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Press Release

United Church of Canada Recognizes Need for Clergy Solidarity

Canada NewsWire

TORONTO, March 17, 2014 /CNW/ - The United Church of Canada has recognized the need for its ministers to have an organization of solidarity and representation of their own, as revealed by a church report just released. Two weeks after the launch of Unifaith Community Chapter, a Unifor union for United Church faith workers, the Church recommends there should be an Association of Ministers, a first in its 90-year history.

"This confirms what we have been saying for over a decade," says Unifaith president Rev. Robin Wardlaw of Toronto. "We celebrate the report of the United Church's Comprehensive Review Task Group. After the thousands of discussions our own volunteers have had with clergy, their families and church members throughout the years, we know that an association is good for ministers – and that a union is even better."

Wardlaw is less certain about another part of the United Church's report that proposes a College of Ministers. The college would have disciplinary powers, such as those of the College of Teachers in Ontario or the College of Nurses. "I'm not sure the United Church really wants to outsource that function," he says. "And I'm not sure ministers will feel comfortable sitting in judgment of one another to that degree."

Rev. Jim Evans of Ingersoll, Ontario, the past president and Solidarity in Action chairperson of Unifaith, sees clergy everywhere require their own professional body of solidarity. "Between 2004 and 2013, when we were organizing Clergy United, a union for United Church ministers within the CAW, we were contacted by countless faith workers in many other denominations around the world. They all sought our support, compassion and free anti-bullying program while they were being harassed, bullied or wrongfully accused or fired. As church membership and budgets shrink, these alarming issues are not getting worse, not better."

Wardlaw and Evans believe the United Church's proposed association is too limiting in the supports and rights it would afford its clergy members. "It won't give us the right to negotiate our concerns collectively with the church's management. We need to have the church take us seriously when we identify issues affecting the lives and work of our members and want to discuss and advance solutions with the church at every level," says Evans.

According to Wardlaw, "We want the same things the church wants: Effective ministry from talented, dedicated people who are currently very vulnerable to any charge brought by anyone, even anonymously." The United Church's own survey done in 2005 indicated that as many as 50 percent of its clergy had been bullied in the church in a six-month period. In its 2010 response to the introduction of Ontario Bill 168, An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters, the United Church's General Council Office referred to that earlier survey, stating: "There was good news in the responses (96.1% of respondents indicated "No" or "Seldom" in response to the question about unwanted physical contact)." In doing the math, Unifaith estimates that the so-called "good news" indicated that every other day for six months, approximately one minister had been physically bullied as a consequence of his or her service to the church.

"The United Church has had a very long time to do something constructive to protect the rights, safety and dignity of its clergy," Wardaw says. "As Unifaith, we are already in place. We're a legal body of solidarity with the resources of Unifor, Canada's largest private sector union, behind us. We are empowering every United Church minister, serving or not, to take ownership of our common issues relating to isolation, bullying, overwork, underemployment, retirement and more. And we are inclusive, opening membership to all other faith workers of the United Church, as well as the immediate family members of clergy and faith workers."

As more people learn about Unifaith Community Chapter, new members continue to join. Monthly dues are reasonable, just $10 for a working member and $5 for a non-working member. "We are providing now what the United Church is talking about down the road for 2015 or so. And we are doing it at no cost to the United Church or its congregations," Wardlaw observes. "This is right and responsible, in keeping with the United Church's values and long history of encouraging workers, including its own, to organize and join unions."

Unifaith will be contacting the United Church of Canada national administration with its request to discuss the matter and seek the United Church's encouragement and endorsement of the Unifor Unifaith Community Chapter. 

The United Church of Canada's report, entitled Fishing on the Other Side, is at
http://www.united-church.ca/files/general-council/gc41/comp-review/crtg_fishing.pdf

UNIFAITH. United FOR You. United FOR All.

SOURCE Unifor

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