Responding with Hope to Bad News

We’re hearing bad news these days.

  • Rich men using and trafficking vulnerable girls and women as instruments of sexual gratification.
  • Suicide and drug overdose rates soaring, especially among rural white men.
  • Children continue to be separated from their parents and held at the border, sometimes without adequate food, water, medical care or a place to sleep.
  • Growing numbers of people sleeping under bridges, in green belts and their cars due to gentrification and a crisis in affordable housing in many urban centers.
  • Nationalism and racism have found a public voice in America again and anew. “Go back where you came from” is a taunt that comes of un-addressed white privilege and supremacy.

These are not merely partisan political issues. These are signs of spiritual and identity disease in the human family. Jesus never heard of Republicans or Democrats. But he was a careful observer of people and human communities, and an unfailing teacher of what healthy community life looks like.

This week, let’s remember Jesus teaching and example. The Bible offers more than 60 passages about widows, orphans, aliens, the poor and the outcast (you can google that). They remind the reader that God’s love extends especially to people who live under duress, who are overlooked, taken advantage of, kept on the outskirts of civil society.

Jesus calls people like you and me to live in ways that invite people into “beloved community.” People of faith should encourage just public policy that heals the dis-eases that cast shadows on people on the margins.

  1. Pray this Sunday, and during the week ahead, that out of the neglect, abuse, blame and hate that seems to run rampant in our world right now, God will work through us, and in spite of us, to cultivate “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, self-control”(Galatians 5: 22).

  2. Educate yourself and resource others by visiting the websites of our United Methodist general agencies who help us put Jesus principles into practice:
    1. The Board of Church and Society to learn how our UMC is addressing issues of social justice. https://www.umcjustice.org/
    2. The Commission on Religion and Race. http://www.gcorr.org/
    3. The Commission on the Status and Role of Women. https://gcsrw.org/
    4. The Board of Global Ministries. https://www.umcmission.org/

  3. Ask yourself how you are helping God give life to the people around you. Make a plan to intentionally cultivate God’s kin-dom. Keep a list of the actions you take. to build God’s kin-dom.
    1. Read the newspaper, social media or watch TV prayerfully.
    2. Speak kind words to people you encounter day by day.
    3. Write your elected official.
    4. Write a letter to your local newspaper.
    5. Post a good word on social media.
    6. Join (or organize) a public witness.
    7. Initiate or sponsor a public forum to promote deeper understanding and engagement in solutions.  

The best remedy I know of to all of this bad news is hope grounded in prayer, discernment and deliberate action with others. When we respond to injustice, especially as we do so in community, we can break free from the shackles of despair and find new life where once there was only fear and death. This, my friends, is the good news!

Jesus has shown us the way. Take another step.

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Resident Bishop

A Call to Action for United Methodists in Response to the Plight of Migrants

Family of Faith in the Greater Northwest,

I am sharing the following Call to Action to relieve conditions for migrants on the U.S. southern border from our United Methodist Immigration Task Force.

No matter what your politics, Jesus teaches us to turn strangers into neighbors and to love those neighbors as ourselves. As you see men, women, and children being held in standing room only cells, without showers, soap or toothbrushes, without medical care or sufficient nourishing food, I know you want to reach out and speak out with tender mercy to relieve the suffering.

Please read and respond with love. In addition to the actions suggested below, you can find a list of organizations working to offer hospitality to our neighbors on the Greater Northwest Area website. Consider how you might partner with one. If you have others to suggest, email them to communications@greaternw.org.

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Resident Bishop


A Call to Action for United Methodists in Response to the Plight of Migrants

Grace and peace to you in the name of Christ Jesus. On behalf of the United Methodist Immigration Task Force we share with you a deep concern for migrants. You have seen the deplorable conditions under which migrant children and families are being detained in the US right now. We cannot be silent in this hour. The voice and actions of The United Methodist Church must be heard and experienced in this moment.

