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Members of Commission on Impairment and Leadership announced

Members of Commission on Impairment and Leadership announced

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] [October 1, 2015] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has announced the members of the newly-formed Episcopal Church Commission on Impairment and Leadership.

The members were appointed by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori in consultation with President of the House of Deputies the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings. The Rev. Martha Horne will serve as chair of the Commission.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori said, “I am grateful that the Rev. Martha Horne has agreed to convene the Commission on Impairment and Leadership.  I expect its work to aid The Episcopal Church in assessing and improving its responsiveness to disease and human brokenness.  We are people who yearn for the abundant life Jesus promised, yet we cannot hope to experience it without honesty and clarity about its absence.  I pray that this body will help us foster a culture of open awareness and learning about addiction as well as fierce commitment to healing of body, mind, soul, and community.”

The enabling resolutions charge the Commission to serve as “an independent commission to explore the canonical, environmental, behavioral and procedural dimensions of matters involving the serious impairment of individuals serving as leaders in the Church, with special attention to issues of addiction and substance abuse.”

The commission also must prepare a report to “include recommendations for both action and further review, as appropriate, in order to clarify lines of authority, to ensure mutual accountability, and to promote justice, well-being and safety within both the Church and the world.”

Chairperson Horne noted, “We are fortunate to have the knowledge, wisdom, and experience that members of the Commission will bring to this task.  Recognizing the scope of our charge and the complexity of the issues we have been asked to address, we look forward to working in collaboration with the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, the network of diocesan chancellors, the board of Episcopal Recovery Ministries, and others who will share their professional expertise with us.”

The Commission on Impairment and Leadership was adopted by the Executive Council at its March 19-21 meeting in Salt Lake City. The Executive Council was acting in affirmation of the March 17 House of Bishops resolution.

The members of The Episcopal Church Commission on Impairment and Leadership are:

Jan Brown, Williamsburg, VA, member of the board of Episcopal Recovery Ministries and co-Director of SpiritWorks Foundation, a recovery community organization serving individuals affected by the disease of addiction.

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, Bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real.

Dr. Mark Hanson, Minnesota, former Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Rev. Dr. William Harkins, Atlanta, GA: Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Care and Director of the Th.D program, Columbia Theological Seminary, therapist with clinical experience treating clients with addictions, and canon associate at St. Philips Cathedral, Atlanta.

Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, Bishop of the Diocese of Ohio.

The Rev. Martha Horne, Alexandria, VA, Convener, Dean and President, emerita, of the Virginia Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Kittredge, Austin, TX, Dean and President of the Seminary of the Southwest.

Canon Jill Mathis, Philadelphia, PA, Canon for Transition Ministry in the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Bishop Robert O’Neill, Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado.

Bishop Sean Rowe, Bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Bethlehem.

The Rev. Dr. Steven Thomason, Seattle, WA, Dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral, Chair of House of Deputies Special Legislative Committee on Alcohol and other Drug Abuse, former physician with experience working with the Impaired Physicians Committee of the Arkansas State Medical Board.


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Eric Bonetti

Phillip, good points. By way of clarity, my point about whistleblowers is that those in power in the church often view any issue as a complaint and personality conflict/personal attack and then respond to that perceived paradigm. I mean, would any of us want to attend diocesan council or a similar event if, for example, it were known that we had called the bishop with concerns about Heather Cook’s alleged substance abuse? Talk about getting eaten alive. And the truly sad thing is that those who would be licking their lips afterwards would have no idea of what was really said, or the context in which it was said. They’d all just be shaking their heads, saying, “How dare he?”

Philip B. Spivey

Agreed, Eric. Relaying information of someone’s probable impairment up the ladder to a bishop is very risky, though I hope that will change in time. It reminds me of what probably occurred in the RC Church a long time ago when somebody blew the whistle on a leadership person guilty of child sexual abuse: The alarm bells rang; the leadership closed ranks; and the cleric was reassigned. Don’t ask, don’t tell led to tragic consequences for generations of youth because illness in some leaders was not addressed.

As the Commission moves forward in its deliberations, I would hope they consider a form of intervention that has worked well in corporate America: it is called an Employee Assistance Program. (EAP). Briefly, this is an entity separate from (the organization) which provides evaluations and referrals for counseling and treatment for a wide array of job-related problems.

Typically, in business, referrals to the EAP are made by supervisors and managers. In the case of our church, we might consider that ANYONE could contact the Church EAP anonymously to report an instance of impairment. The EAP, which has been commissioned by the church and the bishop, would investigate the veracity of the report and return its findings to the bishop.

This approach would have several advantages: the whistler blower(s) will have necessary cover; an indifferent outside party (EAP) would avoid most of the political and personal snares of the church; the investigators —and recommendations for action—would be provided by credentialed professionals in the assessment and treatment of job-related problems.

The Commission on Impairment and Leadership is TEC’s opportunity to address all kinds of leadership challenges: early career stress; support for finding life/vocation balance; substance use; burnout; illness; depression; the loss of a loved one; the loss of a parish; and the loss of a career–retirement.

At its best, this initiative over time would evolve to provide not only interventions for an acute problem, but cast a wide net of preventative measures for all members of our Christian community.

Philip B. Spivey

I’m uncomfortable about identifying someone who is ill in the same paradigm as whistle blowing: The world, in general, would profit a great deal if entities like tobacco companies, the Pentagon and of late, car companies had a host of people willing to come forward without threat of retaliation. But we are not talking about identifying government or corporate malfeasance here. Here, we are talking about identifying a member of our Christian community who has a life threatening disease and may not know it.

As Eric points out above, we live a culture of “Don’t ask; don’t tell” in many matters that involve human vulnerability, struggle and pain, particularly among our leaders.

In my view, the church has been primarily out-ward looking and hasn’t spent nearly enough time looking in-ward, except for “the business of church”. More time, attention and care could be paid to our spiritual needs as individuals, and in our spiritual communities. It is a profound first step to develop a process whereby our church can begin to systematically triage members of our community who may have a life-threatening disease and may not know it.

Because I believe chemical and psychological addictions are primarly expressions of a “profound personal spiritual search gone awry”, I believe a community of caring Christians would be a logical place to begin the healing without fear of judgement or ridicule.

I hope the Commission addresses as its first priority, the culture of silence about “messy things”. Let’s take messy things to the altar and to our community, without fear.

Eric Bonetti

This is a much-needed effort, and I pray it will be successful. For that to happen, however, several things must happen:

– We need a church-wide whistleblower policy that makes it safe to share concerns about impairment, whether ethical, emotional, psychological or otherwise.
– We need a church-wide anti-retaliation policy. It’s important to remember: Employees may be covered under various federal, state, and local protections, but as a volunteer, you have no protection whatsoever as things now stand.
– We need a church-wide central point of intake for concerns/complaints of this sort.
– We need to promote a culture of accountability and transparency.

Those who have worked for publicly traded companies know what it is to live with a vibrant ethics policy, under which employees are required to alert officials to questionable business practices, ethics violations, or other risks. Indeed, the Fortune 100 company I used to work for specifically considers those who speak up to be friends and allies, for they head off lawsuits and other serious potential problems.

But The Episcopal Church all too often lives under exactly the opposite de facto policy: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, ignore all evil. And woe unto anyone who would dare violate this stricture

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