Monday, September 6, 2010

Starting a Clergy Union on Labor Day

It's Labor Day. That has me thinking about the history and future of the labor movement. And since I'm serving as a pastor, that has me wondering about the appropriateness and helpfulness of a clergy union. It's a shocking concept for some people. But there's already a clergy union, Clergy United, in Canada. Maybe a clergy union isn't so strange after all.

A clergy union could help hold churches and bishops accountable while also serving as a buffer of protection for clergy. Accountability and protection are important. There's a reason that clergy have to go through psychological evaluations, submit background checks, and pass fitness exams before they can serve a congregation. It's for the protection of the people they will serve. There's also a reason that clergy have reviews of their ministry done by churches and bishops. It's for accountability of the clergy's performance. All of these things that clergy have to do may look like they are being treated more like an employee of a corporation than a clergyperson serving a church. But it all has a purpose. In the end, it's about fostering effective ministry, healthy relationships, and ethical standards. But all of this is focused on the clergy side of things. I want to explore the other "side."

A clergy union could help churches and bishops have the appropriate equivalent to all the standards and tests that clergy have to pass. These, too, would be focused on accountability and protection. Clergy unions could hold churches and bishops accountable for their performance while providing a buffer of protection for clergy. The union could ensure that clergy receive a just compensation package, appropriate benefits, a fair amount of time off (Sabbath), equal rights for all people, etc. The union could also help process reports of abuse, harassment, defamation of character, etc. There are many ways that a clergy union could be beneficial. This may seem more like a business model than a church model to some people. But if the end goal is fostering effective ministry, healthy relationships, and ethical standards, then a clergy union would be an important aspect of the ministry of the Church.

Perhaps a clergy union could help us embody the way of life that Jesus called "abundant life" (John 10:10) and the "Kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33). Abundant life would help all people in the church be more joyful in their living and serving together. And seeking the Kingdom of God would mean living according to God's values of love, justice, and mutuality. If a clergy union could help do any of these things, maybe we should start one on this very Labor Day.

And maybe not. What are your thoughts?

If you're interested in more info, here's a news report on the clergy union in Canada:


  1. Here in England we have a Faithworkers Branch of Unite the Union.

    UNITE has an international link with United Steelworkers
    as part of Workers Uniting.

    I would like to think that your best way of setting up a clergy union is by contacting the UNITE National Officer for the Faithworkers Branch from this email address:

    With best wishes,
    Rev John Smallwood
    Twitter: @RevJSmallwood

  2. I think this is an excellent idea. Did you contact Rev. Smallwood and have you been able to get anything started?