Clergy Employment Rights?

The trade union Amicus are continuing their campaign for clergy to be given full employment rights in the light of some terrible abuses that have shown the precarious employment situation we are technically in. All very praiseworthy, but it ain’t so simple.

Every time many clergy are asked questions for official or commercial purposes, we don’t fit in. Homeowner or tenant? Neither: we live in tied accommodation.

Employee or self-employed? Again, neither: we’re that rare breed known as office-holders. It puts us in a select group along with people such as registrars of births, marriages and deaths.

Salary? Er, it’s called a stipend, actually. Not the rate for the job that a salary supposedly is, but a living allowance to free us from want and give us the time to seek God’s priorities and vision for our calling.

Which is where the notion of employment rights could be dangerous. We need the protection from tin pot Hitlers at local and national levels, but imagine what they’d become if they thought they were our employers. I’ve been in a situation where people in power wanted to impose a job description on a minister. Unless this is handled carefully (and at least the Government so far is going for the voluntary approach with churches) this has the potential not only for the tail to wag the dog but for one kind of tyranny to be exchanged for another, and in it the very essence of our calling to be shattered – not by God, but by humans.

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