We give God thanks for United Methodists who are providing compassionate care to migrants at the border. Border Conferences have established relief centers for migrants. United Methodists from other regions of the country continue to support migrants seeking asylum with their time, talent and treasures. United Methodist congregations across the country have opened their doors to provide sanctuary for those immigrants whose lives would be endangered if they were to be deported to their home countries. UMCOR has been a partner in assisting this connectional work. The General Board of Church and Society has led us faithfully in our advocacy work in support of justice for the migrant and the immigrant. United Methodist Women have also been a strong voice in advocating for the rights of immigrant children and families.

Let’s continue to do this good and faithful work. Join us in these actions:

Give to the Advance # 3022144 for Migration. Go to UMCOR – Global Migration for further information.

Join the General Board of Church and Society in our United Methodist advocacy work alongside of immigrants. Check in online at UMCJustice.org and to sendletters to your Congressional representatives and the White House.

Encourage your UMW unit to join the action plan set forth at the United Methodist Women website.

We ask that you also speak up in support of persons in Sanctuary and the churches supporting them. In the past week, we have become aware of the Trump Administration’s most recent attack on immigrants who are living in Sanctuary in congregations, among them United Methodist congregations, as they seek to fight for justice in their deportation cases. The federal government is issuing fines of up to $500,000 to these immigrants in Sanctuary. This is an egregiously punitive tactic causing great fear and anxiety to immigrant brothers and sisters who are already deeply burdened by the stress of their circumstances.

Support United Methodist Sanctuary congregations and the immigrants in Sanctuary by praying for them and by sending them a postcard expressing such support. At the end of this letter is the list of multiple United Methodist Sanctuary churches and those immigrant friends whom they are hosting.

Take this moment to act. It will make a difference in these challenging times in the lives of suffering immigrants and the brave churches who are ministering to them. May the words of Paul to Timothy strengthen us all……

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice,
but rather a spirit of power and of
love and of self-discipline.
II Timothy 2:7
 

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, Chair
UM Immigration Task Force

Susan Henry-Crowe, General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society

Thomas Kemper, General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries

Harriett J. Olson, General Secretary/CEO
United Methodist Women

A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children

Children separated from families, held at overcrowded detention centers without food, soap or medical care…

Parents and children fleeing danger, denied safe entry, dying as they cross the border…

Who can read the stories and see the images from the US border with Mexico this week and not be moved to compassion and action?

Courageous journalists and advocates tell the stories of inhumanity and tragedy. If you haven’t read them, I encourage you to do so, with the compassionate heart of Jesus. Here are a few examples:

People fleeing violence in their homelands, meet violence at the border of the United States: rejection, separation, incarceration, neglect and death. It’s easy to feel the revulsion when it’s innocent children. Our faith reminds us that every migrant arriving at the southern border is a beloved child in God’s eyes, equally worthy of the care, dignity, and respect that we would afford to our children or grandchildren.

I am asking each local church and faith community in the Greater Northwest Area to prayerfully join me and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in observing a ‘Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children’ on Sunday, June 30.

Below you’ll find UMCOR’s encouragement toward prayer, action, and generosity on behalf of all of God’s Children. Let’s take action to respond with open hearts and minds this week to embody God’s love and make a difference.

Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Resident Bishop


UMCOR: A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children | Sunday, June 30

In light of the recent news about children in U.S. government holding facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has received numerous requests to respond. We have heard the plea for action from the church. Unfortunately, the facilities in question are managed in such a way that precludes even UMCOR’s assistance. Access to these government facilities is extremely limited.

As the arm of The United Methodist Church mandated to cultivate and promote mission, the General Board of Global Ministries seeks to equip your church with tools to use as you confront the frustration and helplessness that this situation evokes. While this particular case is in the U.S., we recognize that migration is a global issue and the breadth and depth of our Global Migration programming at UMCOR and Global Ministries reflects that fact.

As a church that is united on the need to care for children, we can be in mission together.

This Sunday, June 30, Global Ministries encourages you to take part in A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children in three ways:

PRAY – We encourage you to pray for children. Below, you will find a prayer to use this Sunday. You might choose to dedicate a service to suffering children everywhere or conduct a prayer vigil in your community for the children suffering along the border.

ACT – We encourage you to act on behalf of children. While we cannot take UMCOR hygiene kits to the U.S. government holding centers, we are distributing UMCOR hygiene kits at transitional shelters all along the US-Mexico border. In the last three months, UMCOR delivered 46,128 hygiene kits to six church-run transitional shelters. Instructions on how to make and send these kits are available here.

