There are times when an appointed pastor requires a short leave of absence that affects the employment arrangement with the local church but does not change the appointment arrangement with the conference. The reasons for the leave may vary from personal health (physical and/or mental) to educational pursuits. If requested by either the pastor or official board, the Director of Personnel (or a designate) will assist with the planning for the leave.
Generally speaking, a leave of absence granted and managed by the local church should not exceed six months. It is important that the leave serves the original needs that prompted the leave. If there is need for a leave to be extended beyond the original plan, new terms should be negotiated.
Compensation to the pastor may vary from full compensation to no compensation. This is a time for a congregation to express compassion to its pastor. The understanding relating to compensation needs to be clearly outlined in a signed “Letter of Agreement” at the beginning of the leave. The need for accountability and progress reports is important whether or not the church compensates the pastor.
While a pastor is on leave, the church must ensure that his/her ministry responsibilities are cared for. If there are persons on staff, their job descriptions may be revised to cover ministry needs during the time of the pastor’s absence. The pastor going on leave needs to know that it will be impossible to step back into leadership in the church at the same point where he/she stepped out. Longer leaves will result in greater changes in the relationships with the congregation and staff.
If a leave longer than 6 months is required, the MEGaP Committee should be involved as the pastor’s appointment may need to be changed. (See ¶853.) The departments of personnel and of administrative services are available to the pastor and local church as a resource in these situations.
If the need for the leave is medical in nature, the best professional resources should be engaged. It is not unreasonable for a board to request permission to receive progress reports from counselors and medical professionals. The pastor may also qualify for the Long-Term Disability program administered as part of the benefits package for pastors. For more information on this program, go to the FMCIC website.
When a return to work is approved by a qualified medical practitioner/ counselor, a re-entry consultation will be conducted with the minister (and spouse if applicable) under the following conditions:
- after any length of time, when initiated by the director of personnel or the minister on medical leave
- after a medical leave of 12 months or more, it is mandatory
The re-entry consultation will be conducted by two MEGaP members (one clergy and one lay) and the director of personnel or designate.
If the employment relationship must end, a termination of employment form (see ¶880) must be completed. Guidance for applying for Employment Insurance coverage is available through Service Canada at: 1.800.206-7218 or www.servicecanada.gc.ca/en/common/contactus/index.shtml. If further help is needed, contact the office of the Director of Administrative Services of the FMCIC.
In summary the following issues relating to a leave of absence need to be clearly understood and stated in the “Letter of Agreement” signed by the pastor and a representative of the official board:
- the beginning date, duration, and ending of the agreement;
- the compensation package during the leave;
- the system of accountability expected;
- the need to revise job descriptions and staffing needs (so that the need for a leave does not happen again);
- a plan (if the leave is for medical reasons) that provides for a gradual and progressive return to full-time responsibility, in consultation with the pastor’s physician and the director of personnel;
- provision for the conference to advise and assist the church in the interim.