[Episcopal News Service] The House of Bishops is inviting Episcopalians to “share reflections on sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation” ahead of a planned General Convention listening session titled “Pastoral Response to #MeToo.”
A selection of the reflections, with no names attached, will be read as part of the liturgy included in the session, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real, vice-president of the House of Bishops, said in a May 4 letter to the Episcopal Church.
The #MeToo movement has meant that “the curtain of silence has been drawn back to reveal the pervasive misuse of power, cutting across all races, socio-economic strata, ages and locations, including our own context,” they wrote. “In the Episcopal Church, our practices have not always reflected the values we say we hold. We do not always practice the reconciliation we proclaim.”
The House of Bishop’s Pastoral Response “will focus on listening, liturgy and steps for healing,” according to the press release issued with the letter. It will take place Wednesday, July 4, 5:15 to 7 p.m. CDT. Those not attending the General Convention in Austin, Texas, will be able to participate remotely via a live webcast.
Reflections may be submitted confidentially “by anyone in our church for sharing anonymously in this liturgical setting of repentance, prayer and worship, pledging a way forward for healing, reconciliation and transformation of ourselves and our church,” the bishops said. A member of the reading team will contact people when their reflections have been read and reviewed.
Confidential reflections can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response, 815 Second Ave., New York NY 10017.
“We imagine a variety of responses: reflections that speak to the culture of harassment, abuse and exploitation, including insensitive comments, micro-aggressions and other insensitivities,” Curry and Gray-Reeves wrote.
Their letter notes that the session is a “liturgical and pastoral offering,” not a clergy discipline, or Title IV, hearing. “During the balance of General Convention, there will be resources available for individual pastoral care and Title IV consultations in separate spaces of the Convention Center as people may find the need and desire for continued support and assistance,” the bishops said.
The letter also acknowledges that some submitted reflections “might raise the possibility of a Title IV action” and says that Bishop Todd Ousley of the presiding bishop’s Office of Pastoral Development will communicate with the author directly.
The roots of the session are in a Jan. 22 letter from Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, calling on Episcopalians to spend Lent and beyond examining the church’s history and its handling or mishandling of cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse.
Curry and Jennings said in their Jan. 22 letter to the church that they wanted General Convention to discuss these issues because they “want to hear the voice of the wider church as we determine how to proceed in both atoning for the church’s past and shaping a more just future.”
They called in their letter for an Ash Wednesday Day of Prayer on Feb. 14, during which Episcopalians should meditate on how the church has “failed to stand with women and other victims of abuse and harassment.”
Jennings went on to organize a Lenten series of reflections, essays and meditations, some of them explicit in their descriptions, about sexual harassment and exploitation in the church that were posted on the House of Deputies website. In early March, she also appointed a special House of Deputies committee on resolutions regarding sexual harassment and exploitation. The committee is drafting General Convention resolutions on inclusive theology and language; disparities in pay, hiring, leave and pensions; changes to the Title IV disciplinary process and training; truth and reconciliation; and systemic social justice beyond the church.
Around the same time that Jennings appointed the committee, the House of Bishops convened for its spring retreat meeting during which “after intense conversation and listening,” the May 4 letter said, the bishops formed a task force to create the General Convention pastoral response.
“This pastoral response will support the good work of the House of Deputies whose efforts towards more effective legislation will come before our General Convention this summer,” Curry and Gray-Reeves wrote. “Our intention is to offer a sacred space for listening and further our work of reconciliation in the broken places of our body.”
The New York Times has described the #MeToo movement as a “mass mobilization against sexual abuse, through an unprecedented wave of speaking out in conventional and social media” that “erod[es] the two biggest barriers to ending sexual harassment in law and in life: the disbelief and trivializing dehumanization of its victims.”
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service.