Norway’s priests on strike: “We are very worried about the Church’s future”

Priest strikePhoto: Terje Bendiksby / NTB
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Priests in Norway are suddenly not attending baptisms and funerals, and vulnerable people don’t have access to support from priests. However, the priests are so worried that they think a strike is necessary.

“It feels necessary, even if it is awkward. We are very worried about the future of the Church,” pastor and deputy leader of the trade union Theologians Heinke Foertsch told news bureau NTB.

Together with several other church employees, she trooped up outside the Cathedral in Oslo on Saturday to explain why they are on strike. 

The night before, it became clear that 21 priests, deacons, and other church employees would go on strike after a breakdown in the negotiations with the employers’ organization KA.

“It is very demanding for us… There’s important work in the local community and the local congregation for vulnerable people,” parish priest Kirstin Jensen in the Hauketo-Prinsdal congregation noted.

Nevertheless, the parish priest believes that the strike is necessary. 

The background is that the employer wants to deprive new employees of a permanent wage compensation of between NOK 40,000 and NOK 60,000.

“This is a strike for the Church of the future. We experience that it is very unfair and difficult that you now want to do it in such a way that new priests receive a much lower starting salary than we who are working now,” Jensen said.

Fear of low recruitment

Norway already has a shortage of priests. The striking priests are worried about the recruitment and the signal sent to students in the seminary.

“One third of the clergy are over 60 years old… The employer says that in four years, we may be short of 200 priests,” leader Martin Enstad in the Priests’ Association emphasized.

This is the first time in history that the Priests’ Association has gone on strike. But Enstad is also clear that it is necessary.

“We are sure that this cut will lead to us not being able to recruit new priests. This weakens recruitment. The Church requires six years of academic education,” he added.

The bishop steps in

In the week ahead, the strike is scheduled to escalate to several churches across the country. 

A number of Christmas services and other church activities are in danger of not being carried out.

“I should have baptized a child in Ullern church on Sunday morning. There, the bishop has stepped in to carry out the work. The funerals come continuously,” parish priest Jorunn Andersen in Ullern parish in Oslo said.

Ongoing negotiations

The KA Employers’ Organization for Church Activities is still negotiating with the Church’s employees.

Communications Director Trygve W. Jordheim emphasizes that no one will get a reduced salary when the current agreement expires. 

Instead, the new proposal would give the employer greater room for maneuver after September 1, 2021.

He says that the reason why KA does not want to continue the current agreement is that in the long run, they want to harmonize the terms for all Church employees. 

Therefore, they want to remove special arrangements that the priests have, but that other Church employees don’t have. 

“I see no reason to believe that new priests will be offered worse salary conditions in the future. It is an employee’s market, and it will also be in the foreseeable future,” Jordheim told news bureau NTB.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today

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