In an open letter, the House of Bishops’ two officers invite Episcopalians to share their reflections on sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation.
The deadline for submitting reflections is May 25. Many reflections will be read at a listening session during General Convention in Austin. The House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response will be a sacred space for listening and further reconciliation from 5:15 to 7 p.m. July 4. Those attending General Convention are welcome to attend, and others may participate through a webcast.
“Over past months, the #MeToo movement has brought the prevalence and depth of pain caused by sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation out of the darkness, creating a platform of courage and support for women to share their personal stories,” said the letter by Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and the Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, Bishop of El Camino Real and vice president of the House of Bishops.
Their letter follows.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Deep within the teachings of Jesus, and in our polity and life as a Church, there is an inherent understanding that listening and hearing bring transformation. Jesus often spoke in parables inviting his hearers with the words, “Let anyone with ears listen” (Mark 4:9). As the Church, we gather as God’s people, hear the sacred story of Jesus, hold our brokenness and sin before God’s mercy, receiving forgiveness, renewal, and transformation. In our liturgical life, we understand the meaning of the statement, “In doing, we become.” Essential to this doing is the sacred action of listening. As the mystics have taught, the most basic form of love is paying attention and deep listening.
Over past months, the #MeToo movement has brought the prevalence and depth of pain caused by sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation out of the darkness, creating a platform of courage and support for women to share their personal stories. 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.
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. After intense conversation and listening at the March House of Bishops meeting, their first meeting since the #MeToo movement took shape, a Task Force was gathered to create a pastoral response by which the church will have an opportunity to hear the truth of people’s experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation within our church. 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. Our intention is to offer a sacred space for listening and further our work of reconciliation in the broken places of our body. All are welcome to attend and those unable to join us in Austin will be able to participate remotely via a live webcast.
Finally, this gathering is a liturgical and pastoral offering, not a 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.
To that end, we invite reflections on the spiritual, psychological, and interpersonal experiences of harassment, abuse, and exploitation. These 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. A representative sampling of the reflections will be selected for sharing at the liturgy on July 4. Authorship will remain anonymous. A member of the reading team will contact you when your reflection has been read and reviewed. 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. We recognize that some reflections might raise the possibility of a Title IV action. In such cases, Bishop Todd Ousley of the Office of Pastoral Development will communicate with the author directly.
You may submit your reflections in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response, 815 Second Ave., New York NY 10017.
Thank you for your willingness to participate and to witness to this effort as we work to heal a broken world. Let us pray for the Church as we receive God’s healing and wholeness.
To submit your reflection:
Thank you for your willingness to share your reflections. As you are aware, the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response at General Convention seeks to deepen the institutional church’s commitment to listening and responding more justly to members of the Episcopal Church who have experienced sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation. This event is centered in liturgical action and pastoral response while establishing the Church’s commitment to pursue, nurture, and safeguard right relationship among clergy and laity.
We offer the following guidelines:
In preparing to write your reflection, please focus on the impact of harassment, abuse, and exploitation rather than the details of what happened. For instance, how have your relationships with self, others, and/or God been affected; how have others responded to you at the time and since; what is it that you most want the bishops and wider church community to understand or to ‘get’ about the impact of the harassment, abuse, and exploitation on your life; what do you most want to convey to the perpetrator; what action do you want the House of Bishops to pursue; or what is the one change you want to effect by having shared your experience. We are encouraging a focus on the impact of the event(s) rather than specific details for two reasons: 1) detailing the specific events of the sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation may re-traumatize survivors; 2) including details can place the focus on specific incidents, which, although appropriate in the context of Title IV and other measures to address those incidents, would distract from the goal of this effort, which aims to take the full measure of the deep and far-reaching impacts these events have had on the fabric of our church community.
Your reflections can be submitted in confidence to email@example.com or mail to House of Bishops’ Pastoral Response, 815 Second Ave., New York, NY 10017.
Adapted from the Office of Public Affairs