General Convention responds to the voices and stories of women

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 13, 2018

Some of 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, gathered at microphone 3 in the House of Deputies July 13 to thank Jennings for the work she had given them to do. They also presented her with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The voices and stories of women played a significant role in the workings of the 79th General Convention, from a liturgy where bishops offered laments and confession for the church’s role in sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse, to Resolution D087 that allows deputies to bring infant children on the floor of the House of Deputies to feed them.

Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.

On the night of July 4, before the convention officially opened, a Liturgy of Listening featured stories from women and men who were victims of sexual misconduct perpetrated by someone in the church. Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe of the Diocese of Central New York, who planned the service, said it was designed to help set a framework for General Convention’s consideration of resolutions dealing with sexual misconduct, exploitation and gender disparity. As part of a response to that liturgy, the House of Bishops on July 8 adopted a covenant that commits them to seek changes in their dioceses to combat abuse, harassment and exploitation. The document, which applies only to bishops, is entitled “A Working Covenant for the Practice of Equity and Justice for All in The Episcopal Church.” Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of the Diocese of El Camino Real said the covenant grew out of the Liturgy of Listening because it was clear that “there is no way we can do this and nothing more.” She said, “Sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation are part of the system. This is about acknowledging and accepting that.”

Special House of Deputies committee offered resolutions

In February, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies, appointed a 47-member special committee to draft proposed legislation on sexual harassment and exploitation. This followed a letter to the Episcopal Church in January from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Jennings, calling for the church to “examine its history and come to a fuller understanding of how it has handled or mishandled cases of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse through the years.”

The special committee, sometimes dubbed the “MeToo Committee,” proposed more than two dozen resolutions on topics ranging from changes to the canons on clergy discipline to issues of clergy compensation and pension equity for lay employees. Other resolutions touching on issues of gendered language and clergy employment were proposed by deputies from outside the committee.

The convention adopted many of the proposals.

Changes to Title IV canons on clergy discipline:

  • D034 eliminates the statute of limitations for victims of clergy sexual misconduct for three years between Jan 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2021.
  • D074 amends the start of the process for filing charges.
  • D076 protects people who file charges against a member of the clergy from retaliation and allows confidential filings for those who fear retaliation.

Several resolutions dealt with changes to structures inside the church:

  • D016 creates a Task Force on Women, Truth and Reconciliation to help the church “engage in truth-telling, confession, and reconciliation regarding gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence against women and girls.”
  • D021 removes from the materials that clergy file with the Office of Transition Ministry any reference to gender or current compensation, since statistics show women in the church are paid less than men of comparable experience.
  • D022 creates a task force to track resolutions from this convention that relate to challenges of women in ministry and to report findings twice a year to the Executive Council.
  • D025 creates a task force on clergy formation and continuing education, especially regarding preparation for ordination.
  • D026 adds family status, including pregnancy or child care plans, to the list of things for which no one in the church can be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, governance or employment of the church.
  • D037 directs the Church Pension Group to expand its Clergy Compensation Report to include more specifics on items relating to gender.
  • D045 affirms that pension plans for clergy and lay employees need to be more equitable and calls on the Church Pension Group to study how to make that happen.
  • D046 continues reauthorizing the expansive-language rites in the Enriching Our Worship series and calls on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to create principles to use in developing additional expansive-language liturgical texts.
  • D067 encourages the use of inclusive and expansive language for God and humanity, offering examples of how to do that based on the stylebook of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Addressing the needs of women in society:

  • A178 calls for a halt to inhumane and unjust immigration policies that are harmful to migrant women, parents and children.
  • D017 calls for policies that reduce sexual harassment, assault and exploitation in the workplace.
  • D031 encourages clergy and congregations to educate themselves on resources to combat and deal with domestic violence.
  • D032 advocates for equal access to quality health care regardless of gender.

A thankful committee

The Rev. Laurie M. Brock, deputy from Lexington and member of the special committee, led some of the 47 committee members to Microphone 3 in the deputies’ hall on July 13 to present Jennings with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary.

Brock thanked Jennings for asking them in February to serve on the committee and “for recognizing that as Christians we have the responsibility to respond to the plight and exploitation of women and all who are victims of abuses of power in this culture.”

