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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am an ordained minister and a senior citizen. At the present time I do not have a position with a church. I rely on part-time work officiating at funerals and weddings and earn a very modest living.

I work hard to make each funeral service meaningful. It often involves meeting with family members to hear stories about their loved one, and sometimes I must drive many miles to and from the church where the funeral is held. I always receive compliments from the families afterward, telling me how touched they were. Then they fail to pay me a single red cent! Most of these people know I am essentially unemployed, yet they offer me nothing for all my work.

Abby, nobody goes into the ministry for the money, but clergy have to eat, fill their gas tanks and pay their bills just like everyone else. What can I do to make sure I am compensated? Please don't tell me to set a specific fee, because I'd be glad to accept any offering they can afford. Besides, it seems tacky for a member of the clergy to ask for a fee upfront. It would be different if I was still on staff at a church and receiving a salary, but such is not the case. -- THORNY ISSUE IN FLORIDA

DEAR THORNY ISSUE: Please reconsider your policy about setting a fee for your services. Grieving families often forget anything beyond their grief. It is all right to say when you are called, "Please understand that I cannot do this for free. Would 'X' amount be fair?" That way your compensation can be negotiated. And if they forget, send a gentle reminder. Justice and charity walk hand in hand.

DEAR ABBY: When I'm finished with my silverware, plate, drinking glass, etc., I place them directly in the dishwasher. I do not understand why someone would put these items in the sink when the dishwasher is right there.

What is the proper etiquette for family? What about friends and company? -- MICHAEL IN NEW YORK

DEAR MICHAEL: People place their used eating utensils in the sink because some hosts are particular about how dishes and silverware are placed in the dishwasher. Some people prefer to wash their "good" china, glassware and silverware by hand. Please do not take offense. Tell friends and family what you prefer, and I'm sure they'll gladly comply.

DEAR ABBY: You often advise readers to consult a counselor or psychologist. We live in a small town with limited resources. There are a couple of good-sized cities within a reasonable distance. How do I know a practitioner is qualified to meet our needs? -- NEEDS GUIDANCE IN NEW MEXICO

DEAR NEEDS GUIDANCE: The first thing to do is to find out if the person is licensed to practice in your state. You should also ask your health-care provider if he or she knows of any good therapists. After that it's up to you to interview the candidates to make sure that you feel comfortable enough to confide your problems, because not everyone -- regardless of how qualified he or she may be -- may be a good "fit."

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