Q: I am seeing a number of my colleagues in ministry across the United Church having their hours cut to part time from full time as their churches decline. Can congregations just decide to do that unilaterally?
A: The short answer is no, they can’t. Nor can it be agreed to just between the minister and the congregation. If this is being proposed, it must be approved by those in the regional council tasked with pastoral relations.
Cutting hours is deemed a “change in the pastoral relationship.” That means it’s a fundamental shift in the nature of the work, one that requires a whole new job description and a new understanding of expectations for all involved. You don’t get full-time productivity for part-time pay.
And yet, cutting hours seems to be a growing trend. Rev. Ross Bartlett, adjunct professor at the Atlantic School of Theology, is investigating the move to part-time and bi-vocational ministry in the United Church. His research shows that by 2030, 40 percent of all calls in our denomination will be part time.
This is a huge shift and one that, I think, will only increase as the generation currently supporting congregations with their time and donations ages out.
This growing reality raises a whole raft of issues around our understanding of ministry and the church. It has implications for how we train future clergy, what church is going to look like and whether the United Church commits to helping ordered ministers who want full-time work to find it. These are complex issues without easy answers.
Rev. Christopher White is a minister at Kedron United in Oshawa, Ont.
This column first appeared in Broadview’s March 2022 issue with the title “Making ministry part time.”
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