By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Bishops unanimously approved an “equity and justice” working covenant July 8 that commits them to “listen to and take to heart the stories that reflect the biases deeply embedded in our structure.”

The House of Bishops’ new working covenant comes on the heels of a months-long process that involved collecting stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the church.

In a nod to the #MeToo movement of exposing sexual misconduct in numerous fields, the bishops launched General Convention on July 4 by reading a sampling of the stories they had received. They did so in a liturgical context without identifying victims or alleged perpetrators. Several said the worship event would need to be followed by action steps.

“I think we have to put something out after that event from the other night,” said Bishop Brian Thom of Idaho, referring to the July 4 Listening Session that drew hundreds and triggered tears. “If we put anything off and are silent, our silences will be interpreted — not the way we like.”

The working covenant commits bishops to a number of practices they will engage in diocesan cultures and structures. Among them:

  • Participate in regular self-examination and seek amendment of life in our personal and systemic use of authorized, relational and positional power
  • Eliminate pay and benefit inequities among all persons
  • Create a culture of empowerment, giving space for leadership based on equity, not tokenism

“We seek to shift our institutional life from one which benefits a few at the expense of others, and more determinedly live our baptismal vows following the way of Jesus,” the covenant says.

The covenant grew out of a meeting in Portland of Generation X and Millennial clergy. At the gathering, the need for confronting systemic sexism in the church became a clear imperative.

“There was not a woman in that crowd who had not been affected by sexism and misogyny in this institution,” said Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker, who participated in the Gen X and Millennial gathering. All women who rose Sunday to speak about the working covenant urged their colleague bishops to adopt it.

In other business, bishops approved resolution D043, which welcomes congregations of the Church of South India, but only after amending it to send a signal that their welcome is “within the geographical bounds of the Episcopal Church.”

“To have Church of South India congregations functioning in the U.S. is a gift to the church,” said Rochester Bishop Prince Singh, who explained that he had been raised in the Church of South India, a member of the Anglican Communion. “But it cannot start a parallel branch in the Anglican Communion.”

Others echoed the sentiment, including New York Assistant Bishop Mary Glasspool, who asserted that preserving non-overlapping jurisdictions is “a core Anglican Communion value.”

Bishops acknowledged that the Church of South India’s situation is not unique as it seeks to establish a parallel jurisdiction in the United States. Similar efforts have come from the Episcopal Church of South Sudan to establish a jurisdiction in North America, according to William Jones, retired Bishop of Missouri.

“This  is the same kind of situation that exists in other places,” Jones said in offering South Sudan as but one example.

In the past 15 years, theologically conservative Anglican congregations in the United States have aligned with Anglican provinces other than the Episcopal Church in a bid to heed traditional interpretations of Scripture, creedal teachings, and sexual ethics. The Episcopal Church has been vigilant to fend off such perceived encroachments on its territory.

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