Missouri Congressman Moonlights as Pastor

On Sundays, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (search) retires the power suits and ties he wears to work in Congress and dons the ornate robes of a pastor. The Missouri Democrat is among the few members of the House to hold a second job. He spends up to 30 hours a week preaching and managing affairs at St. James United Methodist Church (search) in Kansas City, where he has been senior pastor for three decades.

Cleaver, 60, has been in the pulpit every weekend since he began his first House term in January, and he says he intends to continue doing so. He presides over two services every Sunday and sometimes a third service at another church in the evening.

"This is my life's work, this is my calling," Cleaver said in a recent interview. "This is who I am and what I believe, and so I'm willing to work extremely long hours."

Cleaver, a popular former Kansas City mayor and council member, is not the first ordained minister to maintain a congregation while serving in Congress. Former Reps. William Gray (search), D-Pa., and Floyd Flake (search), D-N.Y., also returned to the pulpit on weekends.

While the schedule can be grueling, Cleaver said he works hard to do both jobs well. He squeezes church obligations between official meetings over long weekends, when many lawmakers also go home to see their constituents. After two months of juggling two jobs in two cities, he said it's uncertain how it will work over the long term.

"When I was mayor it was difficult, but I was at least in the city," Cleaver said. "Coming from Washington, it makes things a lot more difficult and I have to depend a lot more on the other pastors."

Besides preparing his sermons, he tends to church paperwork, makes hospital visits on Saturdays and conducts weekly staff meetings on Monday before flying back to Washington. He led the same routine while serving as Kansas City mayor in the 1990s.

Members of Congress rarely hold outside jobs and are limited in how much they can earn. Gary Ruskin, of the watchdog group Congressional Accountability Project (search), questions whether Cleaver could effectively carry out his official duties while spending so much time at a second job.

"Being a member of Congress is a full-time job and members of Congress are extremely well compensated by the public to pay full attention to the public's business and not their own business," Ruskin said.

But Cleaver said he never considered giving up his ministry while serving in the House.

"If it had been required that I give up one or the other, I don't think there's any question but that I would not have run for Congress," he said.

Federal law and House rules restrict the outside earnings of members, who may not receive more than 15 percent of their House salary from outside earned income in a calendar year. That means Cleaver can accept about $22,000 a year from his church, mostly as a housing allowance.

Unlike most black members of Congress, Cleaver comes from a majority white district, with half its voters living in the suburbs. But his political base is strongest among the city's black community and its churches, where he is revered as a leader and political icon who even has a street named for him.

On a recent Sunday, Cleaver stood in his white robe beneath the stained glass windows of his church and asked his congregation to close their eyes and picture themselves walking with God.

"Now reach out and grab his hand as he's pulling you closer," Cleaver urged parishioners. "Hold on to him tightly. Let him know by your grip and by your heart that you will never let him go."

No matter what office he's held, Cleaver's anchor has been the pulpit. When he began preaching at St. James 30 years ago, it had 47 members; today, it has nearly 3,000.

Cleaver's decision to keep one hand in the church and one in Congress has his share of critics.

"I would say he's a part-time congressman," said Ross Stephens, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "To me being a congressman is, and probably should be, more than a full-time job."

Flake, the former New York congressman who also continued preaching every Sunday during 11 years in the House, said the balance Cleaver keeps does not sound too burdensome.

"I think it's just a matter of knowing where one's commitment is, and I never had a problem with that," said Flake, who left Congress to spend more time in his ministry. "My relationship and connection in terms of church really kept me grounded with an ability to perceive issues and policies."