobs search engine allowing job seekers to search thousands of company career sites and jobs boards at once.
- www.CareerOneStop.org Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, here you can access information about expanding your career path and developing job hunting strategies.