[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.