[Episcopal News Service] The 79th meeting of General Convention will ponder the Episcopal Church’s role in and response to the #MeToo movement, with resolutions, reflections and the hope for reconciliation.
In what could be an extraordinary session, the House of Bishops is inviting Episcopalians to a “Liturgy of Listening” event. The July 4 session, planned for 5:15 to 7 p.m. CT in the worship space set up in the Austin Convention Center, has been called “a sacred space for listening and further reconciliation.”
Meanwhile, close to 30 related resolutions have been filed. The bulk of them are from the 47 members of the special House of Deputies Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation appointed in February by the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, deputies’ president.
Purpose and shape of ‘Liturgy of Listening’
Diocese of Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, who chairs the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response to #MeToo Planning Team, hopes that the groundwork for convention’s debate and passing of resolutions aimed at ending sexual harassment and exploitation will be set during the liturgy. At the session, which is planned for the day before convention formally opens, participants will be invited to open themselves to the idea that sexual harassment and exploitation happen “because we aren’t seeing the image of Christ in one another.”
The session, Duncan-Probe told Episcopal News Service, will be anchored in the idea that Episcopalians believe in the transformational power of liturgy. “We come in our pain and our sorrow, and we hold it before God’s dream for the church and God’s mercy and grace,” she said. “As we do that, Jesus is in our midst and we have a moment where a new future is possible.”
The bishops in May invited Episcopalians to “share reflections on sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation,” saying that a selection of the reflections, with no names attached, would be read as part of the liturgy. The planning team later clarified the confidential nature of the process for receiving and sharing those reflections. Planners have stressed that the session is not a clergy discipline, or Title IV, hearing.
About 40 people chose to share their stories with the planning team, and 10 will be read aloud during the service by bishops. The stories will be told in the first person with no identifying details. Even the so-called “reading bishops” do not know the name of the person whose story they will read, Duncan-Probe said. The use of the first-person voice is intentional, she said, because “when you hear something in the first person, you automatically project yourself into it.”
Duncan-Probe said that “most of the time, these stories are told in secret. They are told in private to a bishop with a chancellor present, and it’s all confidential. And then they’re whispered about at coffee hour and told behind the water cooler, but never have we gathered as a church and heard these stories told out loud without any hidden agenda.”
The liturgy, which will be livestreamed here, was specifically written by the team for this purpose and will have a simple structure, Duncan-Probe said. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with invite those present into “sacred listening.” Each story will be prayed over and meditated on in silence. The bishops who will be seated throughout the congregation will stand and repent their role in damage that has been done. All participants will also be asked to repent the times they were “silent observers” and predators, failed to honor one another and failed to recognize one another as beloved children of God.
“Some hard things are going to be said that I think will be a surprise because people have thought that this was going to be C.Y.A. by the bishops or something like that,” Duncan-Probe, said.
There will be a pastoral response team made up of clinical psychologists, therapists and spiritual directors available before, during and after the service and throughout General Convention, she said. Moreover, a group of people who understand the Title IV clergy disciplinary procedures will also be available to help explain that process.
Resolutions coming to convention
The House of Deputies committee’s 24 resolutions focus 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. Jennings, who chaired the committee, told Episcopal News Service via email that the committee has “worked efficiently, collaborative and creatively to draft an impressive array of legislation. The Rev. Ruth Meyers, an alternate deputy in the Diocese of California, was vice-chair of the committee, and Jennings said she “led an enormous amount of work on a tight timeline.” Jennings said she is grateful to Meyers and to “all of the women whose efforts are leading the Episcopal Church to confess our sins of gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence against women and girls and to end the systemic sexism, misogyny and misuse of power that plague the church and the culture.”
The General Convention Office is in the midst of posting the special committee’s resolutions here. Some are awaiting numbering, and other need information. Here are the 24 resolutions:
* A178 halt the intensification and implementation of immigration policies and practices that are harmful to migrant women, parents and children (proposed by Jennings)
* B011 inclusive language policies for Episcopal seminaries and formation programs (written by committee members and proposed by Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Thomas Breidenthal)
* D016 a task force for women, truth, and reconciliation
* D017 reducing sexual harassment, assault and exploitation in the workplace
* D020 a task force to survey the church to understand sexual harassment and assault in the church
* D021 revision of Office of Transition Ministry portfolio information
* D022 reinstatement of the Women’s Desk
* D023 required training for clergy and bishops establish an anti-sexism task force
* D025 required training for clergy and bishops
* D026 non-discrimination in hiring and clergy deployment
* D031 recognizing and ending domestic violence in our congregations
* D032 equal access to health care regardless of gender
* D033 a churchwide intake officer in clergy discipline cases
* D034 suspend statute of limitations in Title IV for a period of time
* D035 change Title IV on clergy discipline to prevent retaliation
* D036 revision of the Book of Common Prayer to include inclusive and expansive language
* D037 Church Pension Fund to report triennially on clergy compensation
* D040 study the status of women musicians in the church
* DXXX expansive-language liturgical resources
* DXXX using bias-free, expansive language for God and humanity
* DXXX pension equity for lay employees
* DXXX recommendation for ecumenical agreements
* DXXX reconciliation and mediation between clergy
* DXXX change Title IV to provide whistleblower protection
In addition, the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons has filed two canonical-change resolutions. Resolution A108 concerns sexual misconduct prevention training for priests and deacons. Resolution A124 clarifies language about sexual misconduct used in the Title III canons. In addition, the standing commission is calling for a task force on sexual harassment (A109) and for the church to adopt the Charter for Safety of People Within the Churches of the Anglican Communion (A115).
The roots of the listening session and the resolutions coming to convention are in a Jan. 22 letter from Curry and Jennings, 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 the 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.”
Jennings appointed the special deputies committee after she said she had been contacted by “scores of women” who wanted to share their stories.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.