You can also act by calling your U.S. elected officials. This link to the General Board of Church and Society, our sister United Methodist agency responsible for advocacy, will give you some suggestions on issues to raise with these officials.

GIVE – Finally, we encourage you to give on behalf of children. Through the Global Migration Advance, UMCOR provides grants to organizations along the U.S. border and elsewhere around the world that are working to fill gaps in the needs and rights of migrants.

Jesus implored his disciples to welcome the children. This is our mission: to make sure the children are welcomed. Thank you for your prayers, your actions and your gifts.

For media information, contact Marcy Heinz.
For program information, contact Mia Nieves.

A Prayer for Suffering Children

God of All Children Everywhere,
Our hearts are bruised when we see children suffering alone
Our hearts are torn when we are unable to help.
Our hearts are broken when we have some complicity in the matter.
For all the times we were too busy and shooed a curious child away,
forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we failed to get down on their level and look eye to eye with a child, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we did not share when we saw a hungry child somewhere in the world, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we thought about calling elected officials to demand change, but did not, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we thought that caring for the children of this world was someone else’s responsibility, forgive us, oh God.
With Your grace, heal our hearts.
With Your grace, unite us in action.
With Your grace, repair our government.
With Your grace, help us to find a way to welcome all children everywhere,
That they may know that Jesus loves them,
Not just because “the Bible tells them so,”
But because they have known Your love in real and tangible ways,
And they know that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate them from Your love.
Amen.

A letter from Bishop Stanovsky as the Council of Bishops offers its recommendation to The UMC

How very good and pleasant it is
  when kindred live together in unity!

For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
  life forevermore.

-Psalm 133:1, 3b

Today, the Council of Bishops strongly recommend that United Methodists stay together as ONE CHURCH.

Together, the council agreed to recommend that the 2019 General Conference make room for individuals, local churches and annual conferences to exercise conscience as they choose whether or not to ordain gay and lesbian clergy, or to perform weddings for couples of the same gender, by removing prohibitive language from the Book of Discipline, and letting Annual Conferences set standards for ordination, and same gender weddings.

This recommendation emerged out of honest anguish and disagreement, as well as patient listening and fervent prayer, as we met in closed session. We make this recommendation despite deep and painful differences in our understanding of God’s will for LGBTQ people and a recognition that the “contextual” teachings and practices of the church in one area not only makes ministry more difficult in other areas, but can cause real harm to people.

While forces around the world are sowing distrust and driving wedges to divide people against one another, we hope The United Methodist Church can be a witness to the whole world that people can live together in peace and love each other, despite profound disagreements, even as we continue to discern God’s will and way for the whole human family.

Living in hope,

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area

Click here to read the Council of Bishops Press Release.

Holy Week 2018 – We will recognize…

To United Methodists in the Greater Northwest and all who read these words, wherever you are:

Between last week’s HOSANNA! and Easter’s ALLELUIA! we watch as Jesus walks to his death at the hands of secular and religious authorities, but emerges on the other side, victorious by the power of love at work in the world.

If we haven’t already cast the story with bunnies, daffodils and butterflies, we will recognize this story wherever hope breaks forth from despair. In the crowds of young people in the streets of America, marching, pleading, promising to claim their chance to live without the fear of being stalked and killed at school or at home, or in the neighborhood.

We will recognize the story among immigrants, who have left everything behind, travelled at great peril across deserts, war zones, oceans, boundaries, to arrive in foreign, often hostile lands in hopes of living in freedom, security and opportunity.

We will recognize the story among the poor and homeless who live every day like birds or tiny fur friends in hidden corners, and under bushes, in alleys, behind abandoned walls, in defiance of the powers of death that hem them in before and behind.

We will recognize the Jesus story in our own lives every time we break free from habits of thought and practice that do not serve us well – routines, sorrows, low expectations, petty grievances that we give safe harbor, allowing them to dull our senses and lower our gaze.

We will recognize Jesus, alive and well every time we hear the unlikely – miraculous story, really – of someone walking out of the valley of the shadow of death into the dazzling light of a new day.

