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The Average Salary of a First Call ELCA Pastor

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ECLA, is the largest Lutheran organization in the United States. Since 1995, the ECLA has required all seminary graduates to participate in "first call" training prior to taking their first post in an ECLA church. This training prepares pastors to meet the challenges of leading a congregation, and is designed to improve the satisfaction of both congregations and pastors.

ECLA Salary Survey

A June 2011 salary survey by the ECLA reveals that pastors of all levels of experience earn an average salary of $55,978, with a median wage of $55,792. Salaries range from a high of $72,829 in Washington, D.C. to a low of $26,941 in the Caribbean. These figures represent not only base salary, but also housing -- or housing allowance -- and Social Security allowance.

First Call Salaries

The salaries for first call pastors in the ECLA vary widely by region. In metropolitan Chicago, first call pastors earn a base salary of $36,175 per year as of this publication, plus a housing allowance of $15,000 or more. Churches that provide a parsonage do not provide this housing allowance. In the Lower Susquehanna Synod, first call pastors earn $31,350 annually. Those who do not have a church-provided house, or parsonage, may earn a total salary ranging from $44,840 to $53,830, which includes a housing allowance. As of 2010, first call pastors in the Western North Dakota Synod earn $30,585 annually. Those who do not live in a parsonage receive additional income sufficient to pay for a home with three bedrooms and a garage.

Additional Income

Many ECLA synods provide additional funds for first call pastors to pay for training and education. For example, the Chicago Metropolitan Synod suggests that each local congregation provide up to $800 a year to pay for first call training. The synod also recommends that each member church reimburse new pastors up to $5,000 to pay for educational loans.

National Salary Figures

Nationwide, clergy members of all denominations earn an average of $48,290 annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest 10 percent of earners receive $24,210, while the highest 10 percent earn $77,390. Clergy in Washington, D.C., California and Nevada enjoy the highest earnings for this profession, with average wages exceeding $59,000 in all three of these states.


Emily Beach works in the commercial construction industry in Maryland. She received her LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008 and is in the process of working towards an Architectural Hardware Consultant certification from the Door and Hardware Institute. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and management from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.