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More clergy get a union card

21 January 2022

CONCERN about pastoral reorganisation and a reduction in clergy numbers is one of the main drivers behind growing trade-union membership among Church of England clergy, the chairman of Church of England Clergy Advocates (CECA) said this week.

CECA is a professional association within the faith workers’ branch of Unite. The Revd Pete Hobson, who chairs it, reported on Tuesday that, on average, 30 C of E clergy were joining every month. The total membership stands at 1500 — 7.5 per cent of the nearly 20,000 active clergy serving in the Church of England. Mr Hobson said that new joiners included many clergy “new in ministry — curates, and even some in training . . . which didn’t use to be the case”. But they also numbered senior leaders, including bishops, deans, and archdeacons, “who themselves appreciate that they may need the protection a union provides”.

Conversations with new members suggested that the two key drivers for membership were: concern about the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), and concern about pastoral reorganisation, he said. “There’s just a general concern, I would say, that we are in a climate where measures may be taken against them from a number of directions, and they would like to be assured that they had support if that were the case.” CECA’s work with Sheldon Hub, campaigning for reform of the Measure, had made people “more aware of ways that that process has been damaging” (News, 31 January 2020).

CECA is represented on the Clergy Conduct Measure Implementation Group, currently working on a replacement for the CDM (News, 5 November 2021), which is expected to update members of the General Synod on progress next month. A “significant number” of members of the House of Clergy were CECA members, Mr Hobson said.

Another drive for the expanding union membership was a growing awareness of pastoral reorganisation, he reported: several dioceses are setting out plans to reduce clergy numbers, producing “anxiety as to how that will happen: will it be done properly and fairly?”

A recent consultation paper on possible changes to the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011 (News, 25 June 2021), which governs parish reorganisation, said that “the recent (2018) reduction in the amount of compensation payable for dispossession, to a year’s stipend plus housing, combined with the increased financial pressure in some dioceses to reduce the number of stipendiary clergy posts, means that reorganisation involving dispossession may now be more likely to be proposed.

“Consequently, there are likely to be more cases where clergy (or others) object to such pastoral reorganisation. It is also the case that more clergy may seek to make a case against dispossession on the grounds of discrimination in respect of protected characteristics. The Equality Act does not typically relate to clergy because of their status as independent office-holders, but nevertheless clergy should be able to make a case against dispossession on those grounds within the Church’s processes where this is appropriate.”

Mr Hobson said: “I think there is widespread recognition that the issues the Church faces are not manufactured by the Church: they are a reality, and have to be responded to, but what what we are after is a response that is fair and proportionate and measured, and doesn’t unduly penalise clergy. On the one hand, there is supporting an individual member in their individual case, and, on other hand, there is arguing collectively for the overall process, and we do both those things.”

At CECA’s inception in 2012, there was “quite a current of ‘This is not a good thing, and it won’t go anywhere, and people should not join,’” he recalled, “whereas now I would say quite strongly the current is the other way.” It was notable, he suggested, that CECA did not adopt “distinctive theological positions. . . We represent pretty much the whole spectrum of theological views in the Church. We are actually one of the few places where all those come together.”

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