She noted that Jennings invited many first-time deputies and other young women across the church and giving them the opportunity “to have our voices heard.”

“Thank you for giving this house and the House of Bishops a way to engage in the holy work of reconciliation and of love. Thank you for helping us all magnify the Lord and filling those who were hungry for good things of equality, of justice, of safety and, most importantly, of love,” Brock said.

While the House of Bishops is overwhelming male, 53 percent of the deputies to this General Convention are women. That is just slightly lower than the Episcopal Church as a whole, which according to 2014 statistics, is 55 percent women.

– Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas and is a member of the ENS General Convention reporting team.


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Comments (23)

  1. The Rev. Fred Fenton says:

    The Special House of Deputies Committee on Sexual Harassment offered a number of important and much-needed resolutions. I particularly like DO67 which “encourages the use of inclusive and expansive language” in worship.
    That is long overdue. We were writing our own inclusive language liturgies as early as the 1980’s.

    I would rather the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings had been presented with a sculpture not of the Virgin Mary but of Mary the Mother of Jesus. Many thinking people have long given up belief in the virgin birth.

    1. Martha Farnham says:

      Hear, Hear Fred!

    2. Robbie Johnson says:

      I assume the so called thinking people have also rejected the Incarnation, Jesus miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. These so called thinking people are no longer Christian.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Robbie, you’re right. How uninspiring too many Episcopal priests are. They read the Gospel aloud in a Sunday service and then spend the next 15 minutes editing it to suit human limitations.

    3. Matt Ouellette says:

      The Virgin Birth is a core doctrine of Christianity, and is affirmed in both the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed. It’s disappointing that there are some clergy which do not hold to one of the essential doctrines of the catholic faith. Yes, it’s not something that can happen ordinarily with standard biology, but the ancients knew that as well as we do today. It’s a miracle for a reason. You can still be a thinking person and believe this doctrine, as long as you are open to the miraculous.

  2. It was a joy to be able to work alongside these amazing women, and I am grateful, as we all were, to President Gay Clark Jennings, whose vision made this possible. There was much work to do in a short period of time, and there is still more that must be done. I am so very proud of our church for the way in which we have discerned and prayerfully considered our own sins with regard to gender, and those of the world, and are now working toward justice in the name of Christ. Onward!

  3. John Roberts says:

    This Convention convinced me to end my 57-year membership in the Episcopal “Church”. Conservatives are certainly no longer welcome. I leave it the radical feminists, ultra-liberal apologists, and ecofascists. Sorry, I’m not going to worship Thurgood Marshall as a saint.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      Conservatives are still welcome here, they just need to be willing to worship alongside progressives. If that’s unacceptable to you, I wish you luck in finding a church which is more politically pure for your tastes. Sorry, but we will never be the Republican Party at prayer.

  4. Ron Mobley says:

    John, I left months ago for the very same reason.

  5. Terry Francis says:

    I guess Fred Fenton doesn’t think much of us poor ignorant unenlightened folk who still believe in the virgin birth. That a priest can reject such a basic Christian belief and still retain his collar is astounding! What’s next? Will the Resurrection itself be considered merely symbolic rather than an actual event in TEC 50-75 years from now?

  6. Terry Francis says:

    Conservatives are still welcomed in the Episcopal Church? Really Matt? I have no problem worshiping alongside progressives, but when we’re not on the same page in regards to issues such as immigration, climate change, gun control, same sex marriage, abortion and so on, conservatives tend to be at best ignored and at worse, ridiculed. To me, being welcomed means having a say in the direction this church is going. With few exceptions, we don’t. The number of conservative Episcopal bishops nationwide you could probably count on one hand. Most, if not all dioceses when searching for a new bishop won’t even consider a conservative priest. And good luck with having a conservative PB ever again! Who’s in charge of the seminaries? Progressives. Who decides what issues will be discussed and debated in General Convention? Progressives. The concerns of conservative members of this church have and continue to be ignored. That’s not my idea of being welcomed. For the past 40 years the attitude of progressives toward their conservative brothers and sisters has been loud and clear: You are “welcomed” to worship with us as long as you sit in your pew, keep your mouth shut and keep your opinions to yourself. No, TEC is not the Republican Party at prayer. Democratic Party at prayer? Definitely!

