Last Saturday, Diocesan Council met in Brighton for our regular January meeting. Most of our discussion was fairly routine: we looked at the budget and how we’re doing financially as a diocese (quite fine, actually); we heard reports from the Vital Congregations Committee and their recent, well-attended Renaissance and Requiem workshop; from Emrich (please consider buying one of their engravable bricks!); from Loans and Grants; from our campus ministries; and from all the other Council committees that support the work of our diocese. Two reports were special and timely at this meeting: Ann Putallaz, President of the Standing Committee came to speak to us about the transition period as our Household begins the search for our next bishop and Eric Travis presented his report on the work of the Task Group to Update Model Policies for Preventing Sexual Misconduct in accord with Resolution A073: Update Model Policies for Preventing Sexual Misconduct from General Convention 2015.
First, let me share a few words from Ann’s report since I know this time of transition is a concern to many of us as we wonder what the future will bring with a new bishop. I, for one, felt a great degree of hope and confidence after she spoke. She affirmed that the main objective of the work done by the Standing Committee, the Search and Nomination Committee and the Transition Committee is to discern God’s will for our diocese. Ann was clear: the process will be prayerful, will focus on discernment, will be transparent and will be collaborative. With these four criteria in place, and people committed to the process, we will come out of this time as a strong and united diocese. Our job is to keep this work in our prayers daily as we go forward. The Standing Committee has asked that we use the following prayer in our individual daily devotions as well as in our corporate worship services:
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; You have journeyed with your people Israel and we pray you, journey with us now, in this time of episcopal transition and change. Walk beside us on the road that is ahead, calm our fears, awaken our hope, and open our hearts, as together we seek your guidance. Inspire us, and those appointed to search for candidates, to discern your will for the Diocese of Michigan. May we put our whole trust in you as we look to Christ, the great shepherd of our souls; who together with the Holy Spirit is alive and reigns now and for ever. Amen.
In light of the recent events from Larry Nassar’s trial and sentencing, the Women’s March and the #MeToo Movement, examining our safeguarding materials and practices seems very appropriate. For me, however, this is more up close and personal. As a young and very needy college freshman, I was abused by two individuals to whom I had gone for help, one clergy person and one doctor. My experience was not nearly as serious as Nassar’s many victims yet it demonstrates to me just how important it is that we, as a church, understand the significance of protecting our children, youth and vulnerable adults – actually, all people that come through our doors. While the Task Group was specifically charged to address the needs of LGBTQ and gender non-binary individuals, based on the tragedy of sexual harassment and abuse in the news, it’s clear that providing a safe environment is crucial for all. I’m grateful for the hard work of this Task Group and will be pleased to see the new guidelines in place.
As a reminder, here are the resolutions that prompted this work:
A073: Update Model Policies for Preventing Sexual Misconduct
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention direct that the 2004 Model Policies developed by The Church Insurance Agency Corporation for the Protection of Children and Youth from Abuse (the “2004 Model Policies”) be updated and supplemented to reflect the experience of the Church in using the 2004 Model Policies and to cover topics such as social media, mission trips, pilgrimages, camp and conference center programs, and other overnight events, and the experiences of LGBTQ persons; and be it further
Resolved, That the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, not later than September 30, 2015, jointly appoint a Special Task Group of five to seven persons with experience in the use and development of Model Policies for Preventing Sexual Misconduct to update, or to oversee the updating of, the 2004 Model Policies; and be it further
Resolved, That the updating and supplementing of the 2004 Model Policies be completed by March 31, 2016; and be it further
Resolved, That the Updated Model Policies for the Protection of Children and Youth from Abuse to the Church (the “Updated Model Policies”) be promulgated after they are approved by the Special Task Group; and be it further
Resolved, That the Episcopal Church Center appoint a knowledgeable person to serve as a point of contact for dioceses to obtain information about complying with the 2004 Model Policies and the Updated Model Policies; and be it further
Resolved, That not later than December 31, 2016, the Guidelines for the Protection of Children and Youth of each diocese conform to the Updated Model Policies with due regard to applicable local laws on the subject matters of the Updated Model Policies; and be it further
Resolved, That all dioceses annually confirm, in writing or by email, to a designated office in the Episcopal Church Center, that the Guidelines of the diocese conform to the Updated Model Policies.
