House of Bishops invites reflections on #MeToo and the Episcopal Church

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted May 4, 2018

[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 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.


Comments (4)

  1. Eric Bonetti says:

    Far too often, The Episcopal Church views sexual harassment as requiring sex. The reality, however, is that gender-based oppression is both wrong, and often illegal.

    Yet when I alerted the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to a situation of possible gender-based harassment, it stated in writing that the matter was not of “weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” and it knowingly permitted the priest in question to engage in retaliation, again brushing the matter off.

    Why would I or anyone else now believe that The Episcopal Church is serious about addressing these issues? The church’s track record in this area is abysmal.

    My advice to anyone considering responding is to think carefully before you do. Retaliation for complaining is acceptable in The Episcopal Church. I have that writing.

  2. Judy Wright Mathews says:

    I believe that we Episcopalians, ordained and lay, are a lot alike all other people. We are learning, ordained and lay, about a new way of looking at interpersonal relationships. We who are women, are finding out that some of us–and many men are now thinking that we women need to be, must be, treated equally. This is only a part of the #MeToo era we are now in. I have a vivid memory of the year the Gen. Convention decided that divorcees could take communion in our Church. We do progress, sometimes slowly. I know that women have been victimized by ordained men–and not anything was done. However, I do believe that from now on, that will not end up that way. Do people change? Some do, and some will not. Let us all continue supporting our Church and hold the ones in charge to keep in mind the equality in all aspects of life that we must aim for–FOR ALL.

  3. Nancy Jo Smith says:

    As a lifelong Episcopalian, I have had a difficult time finding someone to speak to as a survivor of child sex abuse. Two priests were filled with courage and pastoral knowledge to help me on my journey of recovery. One was Fr. David Myers, deceased 12/1991, and Fr. Harold Clinehens. I cherish these experiences from these courageous men. This makes me, Nancy smith, proud to be a true Episcopalian.

  4. Eric Bonetti says:

    Having sent my experience in, I am underwhelmed by the response. For me, that was the final straw, and I asked to have my name removed from all church records. Goodbye and good riddance!

Comments are closed.