At the most recent meeting of the House of Bishops in March, the bishops announced their intention to offer a listening session in response to issues of sexual harassment and misconduct in the church brought to light as part of the #MeToo movement. In their statement they wrote;
“Many of us have experienced sexual harassment and perhaps sexual violence. Bishops who are women know the “me-too” experience. Some bishops who are men know it as well. We live with different experiences of the cultural endowment of power. We know the Church has fallen short of our responsibility to listen and respond. In this time of heightened awareness it is with greater intention that we now invite the church to a deeper examination of what God intends for our relationships.”
Today, the chair of the planning team tasked with planning and offering that session for listening, Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe (Central New York), offers some insight into the hopes and intentions of the bishops. Their intent is to engage liturgically with the hurt and brokenness in the church in hopes of making first steps towards healing. Bishop Duncan Probe said that they wanted the church to know that the planning team is “working to ensure integrity in the way people’s sacred stories are heard.” A more detailed outline of the service should be available soon.
Bishop Duncan-Probe writes;
Over the years there have been many attempts to eradicate sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation from our church. These efforts have been sincere, faithful, and appropriate responses. We have passed legislation, gathered in affinity groups, installed windows in office doors, prayed, educated, marched, lobbied, encouraged diversity in leadership, attended safe church training, completed Oxford background checks, utilized Title IV, updated Title IV…the list is long. At the March gathering of the House of Bishops we engaged in many discussions about the subject of the #Metoo movement and our responsibility to engage as leaders of the Church. We discerned a path forward that included something never before attempted; a listening session within the sacred space of worship.
In reality we often gather for worship with our masks of respectability firmly in place. We speak of lamentation and repentance but hide our sinful desires, shame, and deepest wounds in silence and isolation. Our most intimate suffering is understood to be private. We are uncomfortable with vulnerability and we have secrets – many, many secrets. In worship we desire a good sermon, but a short one; inspiring worship but expediency; a church community to call family and yet our victimization hides in dark corners. It is no wonder the idea of having a listening session within our liturgy might sound like a way to hide truth and obscure accountability.
The liturgy our planning team is creating contains no masks, no superficiality, and certainly no dark corners for secrets to hide. This is a new work and it will not be perfect; perfection is not our goal. Our work is to offer a sacred space for truth to speak to power and for power to respond with truth. We have designed a liturgy without conclusion as the path for healing and recovery is long. A liturgy of courageous truth held in holy silence and the music, sacred music of Kyrie, lamentation and repentance. Told in the first person, and protected by anonymity, these stories will uncover the depth of pain in our Church and invite us into a sacred space of vulnerability. We will listen together as our stories are folded into the redeeming gospel of Jesus Christ. As God’s people we will hear truth, our collective truth: the truth of victims, the impact of perpetrators and silent observers; the truth of the church’s negligence; the bishops’ failure; our failure as a church to eradicate sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation from God’s beloved community. There will be no masks. No secrets untold.
Since the announcement of the House of Bishop’s listening service, those of us on the planning team have been very aware of the strong emotions elicited by the announcement. Anger, silence, resignation, fear, cautious wondering, hope, and many other emotions are valid and respected as part of this journey. The Planning Team respects the honesty and courage of those who have spoken their truth. We also encourage those for whom this service may be too wounding or painful, to pray for us and to not attend. This is one moment in a very long journey.
Regarding pastoral care, it is our desire to create as safe a process as possible, knowing no space can ever feel completely safe due to the nature of wounding and the vulnerability required in sharing. All respondents will receive a pastoral response from a bishop on the Reading Team, (not their canonical bishop), and if the sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation meets the canonical requirements of a Title IV offense, The Right Rev. Todd Ousley will contact the respondent and offer pastoral support. In addition to pastoral care for the respondents, our planning team is arranging confidential, pastoral support during the liturgy, and for the entirety of General Convention. This support will be provided by licensed therapists and professional counselors. Additionally, professionals in the field of Title IV will also be available for those who desire consult.
Those who have journeyed the path of healing know there comes a time for speaking one’s truth, and for the Episcopal Church, this is that time. The House of Bishops offers this listening service as a sacred space for our community to be transformed by hearing truth in the light of Jesus in our midst. There is no way of knowing what will happen on July 4th but there will be no masks, no secrets, and God will be with us. On behalf of the Planning Team, know that you are in our prayers and it is our honor to serve God’s beloved community.
Blessings of peace and hope for the journey,
The Right Rev. Dr. DeDe Duncan-Probe,
Bishop Duncan-Probe is Bishop of Central New York and Chair of the Listening Service Planning Team