The United Church of Canada has floated the idea of "an association of ministers," in a discussion paper.
The possibility of a collective association of ministers comes months after a group of United Church ministers in Ontario joined Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector union.
The community chapter of the union is called Unifaith. Community chapters, unlike locals, don't negotiate collective bargaining agreements with any employer. They also pay less in dues.
The discussion paper, written by a United Church task group says, "an association of ministers would offer collegial support, advice, advocacy on ministry leadership issues, and continuing education."
The paper is based on 614 submitted responses.
According to Rev. Jim Evans, Unifaith's former interim president, he and volunteers from the United Church have spent a decade educating colleagues in self-care and social unionism, communicating with church people across the country, and researching concerns regarding benefits, pensions, church closures and other issues.
Evans, of Ingersoll, Ont., has been trying to organize ministers for a decade.
"Between 2004 and 2013, when we were organizing Clergy United, a union for United Church ministers within the CAW, we were contacted by countless faith workers in many other denominations around the world," Evans said. "They all sought our support, compassion and free anti-bullying program while they were being harassed, bullied or wrongfully accused or fired. As church membership and budgets shrink, these alarming issues are getting worse, not better."
The United Church says membership has declined by about 20 per cent since 2004 and that between 50 and 60 churches are closing every year.
Evans and Unifaith president Rev. Robin Wardlaw of Toronto believe the United Church's proposed association is too limiting in the supports and rights it would afford its clergy members.
"It won't give us the right to negotiate our concerns collectively with the church's management," Evans said. "We need to have the church take us seriously when we identify issues affecting the lives and work of our members and want to discuss and advance solutions with the church at every level."
The church was quick to remind the union the association is not a recommendation but rather an idea.
“The association of ministers that is referred to in the Unifaith news release is not at this time a recommendation, but rather one of the ideas that is being floated in a discussion paper that was developed by a task group that will present its report to the United Church of Canada’s general council in August 2015," Nora Sanders, the general secretary of the general council of the United Church of Canada, wrote in an email.
Unifaith will be contacting the United Church of Canada national administration with its request to discuss the matter and seek the church's encouragement and endorsement of the Unifor Unifaith Community Chapter.
"We want the same things the church wants: Effective ministry from talented, dedicated people who are currently very vulnerable to any charge brought by anyone, even anonymously," Wardlaw said. "We celebrate the report of the United Church's comprehensive review task group. After the thousands of discussions our own volunteers have had with clergy, their families and church members throughout the years, we know that an association is good for ministers – and that a union is even better."