“It was isolated, insatiably demanding, and I was, on the whole, working without close colleagues.” The role is, “for many, quite overwhelming and exhausting…” [Archbp Justin Welby] said.
This kind of pressure may well explain why increasing numbers of his priests in the Church of England are seeking help outside the church for their problems. Faced with demanding congregations, rarely being off duty, piles of paperwork and disciplinary procedures they often feel are unfair, priests are turning instead to trade unions for support.
According to one of Britain’s largest unions, Unite, there has been a rapid increase in the past year in the number of Anglican parish priests, or vicars, joining its specialist faith worker branch. Almost 1,500 priests plus a few rabbis and imams joined the union last year — an increase of 16 per cent in 12 months.
The Anglican vicars are joining despite not having the usual British employment rights, because they are termed “officeholders” and cannot take their complaints to an employment tribunal. And while they cannot pursue rights they don’t have as members of Unite, they can seek counsel and support there from others familiar with their travails.
According to Rev Peter Hobson, who is head of the priests’ Unite branch, Church of England Clergy Advocates, vicars are turning to the union because they are under pressure from all sides – from the people in the pews and from their bishops.