A074: Update the Safeguarding Materials
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 78th General Convention direct that the Episcopal Church Center arrange for the updating or supplementing of written and web-based materials used in the Safeguarding God’s Children and the Safeguarding God’s People programs to reflect the experience of the Church in using the Safeguarding God’s Children and the Safeguarding God’s People materials; and to cover topics such as social media, mission trips, pilgrimages, camp and conference center programs, and other overnight events, and the experiences of LGBTQ persons; and be it further
Resolved, That, in addition to developing printed and web-based versions of the updated or supplemented Safeguarding God’s Children and the Safeguarding God’s People materials, electronic links to the online versions of the Safeguarding God’s Children and the Safeguarding God’s People curricula be made available on The Episcopal Church website; and be it further
Resolved, That the Episcopal Church Center publicize the availability of the revised or supplemented written and web-based Safeguarding God’s Children and the Safeguarding God’s People materials to dioceses and congregations; and be it further
Resolved, That dioceses of The Episcopal Church be required annually to confirm, in writing or by email, to a designated office in the Episcopal Church Center that the diocese and (to the best of its knowledge after due inquiry) congregations in the diocese are training persons in positions of authority (including clergy, staff, vestry, children, and youth educators/leaders and other volunteers) by using the Safeguarding God’s Children and the Safeguarding God’s People materials or other appropriate materials for this training; and be it further
Resolved, That after the written and web-based Safeguarding God’s Children and the Safeguarding God’s People curricula are revised or supplemented, re-training of trainers be conducted so that the persons conducting training in congregations and dioceses are fully aware of the changes in the training materials and are able to teach them competently; and be it further
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $50,000 for the implementation of this resolution.
At Council, Eric presented two model policies, one for children and youth, the other for vulnerable adults. The next step will be to have a small Council task force come together to tweak these for the culture within our diocese. Whitaker is already planning a train-the-trainer class to ready our presenters for the new safeguarding classes. As soon as we have final wording on the policies, I will be sharing them for you. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, we all need to be attentive to ensure that our churches are safe places. Are we providing an environment that welcomes all to tell their stories and find healing? Are we living the call to love all our neighbors by speaking out for victims of harassment and abuse? Are we willing to accept the consequences of living our faith? In other words, are we living the promises we make in our Baptismal Covenant? If you check out the Covenant 5 website you will find a new statement from the Rev. Chuck Swinehart encouraging all of us to reaffirm these vows – especially at a time like this when our nation is so fragmented and hurting. We must be Jesus’ hands and feet and voice.
As more of the Michigan State story unfolds, one of our own faced the consequences of following Jesus. The Rev. Susan Carter of St Paul’s, Lansing, resigned from her position as faculty athletic representative and chair of MSU’s Athletic Council. MLive reported that Rev. Carter explained: “I no longer have the desire or the heart to support this administration going forward.” Her letter of resignation added: “As both professor and priest, I am profoundly saddened by Michigan State University’s public posture and seemingly callous regard for these girls and women.” Her letter went on:
The courage of the women who have spoken out and testified about their sexual assault by former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar is dramatic and the harm they endured is appalling. Their stories of repeated abuse, sometimes for years, is profoundly imprinted on us. The pain these athletes have endured horrifies us and we grieve for and with them. They are our MSU daughters and athletes entrusted in our care, and the university failed them.
Sue Carter’s courageous decision can be a model for all of us to put action to our words.
Considering the number of women that posted #MeToo last fall, I would guess that there are some in our congregations who might be looking for the opportunity to share their stories and find healing. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to remember that following Jesus is not so much about doctrine, but about practice. It’s not merely about a set of beliefs; it’s about what we do. Let’s do this right.
Let us pray –
You have entrusted us with the protection of our children, young people, vulnerable adults and, in fact, all your children.
May the Holy Spirit guide our steps as we help shepherd their paths.
May our Church leaders, teachers, parents, and those entrusted with their care, responsibility, and/or supervision of vulnerable adults, be filled with a wise and discerning spirit, fostering an environment that is embracing, instructive and safe.
Widen our hearts and perspectives to listen gently and with compassion to the experiences of those suffering, victims and potential victims of abuse, being ever mindful of the fragility and honor in safeguarding their trust.
May the Holy Spirit embolden us to speak and act judiciously, wielding the sword of truth, and may your courage be ours as we stand in the gap on behalf of the innocent.
May we continue to grow in our own paths to holiness, ever listening to the rhythms of your voice, ever obedient in following your will, ever humble in our responsibility. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council