THE country’s largest union, Unite, announced the launch of the Church of England Clergy Association (CECA) on Monday. Despite four years of talks with the House of Clergy, however, it has received only a cautious welcome.
In 2008, the General Synod’s House of Clergy established a working group to explore the establishment of a body to represent Church of England clergy.
Although Unite was open to discussions with the working group, a number of clerics expressed concern about the involvement of the union’s Faith Workers branch in the case of the Revd Mark Sharpe.
The Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury, the Ven. Christine Hardman, said in a report in June last year that the Standing Committee “was clear that any perception that a professional association was an ‘anti-Church of England’ organisation would be sufficient to deter many, if not most, clergy from joining it”.
In a parallel move, the national forum for diocesan House of Clergy chairs, concerned at possible links with Unite, began discussions with the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group about the creation of a legal-expenses insurance scheme to provide support and assistance for clerics faced with complaints under the Clergy Discipline Measure.
The two groups — the national forum of diocesan House of Clergy chairs, and the General Synod’s House of Clergy — established a joint working group to continue negotiations. And, while the need for a professional association was endorsed, neither the House of Clergy nor the diocesan clergy chairs has specifically endorsed the new CECA.
A Church of England spokesman said: “Unite’s announcement provides an additional source of support and encouragement for Church of England clergy, and for sharing good practice. The House of Clergy has commended the principle of clergy being supported, but without imparting any official endorsement to the Unite branch.
“While the name ‘Church of England Clergy Association’ describes the limits of its membership, it should not be taken to imply any official status in the Church.”
The CECA is a workplace grouping of Unite’s Faith Workers branch.
The director of St Martin’s House, Leicester, the Revd Peter Hobson, is CECA’s first chairman. He said that clerics who joined the association would become full members of Unite and its Faith Workers branch, but, as an official workplace grouping, the association would have “complete autonomy within the union in all matters to do with the Church of England”, and can “speak on behalf of our members to the institutions of the Church without the union or the branch dictating policy to us”.
Members would, Mr Hobson said, “still have access to all the benefits and support that the union can offer, such as resources, finance, and wisdom, but it is now very clear that there is a group specifically dedicated to Church of England clergy, run by Church of England clergy”.
He confirmed that the House of Clergy had not endorsed the association. While the Standing Committee had been fully briefed, the House of Clergy as a whole had not had the opportunity to discuss the new association, because “it has only been launched this week.”
The Priest-in-Charge of Sacred Trinity, Salford, Canon Andy Salmon, was one of two diocesan clergy chairs invited to discussions with Unite. He said this week: “We live in a changing world, and need to be aware of that, and have support systems to help us when things go wrong. Clergy who join will get the support from being a member of Unite, but my fear is that not enough clergy would join to make it a meaningful organisation, or to give it the weight of a representative body.
“A lot of clergy would consider that they are in a vocation where this kind of representative role is not needed, and they don’t want to become part of an adversarial structure that is sometimes the case with Unite.
“Unite have not helped themselves with their relationship with clergy with some of the things they have said in the Worcester case.”