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The Supportive Community Chapter for Faith Workers and their Families of

The United Church of Canada

United FOR You. United FOR All.

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History of Unifaith Community Chapter:

The United Church of Canada’s own surveys and studies done over the years have identified the need for its ministers to have their own organization of solidarity and representation.

Concerned clergy and their families got together confidentially in 2002 to discuss effective ways to care and advocate for one another within the United Church structure. Two years of research and connecting with ministers across Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere led to the realization that a union designed by and for clergy would be the best solution. Accordingly, in Nov. 2004, a group of United Church ministers exercised their legal rights by launching Clergy United, an information and union organizing campaign under the CAW.

Rev. Jim Evans of Ingersoll, Ontario, Clergy United co-founder and Unifaith past president, recalls, “Between 2004 and 2013, when we were organizing Clergy United, we were contacted by countless faith workers in many other denominations around the world. They all sought our support, compassion and free online anti-bullying program while they were being harassed, bullied or wrongfully accused or fired. As church membership and budgets shrink here in the United Church and globally, these alarming issues are getting worse, not better.”

That was evident by the United Church’s own 2005 survey indicating as many as 50 percent of its clergy had been bullied in various ways in the church in a six-month period. In its 2010 response to the introduction of Ontario Bill 168, An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters, the United Church’s General Council Office referred to that earlier survey, stating: “There was good news in the responses (96.1% of respondents indicated “No” or “Seldom” in response to the question about unwanted physical contact).” In doing the math, Unifaith estimates that the so-called “good news” indicated that every other day for six months, approximately one minister had been physically bullied as a consequence of his or her service to the church.

As time went on, Clergy United and the CAW determined that numerous ministers were still trying to understand how a clergy union would function. To give those ministers opportunity to explore that in a practical way while also providing a real body of solidarity to the ministers who wanted a union immediately, Clergy United collaborated with the CAW to help create the new Community Chapter union model.

In 2013, the CAW and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada joined forces to become Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union. Clergy United was pleased to begin its next chapter in Solidarity as the new Unifor Unifaith Community Chapter.

A Unifor Community Chapter functions much like a professional association, with the added benefits of Unifor’s wide range of resources, expertise and Solidarity. While Unifor assists the Community Chapter, it insists 100% of Unifaith’s dues stay within Unifaith.  

Unifor Unifaith Community Chapter is independent of the United Church – which is vital to Unifaith members’ confidence, comfort and autonomy in discussing church-related issues, discerning solutions and achieving positive outcomes.

“The United Church has had a very long time to do something constructive to protect the rights, safety and dignity of its clergy,” says Unifaith president Rev. Robin Wardaw. “Unifaith, served by dedicated volunteers, has been proving our commitment and dependability since 2002. As a new kind of union, Unifaith is a legal, chartered body of solidarity with the resources of Unifor behind us. We are empowering every United Church minister, serving or not, to take ownership of our common issues relating to isolation, bullying, overwork, precarious employment and underemployment, retirement, pensions and more. And we are inclusive, opening membership to all other faith workers of the United Church, as well as their immediate family members.”

“Through our low member dues and volunteerism, we are doing all this at no cost to the United Church or its congregations,” Robin says. “Unifaith is timely, responsible and right for our changing and beloved Church, in keeping with the United Church’s values and long history of encouraging workers, including its own, to organize and join unions.”

Honouring Our Covenant through Solidarity

Some of our clergy have questioned how they could honour their covenants while being members of Unifaith.

When a minister serving a congregation is slandered, libelled, stalked, harassed, threatened, subjected to sexism, racism or prejudice based on her sexual orientation, the covenant is broken. When a minister must serve in an unsafe church or live in an inhabitable manse, the covenant is broken. When a minister does not receive her full paycheque on pay day, the covenant is broken.

These are the realities of service for hundreds of ministers in the United Church. We know this to be true because we have listened to their stories of pain, humiliation, anger, despair and frustration.

Unifaith is a legal, ethical body of clergy, providing support and advocacy that can help our ministers uphold their covenants. As we grow as a community chapter with the goal of becoming a certified union, we will have the collective strength to secure fairness and justice for our ministers, so that they can serve faithfully and responsibly, according to the terms of their covenants.

There seems to be some confusion regarding the meaning of the term, “covenant.” For the official definition, we look to a brochure, sanctioned by General Council in 1988, entitled “Living as Covenant People,” published under the auspices of the 29th General Council of 1992’s “Confessing Our Faith” project. Some excerpts clearly define covenants for us:

 “Covenants are many things: agreements, relationships, laws, promises.”

 “..when we realize that originally people had to ‘cut a covenant’ by preparing animals for sacrifice, perhaps we can see the very earthy and concrete nature of this biblical concept...Nothing delicate or other-worldly about [it]”

 “The early Christians had their own symbolism for the covenant in the central act of the faith - the Lord’s Supper. Despite the differences in Old and New Testament usage, the Sinai covenant and that of the Upper Room were similar...”

 “Although covenant may seem at first thought to be a ‘religious’ word remote from our own experience, it is in fact part of our daily relationships. Covenants are affirmed (or denied) in: ...friends, associates, colleagues...work, jobs, professional associations...our use of money, our lifestyle...mortgages, investments, etc....annual corporate renewal of relationships; eg., use of Covenant Service from our Methodist roots...”

 The “Living as a Covenant People” brochure information is presented as “...part of what we should be about if we are to live faithfully as God's people.”

This Feels Like Home…

Ministers visiting union halls are frequently struck by how similar the union posters and publications calling for social justice are to those found in United Churches and publishes by the General Council.

At the end of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, Labour Churches were raised up across the Canada. Church members and clergy were leaders in the areas of justice, working to organize workers in a large variety of issues and help them form unions. Church basements and halls became centres for union meetings. The very language and structure of social trade unions grew out of the Methodist traditions. Thus, workers became Sisters and Brothers to one another ever after, pledging to advance and protect their individual wellbeing and collective rights.