‘Rewards in heaven won’t pay the bills’: priests strike in Norway

Norwegian priests are on strike over the Christmas period over a threatened pay cut at the Church or Norway. Ida Picard reports.

Priests and church workers on strike in Norway. Photo: Fagforbundet (Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees) / Birgit Dannenberg

In what is an historic first for the country, and potentially also in the world, priests are currently on strike in Norway. The strike now spans several parishes and includes members from multiple trade unions, representing priests, deans, cantors and others working for the Church of Norway. Around 40 are currently on strike, up from an original group of 21; the majority are priests and deans.

At the heart of the current conflict with the Church of Norway management is a move that would reduce the pay for new priests, as well as priests taking up positions in new parishes. Five years ago, an agreement was reached to supplement priests’ salaries with the equivalent of £4000-£6000 annually, as compensation for loss of other benefits (specifically being provided accomodation) when the Church transitioned from being a state institution to a legally separate entity in 2017. This salary supplementation is now under threat for new priests, which the unions argue is not just unfair, but a grave threat to a profession already struggling to recruit.

The traditional Christmas services, in many places already restricted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be affected by the priests’ strike. While the pandemic has also affected pickets and solidarity rallies, regular pickets – including with striking priests singing the Internationale (see below) – have been taking place since the strike began on 12 December. In Asker, a municipality close to Oslo, a rally and strike choir performance is planned to replace the traditional Christmas eve service, bringing together 20 striking priests, deans and church musicians from across the capital. 

The news of the strike has generated a lot of interest. When asked whether it would not be more appropriate for priests to wait for their ‘rewards in heaven’, the answer has been unequivocal: ‘rewards in heaven will not pay the bills.’

Merry Christmas from rs21 to the striking priests and church workers!

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