THERE has been a surge in people joining the faith workers’ branch of the Unite union in the past year, it was reported last week.
A rise in membership of 200, or 16 per cent, had taken the total to nearly 1500, The Times reported. More than half (54 per cent) come from the Church of England.
This week, the Revd Pete Hobson, the chairman of Church of England Clergy Advocates (CECA), a professional association within the faith workers’ branch, formed in 2012, said that bullying, stress, and the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) were among the issues prompting clergy to phone its helpline.
“Quite a lot might just need moral support and advice,” he said. “The real strength of CECA is that all our members are C of E clergy; so you are not talking to someone who does not understand . . . but they are not functioning in their role as part of the institution. For most of our members that is really important.”
Allegations of bullying were “quite common”, he said, and so was “general work-related stress”. There were also calls related to reorganisation and threats to jobs. CECA can also provide people to accompany members to proceedings. As part of its work of “strategic engagement” with the Church, it is currently being consulted on a review of the CDM in relation to safeguarding.
“Every case where the CDM is invoked is difficult — for clergy against whom it is invoked, and for others trying to run the process,” he told The Times. “It’s fair to say it doesn’t always work as it should.”
The increased focus on safeguarding, and the emergence of historical abuse claims had also contributed to anxiety, he said. “Clergy, like anyone else, might be thinking, ‘Are there things I may have done, perhaps totally inadvertently, in the past where complaints will be made, and how will I fare, and will there be someone to support me?’”
In recent months, CECA has worked with the Archdeacons’ Forum on a paper exploring “how the CDM could work better in the early stages”, which is currently being considered by the Remunerations and Conditions of Service Committee of the Archbishops’ Council. It was seeking a “more judicious, common-sense approach when issues are first raised, as to whether they need to progress to more serious, formal levels”, Mr Hobson said. “We hear quite a lot of cases where it is invoked, where, perhaps, it was either inappropriate or used too heavy-handedly.”
This was an example of CECA’s constructive work with the Church’s institutions, he said. “I think, in the past, some people had the perception that the unions were necessarily adopting an aggressive and antipathetic approach to the Church. . . We have worked very hard to say we want constructive engagement in the best traditions of unionism, and we have been encouraged that that has been met very positively by those in the institutions of the Church. What I am hearing back, very often, is ‘We were very glad when your reps were involved: it helped get a better outcome.’”