Clergy Mental Health Crisis: Is Your Church Ready? A Guide to Leaves of Absence and Short-term Disability (Canada Edition)

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*All examples of premium costs, benefits and terms are current as of writing in December 2021. 

*For US edition, follow this link

The Year(s) of Collective Grief and Widespread Burnout

Pastors today do not lack for sources of trauma, grief and loss. In addition to a pastor’s ongoing professional proximity to death and suffering, pastors today must navigate widespread polarization, rising secularism, and a job that is increasingly complex and misunderstood.  

Not surprisingly, at Pastor Church Resources, we are interacting more and more with pastors dealing with diagnosed and undiagnosed depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness and general burnout. 

What Can a Council Do?

As the tension builds, and the pastor finds they are less and less able to carry on, the council begins to ask, “What can we do to help?”

We commend church councils who 

More mental health resources for Canadian pastors and churches are available here. 

Frankly, pastors have complicated relationships with their “employers,” since their employers are also their spiritual home and, often, the spiritual home of their families. Thus, pastors need a church that is able to treat them as human beings. Councils do more than anyone else in the church to set the tone of treating the pastor as a fellow child of God, called to the ministry, and not merely an at-will employee of the church. But sometimes, even an extra week off here or a task reassigned there is not enough to restore a pastor to sustainable mental, emotional and spiritual health. 

Leave of Absence

When incremental adjustments won’t do, a pastor or council may wonder about the viability of a medical leave of absence to attend to mental health needs. But because this need comes up so irregularly, few churches and pastors know what is technically required to make a leave of absence work.

Church Order

The church order is clear that a minister may take a temporary leave of absence with the approval of the council (Article 16). And the church order also asks each classis to appoint a regional pastor whose responsibility it is to support ministers (Article 42). Regional pastors are sometimes called “the pastor’s pastor,” and they are often key support people for pastors in distress. Finally, if a leave of absence proves to be permanent, a pastor may be released from ordained ministry by way of Article 14b.

Short-Term Disability

Short-term disability is not included in the Consolidated Group Insurance Plan (CGI) offered to pastors and church staff through the denomination. But there are three potential paths that churches can take to care for pastors and staff that may need additional time off in excess of sick time benefits that usually accrue during the normal course of employment:

  1. The denominational office provide their staff with salary continuation for 180 days of short-term disability and we recommend that churches consider this same salary continuation for their staff 

  2. The Employment Insurance Act in Canada offers sick benefits (see section below for further details)

  3. Churches can purchase short-term disability insurance for their employees. 

At the time of writing, Blue Cross offered sample plans (based on a 50-year-old, non-smoking pastor in good health) with benefits ranging from $1500-4000/month and premiums ranging from $200-400/months. The Blue Cross plans pay the benefit up to one year and include waiting periods of zero days for accidents and fourteen days for illness. Rates vary by age, income, occupation and health. 

  1. Should a church wish to provide their staff, who are covered until the CRCNA group plan Consolidated Group Insurance (CGI), Short Term Disability coverage, they can reach out to the CRCNA Human Resources office in Canada to be connected to an insurance broker for plan information and rates.

Long-Term Disability

Ordained ministers who participate in the CRCNA Pension Plan are also insured for Long-Term Disability (LTD) under the pension plan. Generally, ordained pastors are eligible for LTD coverage if they are actively participating in the Ministers' Pension Plan and working a minimum of 30 hours per week. The monthly benefit is 60% of the pastors monthly earnings, including housing, to a maximum of $5,000. The plan insurer is the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). RBC deems the participant to be disabled when they are limited from performing the material and substantial duties of their regular occupation; and have a 20% or more loss in indexed monthly earnings due to the same sickness or injury. The LTD benefit has a 180 waiting period before benefits are paid. 

LTD benefits would begin after 180 consecutive days of disability. RBC defines disability under the policy as:

  • being limited from performing the material and substantial duties of the participant’s regular occupation due to your sickness or injury

  • being under the regular care of a physician. 

Pastors on short term disability should reach out to the pension office [email protected] to make an application for LTD approximately 30 days prior to the end of the 180 days waiting period so that the necessary paperwork and adjudication from RBC is processed and there is not a long delay in receiving benefits. 

Employment Insurance Sickness Benefit:

Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits can provide pastors with up to 15 weeks of financial assistance if they cannot work for medical reasons. Pastors could receive 55% of their earnings up to a maximum of $595 a week through EI. To qualify for EI pastors would need to demonstrate that:

  • they are unable to work for medical reasons

  • their regular weekly earnings from work have decreased by more than 40% for at least 1 week

  • until September 24, 2022: their accumulated 420 insured hours* of work in the 52 weeks before the start of the claim or since the start of their last claim, whichever is shorter 

*As an example, 420 hours are equivalent to 12 weeks of work at 35 hours a week.

Learn More

If you are a church leader uncertain of how to care for your struggling pastor, contact Pastor Church Resources

If you are a pastor struggling to manage your spiritual, mental and emotional health, contact your Regional Pastor or Pastor Church Resources. 

For technical support with managing insurance options, contact the Canada Main Office’s Director of Human Resources. 

 

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