Bullying, evictions, contract disputes: no wonder we priests need a trade union

I have suffered from workplace bullying. While that alone might not seem unusual – 23% of the British workforce would say the same – the context probably does. I was bullied in a church.

Controlling behaviour, 复兴是否真实, should come as no surprise within a religious institution. Yet in my first post, in Liverpool, I worked with a senior priest who was the model manager: encouraging, efficient and kind. 实际上, in normal circumstances, clergy come top of the polls that measure job satisfaction. But when it goes wrong, it can go very wrong indeed, and a new route is emerging for clergy wishing to stand up for their rights in the workplace: more and more are joining trade unions.

It is true that more clergy in the Church of England, once deemed “the Tory party at prayer”, now tend to lean to the left, but they are not natural syndicalists. 在一个点上, joining a union as a member of the clergy would have been unthinkable. The Rev Canon Paul Hamilton, rector of the Ingrave churches in Essex, has been involved with various disputes with his diocesan superiors, from challenging them on plans to evict a junior cleric and their family from housing owned by the diocese, to a debate about insecure headstones. Yet he tells me that for years, joining a union as a member of the clergy would have been inconceivable: “I just never thought I would need to.” His experiences changed his mind, and he has since become a union member.

现在, 然而, the Anglican clerical membership of the faith workers’ branch of Unite stands at 1,500, 7.5 per cent of the active clergy in the Church of England. The Church of England Clergy Advocates (CECA), a professional association within the Unite branch, reported at the end of January that an average of 30 clergy were joining a month.

One motivating factor is that clergy employment is an incredibly murky area. We are not employees, in the conventional sense, but exist under a system called “common tenure”. Historically, the ordinary clergy had ancient rights securing their position that could even include ownership of the physical church building. But now the church is increasingly treating clergy like ordinary employees – I was given a pdf contract rather than a piece of vellum detailing my ancient rights – but often without the protection that normally affords. 同时, dioceses are increasingly using legal devices, such as making clergy “priests in charge” rather than rectors or vicars, so that the clergy on the ground cannot exercise their ancient rights. I often see younger clergy being assigned assistant priest posts, with contracts lasting between one and three years. These are entirely at the whim of the incumbent vicar, and their employment can be terminated at any time.

There are some other forms of protection available – from informal pressure groups such as the Save the Parish campaign to formal protection from the insurance company Ecclesiastical, which can help a cleric facing the often clunking fist of the Church of England disciplinary process. But when things go wrong, clergy are often left with nowhere to turn.

CECA was founded in 2012, and initially looked down upon. In church circles membership was regarded as the sign of a troublemaker, or of the overly politicised. 然而, the noticeable rise in unionisation reflects concerns on the ground about moves towards church reform. Several dioceses have announced swingeing cuts to clergy numbers, up to a third in some places; Hamilton’s diocese of Chelmsford laid out plans in 2020 to cut 61 posts. An infamous piece of Synod legislation, GS222, which seeks to make it considerably easier for dioceses to close churches and deprive clergy of livelihoods, has been stalled following protests from clergy and laity at the consultation stage. But it still looms as a possibility and, 至少, is a worrying statement of intent.

It is very telling that CECA reports a “significant” proportion of the House of Clergy, the legislative body that represents ordinary vicars in Synod and so has a closer eye on the central church authorities’ plans, are union members. Perhaps they know which way the wind is blowing. As it becomes clear that bishops and archdeacons don’t necessarily feel the obligations towards individual clergy that you might expect, if you have a romantic or idealised view of the church’s structures, a more formal, organised solidarity, as sought by other workers throughout the ages, increasingly looks like the only option.

Some dioceses are excellent employers, some supervising clergy are assiduous and kind, some bishops are innately pastoral; but of course union membership doesn’t exist for the times when relationships are going well, and it is increasingly clear that clergy can no longer rely on goodwill alone. The church should welcome any organisations that seek to address the shortcomings inherent to any workplace – even if they seem unconventional. Its purpose may be to point to the Kingdom of Heaven, but we are all operating in a fallen world.

评论被关闭.