Who needs a Trade Union for Faith?

Nov 5, 2021 by

by Pete Hobson, Psephizo:

Who needs a Trade Union for faith? When I started out in ordained ministry in the Church of England in 1977 I would have barely understood the question – and having grasped it would have quickly concluded it was not relevant to me. Over 40 years later I find myself chair of CECA (the Church of England Clergy Advocates) within the Faith Workers Branch of Unite the Union, and a strong advocate of others joining.  Why the change? And what reasons—theological and otherwise—do I advance to my colleagues in ministry?

So much has changed over my time in ministry. I began life as a curate with a firm vocation but no security of tenure, and an implicit belief that the church would surely look out for me, as I went about its business. Perhaps even then I knew that may have been a little naïve. My engagement with my sponsoring bishop Victor Whitsey of Chester was limited, but I can still vividly remember a meeting he required with my new fiancée, when his manner seemed even then patriarchal and not a little creepy. We now know a lot more about him and his failings, and how the institutions of the church then and after failed either to see or else to act on them.

Since then the frameworks we inhabit have changed out of all recognition. We have Common Tenure (CT) via the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009, but not employment rights, the Clergy Discipline via the 2003 Measure (CDM), which causes at least as much harm as the misconduct it aims to address, and of course Safeguarding in its many and iterative processes, which has had the effect of clergy feeling ever less safe, alongside laity feeling ever more suspicious.  And of clergy accused of misdoing feeling “handed over to the dogs” in the words of the recent Sheldon report. And all of that alongside a steady dismantling of the structures that undergirded the CofE throughout the 20th century. That, in itself, is only a manifestation of the rapid social and cultural changes in our society—now most emphatically not only post-Christendom, but increasingly post-Christian.

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