Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Archive for May, 2016

Healing Service at St Paul’s

I told a lie last month. I told myself (and my readers) that it didn’t hurt much when I found out that the leaders at Scott’s new church had called my complaint “meritless” even after he had proven himself a predator in their midst. 

Three days later, I wondered why my life felt so unexplainably wrong. I felt off-balance, hurt, afraid, and angry, and I didn’t know why. Then I remembered: “meritless.” Of course. That word wasn’t just a reminder of an old wound; it was a brand-new wound. A whole new congregation, hundreds of miles away, now believed I was a nut, a slut, or a liar. And who had inflicted this wound? Ultimately, “meritless” had its roots in whatever Bishop Mathes told Bishop Andrus about me and my complaint. Mathes may have been (mostly) forthcoming at the January 2016 meeting at St Paul’s, but he seems to have told a different story in 2012 — a story that continues to harm my reputation. 

As I was thinking about this chain of events, I remembered the upcoming healing service at St Paul’s. They were planning this offering for the 14th of May. I’d been talking with the priest in charge of the project (for whom I have enormous respect), and I’d asked my own pastor if our church could co-sponsor. I knew that Bishop Mathes would play a role in this service. I had some qualms about accepting healing from a man who continued to publicly minimize my story — and who had explicitly told me to stop contacting him — but I wanted to support the church’s good effort. I’d told the organizers I would be there, and I promised to share the word with my churchmates and my readers.

“Meritless” changed everything. I felt sick just thinking about being at the service, or even being in the same room with the bishop. As much as I wanted to support the church’s effort, I couldn’t expose myself to the harm of being present — and I couldn’t recommend it to other survivors. With regret, I told the organizer that I wouldn’t be there, and I told her why.

Then I stopped thinking about it. With my older son planning a visit, May 14 took on a happier and lighter meaning. Then, the afternoon before the service, a friend forwarded me this notice from the dean of St Paul’s Cathedral: 

“Contrary to prior announcements, Bishop Mathes will not be present.” 

It took me less than a minute to make up my mind to go.

The healing service was holy ground. By coincidence (?), I ran into a trusted friend at the door, so I didn’t have to sit alone. The liturgists had chosen beautiful readings: Isaiah 61:1-3, Psalm 139:1-17Luke 8:43-48, and Luke 14:1-6.  The litany of healing from the January 26 meeting was woven into this service too. The hymns were comforting (except for the line “let me forgive as one forgiven;” forgiveness is complicated for survivors of CSM.) The priests offered words of reflection after the gospel readings; those were beautiful and helpful too. With the priests’ permission, I may share those words in this blog.

There were only about a dozen of us there. The service was so intimate that we gathered in the chancel; we were a small group surrounding the altar. After the readings, we were invited to receive prayer with laying on of hands. When I went forward, I asked the priest to pray not only for me but for the congregation. That is my fervent prayer; we all need to heal together. 

Finally, we were offered communion. Receiving the wine was the scariest moment for me. The woman holding the chalice, formerly a dear friend, had shown me great unkindness after I reported Scott. But as she held out the sacramental cup, she gave me a warm look of welcome. I knew she wasn’t there by random chance. She had to have volunteered for this role. I choose to see her actions as an offering of peace. For that, I am grateful.

It has been five weeks since I found out about the disparaging label “meritless.” I wanted to write more about it, and I wanted to write about my plans to stay away from the service, but all of it hurt too much to think about. I’m now glad I didn’t write. My silence may have made room for the bishop’s grace-filled decision to stay away.

It’s been five days since the service. Before I shared here, I needed to let the waters settle. Paradoxically, the church’s welcome opened the lid on my excruciating memories of being shunned. I needed time to deal with that pain, and I needed time to figure out what this healing service meant. Did it make a difference? Yes. The service didn’t erase my wounds or my scars, but it opened the door for me to be part of the community again. I don’t think anyone expects me to rejoin the church — but now I know I’ll be genuinely welcome when I visit.

Here is another measure of healing. Next Monday, my pastor will co-lead a candidates’ forum with the dean of St Paul’s. Before this service, I would have felt a pang of loss on seeing the announcement: “This will be a great event, but I’m not wanted there.” But now? I happily put the forum on my calendar. A church that was once my beloved spiritual home, and then was scorched earth, has been restored to me. 

My life is one degree more whole. 

The journey of healing continues.

Disappointing News from the UMC

Last month I came across this article about church response to clergy sexual misconduct. It was so clear and strong! It’s rare to find writing this good on church response. I wondered, “Who wrote this?” Then I looked at the byline. Of course — the Rev. Dr. Darryl Stephens, a former leader from the United Methodist Church’s Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Stephens now writes and teaches, and I’m sure his work helps many, but he is painfully missed by victims and survivors within the UMC. During his tenure on the Commission, he provided extraordinary support to at least one survivor whom I know. No one has yet filled his shoes, but at least the Commission is still working to protect and promote the dignity of women. A Commission executive described that work here in 2012, saying “We are getting more requests than we can handle.” 

Unfortunately, the Commission may soon be turning down all requests. The quadrennial UMC General Conference is happening this week in Portland, Oregon. While the media focuses on the church’s positions on hot social issues like human sexuality, they’ll likely give a collective yawn to church governance issues. Yet some of those changes have enormous implications! Within the next few days, the church will vote on whether to adopt “Plan UMC Revised.” Hidden deep within this dull-sounding plan: it would eliminate the Commission on the Status and Role of Women

I’m sure the UMC would tell me not to worry. The commission on the Status and Role of Women may be going away (as well as the Commission on Religion and Race), but the vital work will continue via a newly constituted “United Methodist Committee on Inclusiveness.” Golly, isn’t that a fine-sounding name? Unfortunately, I believe it’s a hedge. Rather than explicitly naming the needs of women and racial minorities, the church only says it’ll be “inclusive.” Considering the fact that the UMC still punishes ministers who perform same-sex weddings, even though those marriages are legal in all 50 states, it’s clear that “inclusive” is actually quite selective. By replacing commissions on gender and race with an ill-defined office of “inclusiveness,” the UMC waters down its promise to fight against racial and gender bias.

This is happening in other institutions as well. I spoke this week with a friend whose husband leads the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) training for a branch of the U.S. military in his region. My friend told me some sad news. “My husband’s old C.O. knew how important this work was, but his new C.O. told him ‘Spend as little time as you can on this issue. Just keep the Pentagon off our backs.’ “ Under the new command, my friend’s husband has to divide his time between SAPR and racial sensitivity training. He is no longer a SAPR trainer; he’s a “diversity officer.” He now has to do two full-time jobs, without the time or resources to do justice to either one.

It’s hard to stay optimistic when I learn that a major denomination is eliminating an office that made such a difference to survivors of CSM. It seems lately that anytime I hear good news (like when the local bishop finally disclosed my complaint against Scott to the congregation at St Paul’s), there’s bad news right behind (like when leaders at Scott’s new church publicly call my complaint “meritless.”) “Spotlight” notwithstanding, as a society we are still massively in denial about the scope and impact of clergy sexual misconduct. 

But the work continues. I take courage from the good things that are happening, like the study on church response to CSM, coming out this fall from Baylor University’s Garland School of Social Work. (Please note the survey is now closed.) I have faith that when I need a break from the work, there will be others to speak truth and carry the baton forward. 

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