I went to the Ash Wednesday service at my former church. This wasn’t something I had planned. A friend who knows how much I miss the Episcopal liturgy approached me on Tuesday night. “I’m going to St. _____’s tomorrow,” she said. “Would you like to join me?” My first response was “No,” but then I remembered how kind she has been the past few years. I thought, “I can do this for her.” So I went, and to my surprise I was genuinely blessed. Unlike my previous two visits (a funeral and an ordination), this time nothing bad happened. No one glared or sneered; no one turned their backs. I ran into half a dozen friends, and every one greeted me warmly. I was impressed with the new pastor. Even though I’m now firmly planted in the UCC, I realize that St. _____’s can be a home for me too.
I tell this story because I want my readers to know: healing continues. Even four years later, I am still finding new hope.
Thankfully, the bishop wasn’t there. In my most recent post, I hinted that he is unhappy about my public writings. Here’s the full story: ten days ago, he sent me a threatening letter through our attorneys. If I don’t “bring this whole episode to a close,” the letter read, the bishop might make a grossly misleading public statement about his findings in my case. (When I told my husband what the bishop now claims, he could only say, “What???!”)
I hope the bishop read my last post. I hope he understands that I’m writing not to harm the church or anyone in it, but to heal myself and others. Even after all the trauma, I still love the Episcopal Church. I am hoping to make it (and all churches) safer for vulnerable people. I hope the bishop understands this now, and I hope he writes to tell me so. But until he does, I need to assume that he meant what he said in his letter.
How do we respond to threats from the church? I’ve decided to share my process transparently on this blog. As I respond, I want to model as much strength and wisdom as I can muster. So, what steps have I taken since I received the bishop’s letter?
1. Panic. I responded exactly as he may have hoped I would. When I first read his letter, I bought into his narrative and genuinely believed he had the power to harm me. But then…
2. Reality check. What can he do to my reputation? My former pastor already took care of that. And has the bishop thought about what the community will think if he suddenly makes a public statement about something he has never publicly acknowledged?
3. Pray. For some survivors, prayer is impossible; I’m one of the lucky ones. After years of healing, I can pray again. I ask God to guide my thoughts, words, and actions as I face this challenge. I am angry, but I don’t want to respond in anger. I’m scared (the threat has reawakened old fears), but I don’t want to respond in fear. So I’m praying for courage, peace, and the power to respond in strength and love.
4. WAIT. My daughter told me, “You should post that letter!” I may some day, but not until I get a clear sign from God. I approach this blog the same way. While my feelings ran hot and chaotic, so did my writing. I’ll never publish most of those words. Before I post anything, I wait until I can draw my words from a well of healing and strength.
5. Watch for affirmation. Am I doing the right thing by sharing my story? Am I helping to make the church safer? It seems so. Marie Fortune offered encouragement to people like me in her Ash Wednesday blog post. She said, “No longer does the great silence stifle the truthtelling that must be done. Resistance is strong and enduring.” Another sign: my traffic has doubled since the day I received the bishop’s letter. Surprisingly, most of my new readers come from other countries. Today for the first time, my words reached readers in Croatia, Portugal, and Uruguay. This is thrilling and affirming. A note of assurance for all of my readers: your identity is safe. I can’t see who you are. My statistics only tell me in which countries you live. I am delighted to have non-U.S. readers, and I’d love to hear from you. If there’s an issue I haven’t addressed that’s important to you, please send me an email. You’ll find my address here.
What do I do next? Reflect and Write. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a fresh look at Marie Fortune’s Seven Elements of Justice-Making, which she first outlined in her book Is Nothing Sacred? Fortune built this list after listening to hundreds of victims and survivors. My former bishop may recognize the list; it’s the same one that Fortune shared when she spoke in our city two years ago.
What are the elements of justice-making? What do victims of clergy sexual misconduct need from the church? According to Marie Fortune, we need:
* Acknowledging the violation
* Protecting the vulnerable
In the next seven posts, I’ll be looking at these elements one by one. I welcome other survivors to this conversation. If you reported your abuse to the church, what elements of justice did they offer to you? What did they fail to offer? You can share in the comments below, or you can respond privately by sending me an email.