Saturday, October 15, 2005

Of CLergy and Unions

The news hit last November. A group of UCCan clergy had approached the Canadian Auto Workers with the proposal to unionize the clergy of the United Church of Canada.

THe stated reason was that clergy within this denomination are being treated terribly by both congregations and by the church courts. A union, so the argument goes, would provide a voice for these poor powerless clergy and would help them fight for the rights which are being trampled on a seemingly regular basis.

Now don't get me wrong. I am under no misapprehension about the reality of church disfunction. Most certainly there are clergy who get a raw deal (to say the least). OF course there are also clergy who get away with gross misconduct. But in the last 11 months I have yet to see anything that suggest a union will solve anything. Unions are a great thing, in the right places and times, but the fact is that our polity already gives clergy a very loud voice in policy setting (the application of said policies is sometimes another matter, the church is a political entity and it shows). In fact, if such a union were formed our polity would have to change completely. As it stands we are both management and proletariat--and you can't be both.

But I can live with a changed polity. I may not like it but I can live with it. My fear is more about what such a thing will end up saying about our approach to ministry. My fear is what this will do to our relationships within the church, a church which is already prone to a "we-they" mentality in many different places. My fear is what this will mean to how I can live out my call. Will it be enough to push me out? DOubtful. BUt I suspect it will make our work terribly difficult at least through the transition phase as we learn a whole new way to be the church.

THe latest news is that the organizers seek a 60% sign up rate within Ontario and will then ask for certification without a general vote (of course if they get 60% a vote would be largely redundant). And of course the rules will then have to change for the national church. There is no word about level of support. Under the guise of confidentiality and protecting people from retribution for participating the whole thing has an aura of secrecy about it. THat worries me. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing in the light. By the end of November we should know how it falls out. BUt no matter what happens, some of the damage has already been done. You can't unring the bell.

THere are problems in this church. The problems that the union organizers have identified (and many others) do exist. But we always talk about the church needing to be different from the rest of society. If indeed we mean that then let us work HARD to find a different way to solve our problems. After almost a year of contemplation and of seeking information I still say the union is not the panacea. In fact I still believe it would make things worse.

And still I worry what this all will mean in the end.

1 comment:

  1. Gord, if presbytery, which consists of mostly ministers here, were to do the job professionally and to take misconduct of any variety, seriously, we would not need a union or anyone else to be the middle person. As you said, ministers and congregational members get away with gross misconduct. This should be dealt with. That is how unions get in there when others are not guarding the fort. It happened in my career. I watched the need for a union come into being and why it came to be. it was for the same reasons your members state . You lose control of your own organization and there is always a union waiting to move in. In our case it took years and mostly because it was new and members and management needed education on working together. If you are management, then, you have the power to work in other ways to make church going pleasant and not a place that members feel they can do without that flack.
    Cheers, pat