March 6, 2013

Are Clergy Just Another Union?

Recently, I've been told that clergy are just another union. I can see how people might think that. At least, United Methodist clergy have a guaranteed appointment to a church and these churches are required to provide either a parsonage or a housing allowance. And there are parsonage standards. Clergy are organized and provide leadership for the church, as a local institution but also regionally, nationally, and even internationally. There are great benefits to being in the clergy family. We have the satisfaction of serving God and living with other Christians in mission and ministry.

However any spouse will tell you that for each benefit for being part of clergyperson's family, there are also great burdens.True, God gives us gifts and graces, but too often the churches make them heavy gifts indeed. But in no way are clergy part of a union.

For one thing, in a union the leadership is accountable to the membership and are tasked to lead for the benefit of the membership.This is hardly the case in the church. Our leadership, once elected (bishops) or appointed (District Superintendents), other than following church law, are not accountable to pastors.They are accountable to the Church, often at the expense of the pastors in their charge.

Next, unions have contracts with their employer. For United Methodist pastors this is especially tricky. Pastors are employed by the Annual Conference and not the local church. And pastors may influence their pay and benefits, but often lay leadership in the local church make those decision--again within the bounds of church law, which, in the case of UMs, is codified in the Discipline.

I've never been a part of a union, but I know union members can strike. This would be unthinkable for pastors to do, no matter what the circumstance. And unions negotiate for working hours. I don't know about your spouse, but mine is on call 24/7, even when taking time off.

And I would suppose that there is some solitary between union members. Increasingly, this is untrue for clergy, much less their families. But perhaps you have another clergy spouse who has stood by you in tough times, I know I have.

Looking at another profession from the outside in always gives a distorted view. But so does only looking from the inside out. From the inside we know that UM clergy may have a guaranteed appointment, but that doesn't mean that you would choose or can afford to go there or that you won't be sent far from your place of employment.You may live in a parsonage, but that doesn't mean that the church keeps it up or that you are proud to call it your home. But looking from the outside, many lay people believe that clergy have a sweet deal. More on that later.

So what is the true picture? Clergy are not a union, but sometimes I wish they were.

Grace, Kathy

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