You see, the Jesus story isn’t about Jesus, really. His death and resurrection weren’t about him at all. They were about us. They were about God’s magnificent creation, coming out from behind a cloud. Jesus lived and loved and died and rose to open our hearts, our minds and the doors of our small lives to the way God’s love in and through us can make all things new. This is the body of Christ, broken for you. This is the cup of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many.

May new hope dawn in your life, in our nation, and on this precious, precarious planet. May a way open that you thought was closed. And may you discover unimagined blessing.

So shall we shout, Alleluia!

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area

Greater NW Outlook: Lenten Listening, Table Talks, and A Way Forward

Council of Bishops President Bruce R. Ough calls for colleagues to be open to changing their minds under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Ough preached during the Feb. 25 opening worship service of a council meeting that goes through Feb. 28, in Dallas.


Friends in the Greater Northwest,

Yesterday Bishop Bruce Ough led us back to a principle that has guided Methodism throughout our history: God always leads Christians into ministry on the margins with the poor and outcast.

As the Council of Bishops meets to receive and consider the report of the Commission on the Way Forward, receive Bishop Ough’s sermon as a message of courage and hope for the whole Church. Please hold us in prayer, as we seek to lead the church on a path of faithfulness and obedience to God.

Click here to read Bishop Ough’s Address

Friday, nearly 50 leaders from the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences will gather to be equipped to lead “Table Talks” across the area where United Methodists can seek unity in the church that is deeper than our different understandings and attitudes about human sexuality. The differences are undeniable. They have strained the Church for more than 40 years. In these conversations we hope to understand what informs our differences from one another, so that we can respect one another, learn from one another, and continue to be members of one, undivided Church as we continue to listen to God’s leading through these differences.

The Table Talks will occur throughout the spring. I hope to see you there, to hear your voice, and to prayerfully, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, see the ways to live together in peace.

This is powerful, difficult spiritual work — worthy of the sober self-reflection of Lent. Any time we pause, turn to one another and God, and pray, we live in the promise of new life, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I pray that as we gather, humbly and prayerfully, there will be enough light to show us the way.

With hope in the resurrection,

 

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area

Love, like Death… an Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day message

Ash Wednesday 2018

Today is marked by HEARTS and ASHES. Valentine’s Day celebrates the union of two people by love. Ash Wednesday leads us into the 40-day journey with Jesus through death to resurrection with a reminder that we are one with the stuff of the earth – dirt, ash.

Charles Wesley wrote that:

Love, like death, hath all destroyed,
Rendered all distinctions void;
Names and sects and parties fall;
Thou, O Christ, art all in all.[I]

Both love and death erase boundaries that separate us from one another. Receiving ashes smudged on a forehead, or a hand, is a humbling of self and a reminder that we live because God breathes life into dust. We are at once nothing, and one-with-everything.

This is the mystic mystery of living as creatures in relationship with the Creator. We are undeniably distinct individuals at the same time that we participate in a deep and inescapable unity with all of creation.

So, I celebrate both.

First, I receive ashes, which keep me from thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think (Romans 12:3) and to find my common humanity with all I meet. Second, I receive roses and a poem from my life partner, Clint, who draws me out of myself in so many ways and enters my solitude when I have retreated.

May you know your precious, existential uniqueness this day. And may you humbly receive the gift of shared life with others. Both are God’s gracious gifts.

The United Methodist Church continues its search for unity despite differences that threaten to divide us. Please read the following letter from Bishop Bruce Ough (CLICK HERE), President of the Council of Bishops of our Church, and pray for our church as we continue to seek unity that is deeper than our differences. Hear these hopeful words of John Wesley:

Many are we now, and one,
we who Jesus have put on;
there is neither bond nor free,
male nor female, Lord, in thee.

May we all “put on” Jesus again, and anew, this holy season.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater Northwest Area


[i] “Christ, from Whom All Blessings Flow,” by Charles Wesley, The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, #550.

Image Credit: Foreheads on Ash Wednesday by Kelsey Johnson via CreationSwap.