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      No, you are still allowed to voice your opinions. And, I’m sorry, not all the issues you listed above were always disagreed upon by both liberals and conservatives in this church, or in the country at large. Progressives and conservatives used to agree that we should stand by immigrants, take care of creation, and oppose gun violence. Those used to not be partisan issues. We just had disagreements on how to solve those issues. It’s not progressives’ fault that one side of the political spectrum decided to make those partisan issues and now thinks those are problems to be ignored. Regarding same-sex marriage, we still make room for those who disagree with it, but we will no longer prevent our LGBTQ+ Christian brothers and sisters from having access to the sacrament of marriage just because there are those in this church who disagree with it. If your idea of having a say in the direction of our church is that you can deny gay people their access to marriage, then sure, you don’t have a say in this and I think that is the correct position of the church to take. Regarding abortion, our church has taken quite a nuanced position on the issue, one that I don’t think pleases either the extreme pro-life or extreme pro-choice side. There are still conservative seminaries as well (e.g. Nashotah house). Finally, TEC has not endorsed the specific policy positions of the Democratic Party, so you cannot accuse if of being an arm of the Democrats.

  7. Bill Louis says:

    Matt, “The EC has not endorsed the specific policy positions of the Democratic Party. “. Have you been to the EC’s EPPN Advocacy page? The EC is in the leftists pocket. it’s undenieable https://advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/home?0

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      Here’s the way I see it: the Episcopal Church’s stance on issues like poverty, the environment, capitalism, immigration, and the death penalty are not much different than the positions of other Christian denominations like the Roman Catholic Church. Like the RCC, the Episcopal Church supports programs combatting extreme poverty, advocates strongly for protection of the environment and action on climate change, is skeptical of excessive forms of capitalism, advocates for immigrants and refugees, and is skeptical of the death penalty. In my opinion, those are not left-leaning positions. Those are Christian positions. If modern day political conservatives have issues with those stances, that is their problem, not a problem with the Episcopal Church. However, political conservatives seem to be fine in the RCC despite its stance on those issues without calling is a leftist organization. Where the Episcopal Church has differences with other Christian denominations is on issues of gender and sexuality (e.g. support for marriage equality, a more nuanced position on abortion, ordination of women, etc.). If this is where you consider TEC leftist, fine. But I think it is correct on those positions, not because of secular progressivism, but because they are more in line with the Christian understanding of justice than the more “conservative” position on those issues (as St. Paul said, we are all one in Christ Jesus Our Lord).

      1. Bill Louis says:

        I’m beginning to see your logic. I think most Christian religions such as the EC, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc, and the Roman Catholics are politically left leaning, its how far left depending on the degree. This is where we seem to differ.
        For example immigration; I think most Episcopalians are in favor of immigration its a matter of the degree support. The EC doesn’t seem to care about US immigration laws. If an alien family comes over our border illegally they are breaking the law and should face the consequences, a position of the right. The EC seems to be against the consequences of breaking the immigration laws, a far left position So its logically the EC will be associated with the far left. However, EC tries to disassociate itself from the left, much like you do by selling its position on immigration as Christian. The hypocrisy of the EC, which I pointed out in an earlier post is evident when you look at the EPPN which encourages left leaning political advocacy in the form of demonstrations and political pressure on elected officials. I find that degree of political advocacy as leftist not purely Christian.

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          That’s not completely true. I’m pretty sure TEC doesn’t think we should have no consequences against illegal immigration. The question is what those consequences should be. I don’t think that separating children from their parents at the border is a moral policy, for example. Remember that illegal border crossing is a misdemeanor in most cases, not a felony, so I don’t think it requires a harsh response that many on the right think is needed (especially considering illegal border crossings are at a net decrease currently). I think a pathway to citizenship as laid out in the 2014 Senate immigration reform bill is a good idea of what should be done. It treats current undocumented immigrants with compassion by offering them a chance to become citizens (unless they have a criminal background), but it doesn’t let them off the hook for illegal immigration and requires that they take a longer process to become citizens than would be required if they went through the normal legal process. Of course, this bipartisan bill died in the House because anti-immigrant extremists derided it as amnesty (which it isn’t). It would be nice to see this bill taken up again by the current Congress and passed. And I don’t think encouraging political activism in the form of prayer vigils and contacting representatives in favor of the Church’s stance on moral issues is hypocritical (the Catholic Church does it all the time on the issue of abortion).

