When the phone rang near midnight, Jim Evans shuddered at the
thought of the whispered taunts that would come from the other end
of the line. The Rev. Mr. Evans, minister for the United Church of
Canada, was being stalked by a woman from his own congregation. Ever
since he'd rebuffed her sexual advances, the late-night telephone
calls had become a daily ritual. For nearly five years he asked
church elders to intervene, but they refused.
"Those were the darkest hours," he recalls, having only recently
fled his small-town ministry in southern Ontario at the urging of
the police, who said his life could be in danger. "There were so
many times when I thought about just walking away from it all. But I
love the church, and I felt that somehow I had to find a way to
honor my call to the ministry."
Promoting godliness in a secular age is no longer the only
challenge for some of Canada's clergy. Between low pay and stressful
working conditions, more ministers say they are feeling overtaxed -
and not finding relief within traditional church channels. So
instead of turning to the Bible for guidance, they are seeking
salvation in a place once reserved for coal miners and dockworkers:
In addition to what they say are "sweatshop wages," these
ministers say they face both psychological and physical abuse by
their own parishioners. According to United Church figures, 60
percent of its ministers experience conflict with their
congregations, and 80 percent say they have no peer support.
"Quite simply, it's now crisis proportions," says Evans, who now
practices in the small town of Ingersoll, Ontario. He says the
church's outdated hierarchical structure is both unwilling and
incapable of responding to such problems.
Historical ties to CAW
Working alongside some 30 pastors across the country, Evans has
enlisted the Canadian Auto Workers Union to help them organize 4,000
pastors in Canada's largest Protestant denomination.
"I think that after you get over the shock that you're talking
about ministers and you get down to brass tacks, it's an employee-
employer relationship that can only be strengthened by a union,"
adds the Rev. David Galston at Eternal Spring United Church in
Mr. Galston says that members of his group believe a union will
help them negotiate better wages - up from a minimum salary of
C$37,000 (US$31,000). A union would also help them implement a
structure in which they wouldn't be forced to negotiate their salary
with leaders of their own congregation - a practice which often
creates its own divisiveness.
More important, union proponents say, is that the union could
help clarify which part of the church is responsible for overseeing
problems when they do arise, such as Evans's concern about his
stalker. Too often a problem is passed off from one part of the
church to another without ever reaching resolution, Galston says.
He sees the union move as an extension of the historical roots of
a denomination that has long been at the forefront of social and
economic issues - often in alliance with the CAW.
CAW organizer Mike Shields admits that the union was stunned when
it was first approached by a handful of clergy with a request for
representation. "But when we began to understand what was happening,
we felt that we could help them," Mr. Shields says. According to the
disgruntled ministers, 18 percent of active clergy are out on stress
leave at any one time, Shields says. "If that happened in your
workplace or mine, there would have to be a major investigation. …