Fears prompt clergy to put their faith in trade union

In God they believe, but in Amicus they trust. The number of Kirk ministers joining a union to protect themselves against their employer has doubled over the last five months amid concerns over short-term contracts.

The union Amicus, which represents white collar workers, has signed up 19 dog-collared Kirk ministers since last September, taking the total number of card-carrying clergymen to 40.

Ten ministers have signed up to pay the union dues of £9.75 a month - £117 a year - in the first six weeks of 2003, Amicus has revealed.

By contrast, the union enlisted just four new members from the Kirk in the first seven months of last year, emphasising the sudden rush from the men and women of the cloth to protect themselves against earthly concerns such as job insecurity.

Ministers used to be appointed to their parishes for life unless they committed a grave sin which brought their office into disrepute. But increasingly those filling current vacancies are only given short-term, five-year contracts because the Kirk wants to be able to redeploy them if necessary.

Chris Ball, the official organiser for the clergy section of Amicus, confirmed there had been a recent flurry of applications from the Kirk. Many of the new recruits were anxious about their future, he said.

"These shorter contracts are generating a great sense of unease and anxiety and people feel they need the protection and support being a member of a union can provide," Ball said. Amicus, whose general secretary is Roger Lyons, was created last year by a merger between the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union and electricians union the AEEU.

Ministers feel under more pressure than ever before. A survey last year for the Church magazine, Life & Work, showed that more than two in five of the Kirk’s 1,200 ministers had been so stressed they had seriously considered leaving the ministry.

The Rev Ian Fraser, a minister at St Luke’s and St Andrew’s in Glasgow, is a longstanding trade unionist.

He said: "Churches are run by human beings and that means the people involved have all the frailties of human beings. There can be personality clashes that can create friction."

The Church of Scotland, however, denied it was a bad employer. "It is felt that our ministers enjoy at least the equivalent, if not better, employment conditions than they would get if they were treated as employees by a secular organisation," a spokesman said.