With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: [What is] the real problem? Your article discusses issues, but the newsletter (Reporter) goes to church workers. Who will take the message to the congregation? Who will advocate for the church worker?
A: Advocacy for church workers is a very important point. The first place I look for this is in the congregation or school itself. Laypeople, including local church leaders, need to step forward to support the needs of their workers. I look for congregations and schools to have a specific entity — a committee or a group of people — tasked with worker support and advocacy concerns. Look for more on this in 2011 from Concordia Publishing House.
You are welcome to reproduce these columns, or better yet, make sure that copies of Reporter are available at least to all congregation and school leaders.
Keeping support for church workers on the proverbial front burner — and not just in matters of compensation — is very important.
R: A few years ago [a major company with a huge chain of electronics supply stores] was considered a true American success story. … [Then] they decided that profits could be increased further if they fired all the sales staff that had more than “x” years experience. The company lasted less than four more years. … [Its] president commented that they had sought short-term profits over long-term stability. … Parents will notice if the experienced and highly qualified teachers are replaced with less-qualified teachers.
A: While I am not familiar with this part of the company’s story, the point is clear. If the underlying motivation of such decisions is financial, the school is headed down a very dark path.
R: Whether … church[es] should provide unemployment compensation — they are not obligated by law — … is a social justice question.
A: Several readers raised the unemployment compensation question, and one referenced a National Catholic Reporter article that I located at http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/fired-do-church-employees-get-unemployment-benefits. The quote that follows is from that article, which also provides a number of comments from readers. Clearly, this is not a concern for the LCMS alone.
“Nearly every state unemployment tax law exempts churches … . Unless a church voluntarily establishes its own policy to pay unemployment taxes, former employees can be terminated and receive no unemployment benefits. With the shuttering of Catholic parishes and schools and dioceses downsizing in many parts of the country, church employees need to know whether or not they have unemployment benefits.”
If there is a Reduction In Force or severance, the severance package should be equal to or exceed what a church worker would receive through unemployment benefits if a congregation or school was participating.
R: Organizations … can fund thousands of dollars into grants for projects around the world, yet nothing has been directed to care for the kingdom workers who have fallen victim to the dreaded Reduction in Force. I apologize if my emotions have overtaken my letter, but it is a battle just to drag myself out of bed in the morning. To have the first day of school arrive and for the first time in 31 years not be a part of that is extremely painful.
A: Great point! Perhaps our districts, benefit associations and other human care groups can begin to think of this as our earthquake. In your pain, you are speaking for a lot of people. No apologies are necessary, for you have given voice to many.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Oct. 22, 2010