9 April 2020  |

A notice from the British Union Conference confirms that some workers across the union have been placed on furlough and enrolled in the UK government’s Job Retention Scheme. In this, they join some of the biggest companies in the country like British Airways and others, some of whom have furloughed up to 80% of their workers.

Under this program church workers, including pastors, teachers, and administrative personnel, receive approximately 80% of their regular salary from the government. Some fields are topping this up to 100%, though pastors are being asked to limit travel to an absolute minimum—not difficult right now—and defer purchases made with book or equipment allowances.

This has not yet affected all workers, but it may be as many as 50% in some fields.

While there remain uncertainties with regard to church workers, the terms of the Job Retention Scheme say that if you are furloughed you cannot volunteer to work in your regular workplace. What this means for those who function regularly in a volunteer context in church, or who are called upon for emergencies like funerals, remains unclear. Some have expressed concern about the church taking government money in exchange for ceasing pastoral work.

One unnamed source says that the Job Retention Scheme may have come at an opportune time for the Southern England Conference (SEC), which was already in financial difficulty even before COVID-19. In December it was revealed that the SEC had a substantial shortfall for the 2020 budget due to an increase in worker compensation and ambitious capital development projects. While they tightened their budget in order to move forward into the new year, conference leaders admitted that it would be prudent to join the government’s Job Retention Scheme to safeguard cash flow.

SEC President Emmanuel Osei released this statement on the website:

We have held discussions with our schools, our SEC Directors, our Area Coordinators and all our pastors concerning this very matter. I am grateful to all our staff and workers for sharing their wisdom in discussing this issue. Because of the closure of our schools, we have decided to place all support staff and some of the teaching staff on furlough. We have retained the Headteachers and the Senior Leadership Team. Since our Conference office is closed due to the lockdown, we have also placed all our support staff on furlough with the exception of the media, treasury, secretariat and presidential departments. Finally, we have furloughed most of our interns and licensed ministers for the next two months.

Adventist Today friend and author Weiers Coetser, who is a pastor for the SEC in Exeter and Torquay in county Devon, shared this comment:

My employment remains secure and my service record unbroken.… The members have not been abandoned. Zoom services and prayer meetings are continuing as usual—just without the pastor being in the driving seat. But even if COVID-19 and furlough conditions stop some things, influence and friendship does not stop. Being on furlough even allows me to connect more intimately with the local community (there is nothing in the furlough conditions that prevents that). Tomorrow my family and I will be cleaning an elderly neighbour’s small but dilapidated back-yard for a few hours while keeping safe social distancing. In my opinion the call for this time is to be a good citizen and a good neighbour, and I really don’t need the title of “pastor” right now to live out this call. It is definitely not business as usual, but I don’t think it is such a bad situation either.

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