  8. Terry Francis says:

    While I have always believed the sacrement of marriage was between a man and a woman, having the church allow it for gays has never been a deal breaker for me. What I was referring to was how conservative members who disagree with church policy regarding this issue are treated by progressive members of their parish. One should not be called an ignorant hate-filled homophobic bigot just because they feel same sex marriage goes against Biblical teachings.They should also not be shuned and ignored or not taken seriously for feeling that way. Sadly this happens all the time to conservative members of TEC. They should not have to feel afraid of voicing their opinions on someting in their own church. I’ve never heard of Nashotah house but if you say it’s conservative I’ll take your word for it. The fact remains that if there are conservative seminaries they are far outnumbered by their liberal leaning counterparts. And one cannot help but wonder how long these remaining conservative seminaries will last as the Church becomes more and more leftward leaning with each passing year. As for TEC being an arm of the Democrats, well, their rhetoric and their stand on specific issues agrees over 90% of the time with Democrats and virtually 0% with Republicans. If that doesn’t make TEC an arm of the Democrats it comes pretty darn close!

    1. Jordan Sakal says:

      Terry,

      The fact of the matter is if you do not want to be called out as an “ignorant, hate-filled homophobic bigot” perhaps you should examine your attitudes. The final verdict on Same-sex marriage and the blessings of same-sex relationships as valid and honoured in the Episcopal Church is grounded in theology, it was reached because our understandings of humanity and the Word of God and Christ Jesus have changed because of our advances as a society. Just because you can’t seem to accept that (referring to You as a collective in reference to your status as a conservative) then it is you who has to learn and adjust your way of thinking and understanding of love, of Christ, of the Church, and of your fellow human beings.

  9. Terry Francis says:

    Couldn’ agree more Bill!

  10. Eric Bonetti says:

    I remain deeply concerned about D076. While I applaud anti-retaliation, the reality is that it is hard to keep much a secret in such a small denomination. And lacking a definition — as was contained in the original measure, D075 — there will be dioceses, my former one included, that will consider “retaliation” to consist only of conduct that results in loss of life or limb.

    Having experienced retaliation for my filing of a Title IV complaint, only to be ignored when I complained to the diocese of Virginia, I am far from reassured.

  11. Terry Francis says:

    Jordan, with all due respect I don’t feel I need to be lectured to in regards to adjusting my way of thinking in regards to this issue. Funny how conservatives are always the ones who need to “change” in regards to issues like this. For the record my own personal feelings about same sex marriage is mixed. For me personally the jury is still out. People who object to same sex marriage also have theology to back up those objections. There are several passages in the Bible that they can point to. I’d give you some examples but since I’m sure you’re aware of them why bother, since it’s obvious none of them have changed your mind. Perhaps it is progressives like yourself who should examine your own attitudes toward people who disagree with you on this issue. (And other issues as well.) “Calling people out” because they don’t agree with you is self-rightous, judgemental and totally unChristian. There are plenty of good Christian people out there who don’t “hate” LGBT people, they just feel that same sex marriage goes against Biblical teachings and you certainly have a right to disagree. But as a Christian you DON’T have a right to shun them and look down on them just because you’re convinced you’re on the moral side of this issue. God loves people who fall on both sides of this issue and He loves them equally, as hard as it may be for progressives like yourself to believe that.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      Just remember Terry that many Christians who take the non-affirming approach on marriage think that affirming Christians are not just wrong, but that they are apostate and no longer real Christians. Remember that many of them decided to schism from TEC because they couldn’t in good conscience remain in communion with people who disagreed on this issue, and that a number of churches in the Anglican Communion have cut ties with TEC because of its stance on this issue. And I’m sure you’re aware that in a number of denominations which are non-affirming (e.g. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, etc.), those who vocally disagree with their church’s non-affirming position are shunned and sometimes excommunicated from their church by their hierarchy until they “repent.” I’d say such approaches are far more judgmental, self-righteous, and un-Christian than what conservatives have experienced from progressives in TEC.

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