Transcript of interview with the Observer


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Observer Jan 5 2009 responses

Hello, Mike

Well, it is 10:55 p.m., Jan. 5th, so I guess that means that I managed to meet your deadline, after all!

Below are our responses to your questions. Please attribute the quotes to me.  

1. Is the United Church clergy union drive getting near its goal of signing 60 percent of Ontario ministers to union cards? Is that still the goal? How close is the drive to achieving that number?

"We are getting ever closer to our goal of signed union cards from 60 percent of Ontario ministers."  

2. Have any changes been made in policy or process in the United Church to respond to any of the issues or concerns raised by union drive organizers during the campaign?

"The key issues and concerns that we have raised since the beginning of our union drive are the lack of advocacy, support and appropriate representation provided by the United Church to our clergy; the United Church's lack of accountability to its own policies and values in its dealings with its paid accountable ministers; and the isolation, or what the Rt. Rev. Peter Short referred to as "desolation" in ministry, and the United Church's inadequate response to that crisis.

In regard to stress and isolation in ministry, it appears to us that the United Church management has responded in its typical fashion, claiming to seriously examine these issues and commissioning and paying for studies.

The United Church management, the Senior Leadership Team at General Council, know the findings presented in 2006 by its Isolation in Ministry Steering Group, as well as another 2006 study on Clergy Well-Being. Obviously, the United Church has not done its best by its ministers or working conditions and employee morale and health would not be so poor. The simple fact is that the United Church is letting its ministers down. And on top of that, the General Council management has consistently spoken against clergy union, which would provide a legal, ethical professional body to enable our ministers to take ownership of their issues and work collectively, with General Council, for the good of the clergy and the good of the church.

We are mystified as to why the General Council management does not properly support its clergy, and yet objects to the clergy supporting one another in a legal union so that ministers can do what is right for both themselves and the church that they have covenanted to serve.  

The following statistics were made public to United Church people in 2006. And yet the United Church still has done nothing that has significantly improved ministers' conditions of employment in relation to stress and isolation.  

A. "The Employee Assistance Plan use was twice that of other kinds of people-oriented helping professions, like nursing and social work.Ministry personnel are in the 88th percentile with respect to stress. That means that there are only 12 percent of the population feeling more stressed than ministry personnel." - Rev. David Boyd, Chair of the Isolation in Ministry Steering Group, to General Council 39 (2006) commissioners.

B. Findings from a study, Clergy Well-Being: Seeking Wholeness with Integrity, were released in 2006. The study's author is Rev. Andrew R. Irvine, PhD., of the Centre for Clergy Care & Congregational Health, established by the United Church's Emmanuel College and the Presbyterian Church's Knox College, for the purpose of supporting clergy well-being and congregational health. In conducting the research, Dr. Irvine interviewed clergy from six major protestant denominations in Ontario: United Church, Anglican, Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran, Baptist Convention and Pentecostal Assemblies. The entire study is available at www.utoronto.ca/caringforclergy/research.html. Here are some highlights: 

Dr. Irvine wrote, "As human beings we come to the fullness of "self through the social relationships and our interaction within community and the world. It is therefore paramount that relationships and social activity be a central part of our activity and development..Relationships for clergy have always been a matter of great concern..Ministers are surrounded by many people within the congregation and community, but they are often defined by the strong definition of office as opposed to by which they are as persons..ministers are the one career group who could never step outside of their professional definition and identity."

According to Dr. Irvine, nearly 49 % of clergy identified two or less friends, 18 % identified no one as a friend in their current church or community. "Relationally, [ministers] felt unfilled and lonely." Reasons for lack of friends included: busyness, confidentiality and the transitory nature of ministry.

55 % indicated they sometimes feel very lonely.

70 % moderately or strongly disagreed with the statement: I feel fulfilled in ministry.

67 % agreed to strongly agreed with the statement: I sometimes project my job frustration on the family.

80 % agreed to strongly agreed with the statement: I feel guilty if people see me taking time off during the week.

4 % have gone to denominational staff for support in a crisis. (To clergy union organizers, this indicates that many clergy don't trust church staff when support is needed).

51 % indicated they have suffered physically from stress-induced problems.

20 % have been diagnosed with emotional conditions, 16 % with depression - double Health Canada's findings that 8 % of Canadian adults experience major depression in their lives. Twice as many female clergy than male clergy become depressed.

50 % moderately to strongly disagreed with the statement: I am consistent between who I am and how I appear to others.

80 % of ministers admitted varying degrees of jealously toward the success of other ministers. This attributes to a high level of competition amongst clergy. "Meaningful friendships cannot be established or maintained on a foundation of mistrust and competition."

77 % agreed to strongly agreed with the statement: I feel more like a CEO than a pastor.

83 % agreed with the statement: My church wants a CEO rather than a pastor.

91 % agreed with the statement: Being a 'minister' is more like a job than a calling.

86 % agreed to strongly agreed with the statement: I pray with others but rarely have time for personal prayer.

60 % have considered leaving ministry."

3. Are numbers of clergy with union cards (newly signed or renewed) increasing? Are you hopeful that a certification vote will soon be possible? Next year?

"The ministers who first signed their cards when our drive began four years ago are stalwart in their support of clergy union. An increasing number of United Church clergy are seeing the light and signing their union cards. It has been interesting to witness the number of ministers who were initially opposed to our drive who are now understanding what clergy union really is, appreciating the issues at stake and signing their union cards. We are feel very positive that a certification vote will be held in Ontario in 2009, with votes in every other province to quickly follow." 

4. What remain as the main concerns and issues driving the organization campaign?

"Our biggest concern driving our organizing campaign is the United Church's inconsistent, improper and sometimes even negligent treatment and care of its clergy, the employees who are the front-line people serving in our pastoral charges and doing their utmost to represent the United Church faithfully and appropriately. Ministers are being fired without cause, under United Church policy! They are being driven to nervous breakdowns, poor health and early retirement. Ministers' partners and families are suffering, too, as they are verbally abused by church people, their memberships are removed from church roles without their consent, and, if they live in manses, are put out on the street. As volunteer union organizers, we are often called to serve as confidantes, sounding boards and advocates. I am positive that most of our good United Church folk would be appalled and ashamed by the abuses and injustices committed against clergy by some in this church of ours - things that have no place in the United Church."  

5. Have any new issues emerged as major concerns in the past year that could bring more ministers into the union fold?

"A groundswell of ministers are now supporting union because they have become aware that our clergy are being unfairly treated; they are being disciplined or suspended without due reason; they are being accused and tried in the United Church's own court without knowing the charge or their accusers, therefore being denied natural or any other kind of real justice; and our ministers, who hold the United Church's reputation as just, ethical and compassionate, can no longer stand by while a Brother or Sister stands isolated in suffering, can no longer buy the line that the minister must have brought it on themselves, as has been so often claimed in the past, because it just is not true.

We are relieved to see so many of our ministers finally acknowledge the reality of the pain experienced by our clergy and their families, and are joining together in Solidarity to seek justice and end the needless suffering.

Our biggest challenge in organizing has been the perception of many ministers who believe they are serving in a culture of fear. We are distressed that a large number of ministers who are secretly supportive of clergy union are afraid to sign their union cards because they fear others in the United Church hierarchy may find out and retaliate through unfair discipline or by undermining their ministries. This is a sad state of affairs in a church that has been traditionally supportive of labour unions and has helped workers organize. We work very hard to reassure our clergy that the identity of every card signer is kept confidential by the CAW and our volunteer organizing team, unless the card signer decides to declare his or her union support publicly."

6. If you wish to make any additional comments, please add them. Or feel free to call me.

If you have not already done so, you may wish to visit www.revmattontribute.com.

Below is a list of benefits that a clergy union, of the clergy, for the clergy and the good of the church, will provide:

_ Equitable, fair and consistent application of United Church policies and polities, in every Presbytery and Conference

_ Advocacy for our clergy, individually and collectively

_ Fairness and dignity at work

_ Equality of treatment and opportunity

_ Assurance of a safe working environment equipped with reasonable security measures, extended to the manse

_ Prohibition and protection from bullying, harassment and victimization

_ Professional union and legal support and representation during a grievance, disciplinary matter, conflict and abuse

_ Protection from dismissal without just cause - only a union can provide employees that protection. The United Church Manual has a bylaw enabling termination without cause, which our clergy union can challenge

_ Recognition - an employer does not have to recognize a professional association, but it does have to recognize a union

_ Alliance with the CAW, an established, respected and proven professional organization that supports, represents and educates its members throughout the country

_ Professional education for our clergy, provided by the CAW, addressing grievance handling, workplace violence, human rights, prevention of substance abuse, retirement planning and other important issues

_ Supportive outreach and responsible care for our clergy on short and long term disability, as well as our retired clergy

_ Accountable ministerial support for our clergy and their families

_ A regional and national community that connects our clergy to 265,000 workers in other CAW union locals. CAW members include engineers, journalists, nurses, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, pharmacists, therapists, autoworkers, hospitality staff and many other men and women in many different occupations

_ A collective voice with which our clergy can respond to the findings of studies and commissions undertaken by General Council

_ A completely democratic organization: our clergy are the union. Union stewards and all other positions are elected by co-workers to represent them with management and to ensure the contract is upheld. CAW National Representatives provide assistance, direction, research and education to stewards and employees. The CAW National Representative also assists in the settlement of grievances

_ Sisters in Solidarity: The CAW's Women's Department develops women's leadership through the Women Activists Program, an annual Women's Conference, and CAW Women's Committees and Networks

_ Pride: an organization within the CAW that provides community and support for gay, lesbian and transgender members

_ A supportive, encouraging collegial body that enables our ministers to be Sisters and Brothers to one another as they serve God and the Church.