Where are We Headed? Looking for Life – Cultivating Vitality

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.                 Isaiah 43: 19 NRSV

God’s doing a new thing. The Church is trying to keep up!

Take a minute and just enjoy.

The Oregon-Idaho, Pacific Northwest and Alaska Conferences have worked collaboratively to cultivate vital ministries since Rev. Stephan Ross (Oregon-Idaho) and Rev. Dr. William Gibson (Pacific Northwest) started working together and across conference boundaries a couple of years ago. We’re breaking down silos to work collaboratively across conference lines, and across traditional staff job descriptions. Today an Innovation Team is taking shape to work in collaboration with district superintendents and local leaders to create new places for new people who are not finding authentic faith community in our churches as they are right now.

Meet the Greater Northwest Innovation Cultivation team, as it is taking form:

The newest member of the team is Dr. Leroy Barber, newly hired Congregational Developer for Vitality for the Oregon-Idaho Conference.

Dr. Barber joins Pacific Northwest staff, Rev. Dr. William Gibson, who will lead the team (Gibson shares some of his thinking in a recent video series), Kristina Gonzalez, a gifted trainer in cultural competency, coaching and leadership development, and Rev. Shalom Agtarap. I invited Agtarap to be one of our preachers for the 2017 Annual Conference; you can hear her message online. We plan to add a specialist who will help churches at the lower boundary of sustainability to explore options for the future. Stay tuned.

Together these innovation cultivators, working with the Congregational Development Team (CDT) in Oregon-Idaho, the Board of Congregational Development (BOCD) in Pacific Northwest, the New Church and Faith Community Development Committee in Alaska and the district superintendents are dedicated to leading a new season of vital ministry across the Greater Northwest through:

  • Innovation: starting new ministries, new churches, new faith communities
  • Multiplication: existing ministries in new places, and
  • Inclusion: reaching across racial and cultural differences to engage a wider variety of people in faith communities.

From left: Dr. Leroy Barber, Kristina Gonzalez, Rev. Shalom Agtarap, and Rev. Dr. William Gibson

Together, this team has first-hand experience in starting new churches, multi-cultural ministry, adaptive change, reconciling ministries, re-energizing and leading existing churches into their neighborhoods, and community organizing. They bring urban, rural and suburban experience. Together there is breadth, strength and wisdom that is the miracle of community. Please pray with me for this team as it forms, and the members listen to one another, and share their passion for vital ministries, and learn to work creatively across Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. As this team’s work evolves, look for upcoming stories that will detail how you and your congregation can access these resources.

INNOVATION?

Do we really have to? Yes. God – who last time I checked was as old as the hills – is all about making things new. So, it’s time to move, to shake off, to leave behind. And as much as we may like things as they are (or were!), God’s way is ahead of us, and if we want to be part of what God’s up to, we’ve got to get moving. What are you willing to give up so new people can be part of a life-giving, world-changing community?

I’m humming Curtis Mayfield’s 1965 anthem for the change God is working –

People get ready, there’s a train a-comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

Take a listen

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area

Dignity and Degradation – A Puzzle

I call upon all who hear this message to give public witness to your love of God and neighbor this Martin Luther King, Jr. week by 1) participating in public commemorations, 2) advocating for racial, social and economic justice with elected officials and 3) serving human need in your community.


The last 24 hour news cycle presented me with four puzzle pieces that did not fit into a picture that made sense to me.

1. Dignity

President Trump issued his Martin Luther King Jr. Day message to the nation this morning. He taped it yesterday. It is well-crafted and high-minded:

…Dr. King opened the eyes and lifted the conscience of our nation. He stirred the hearts of our people to recognize the dignity written in every human soul. Today we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth that Americans hold so dear – that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God….Today …we pledge to fight for his dream of equality, freedom, justice and peace.

2. Degradation

But, last evening the President of the United States may have profanely said Haiti, African and other nations produce people who are worthy of the dung heap. We don’t know if the reports are true. But we do know that the President has consistently pursued immigration policies aimed at excluding or disadvantaging persons based on his evident religious or racial bias.

3. Earthquake Anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010. Watch my interview with UMCOR’s Rev. Jim Gulley, who was trapped for 55 hours in a collapsed hotel.

4. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, commemorating the world-changing life of a man who helped lead our nation to recognize and address its deep injustices.

When I first set these pieces next to each other I felt confused, and then I got pretty mad. It was righteous, faith-based anger. God gave me this anger as companion to love of neighbor. Don’t be messing with my neighbors!  It makes me MAD!

Let me introduce you to some of my beloved neighbors:

Haiti 

In October of 2011, I led United Methodists from the Mountain Sky Area on a mission trip to Haiti. It was nearly two years after the earthquake of 2010 devastated that island nation. The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team boarded a flight in Miami that was chock full of teams like ours, as nearly every flight at that time was: young and old volunteers, wearing brightly colored mission team T-shirts –   Christian groups, civic organizations, and student service clubs – all flocking to Haiti to help.

I was on a team that went to the small town of Mellier, where the local church and school had crumbled to the ground. We worked for a week in a long series of teams to clear the rubble, frame foundations, haul rock and concrete in wheelbarrows to build a new church and school. We worked hand in had with local residents, hired with our financial contributions so that the reconstruction work not only used volunteer labor, it also benefitted local workers. And, we brought crafts and soccer balls and led and learned songs and skits with the children of the school, who were meeting in temporary plywood rooms erected by an earlier mission team from Europe. Our food was cooked on a wood stove by local women. Our drivers, and interpreters were all Haitian. Every one of them lived in poverty. Every one had a story of how they and their loved ones had been affected by the earthquake.

We all fell a little “in love” with Haiti, the first black republic in the world, with its rich culture and generous, gracious people, despite centuries of colonial violence, chronic poverty, meager natural resources, and corrupt public administration. We experienced people living in piles of rubble, who nonetheless walked, worked and welcomed us with self-evident and irrepressible dignity.

Africa

In 2011, Imagine No Malaria brought me in a delegation to Angola in West Africa to distribute anti-Malaria bed nets to protect families from the deadly disease. Here, too, we experienced lovely, industrious people, struggling to live well, to get an education and to care for one another under circumstances of extreme difficulty. Not one of them belonged on a dung heap.

My Piece of the Puzzle

These seem like dangerous times, when core principles of human decency and social justice are in question. The puzzle pieces don’t fit together by themselves. I have a place in the puzzle.

So, this morning I renewed my personal commitment to bearing public witness to my love of God and neighbor. I figured out which public events I will participate in to honor the life, ministry and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend. I see it as my job as God’s partner in creating the “new king/kin-dom.” Clint and I will join a public commemoration in Seattle, to join a community of people who recognize and work for the dignity of all God’s people.

Where will you be?

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Beware. Be very aware.

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.

 Isaiah 60: 1, 5

Epiphanya moment of sudden or great revelation or realization.

We were shaken awake in 2017 in America – with the sudden realization that sexual abuse and harassment by powerful people of less powerful people is rampant in American society. Most common is abuse of women by men: Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and so many more. But it can be anyone who uses their advantage to intimidate and exploit someone at a disadvantage. As we know, abuse isn’t always by men of women, it can be between two people of the same sex, women of men, adults abusing children or youth, the rich abusing the poor, or as was reported just this week, parents trafficking their own children for sex to finance their opioid addictions.[i]

Sexual harassment and abuse occur when a person has an inflated sense of their own importance and a distorted sense of their place in the world, which leads them to go where they don’t belong and take what is not theirs. You can hear their distorted thinking, when abusers say, “I thought the feelings were mutual,” or “I thought the sex was consensual.”  The first (original) sin the bible tells us about is taking what isn’t yours. That’s what happened in the Garden of Eden, when Eve and Adam plucked and ate the fruit that wasn’t theirs to eat.

In October I was with clergy and other professional ministers in Alaska, when we began to hear about the gross abuses of film producer, Harvey Weinstein. I found myself talking with clergywomen about the inappropriate ways laymen and clergy colleagues treat them. Hugs that turn into gropes. Suggestive comments about personal appearance or physical fitness.  A “stolen kiss.” What is a “stolen kiss” if not one that wasn’t given?

Though I am constantly aware of these dynamics at work in our lives, I had fallen into complacency and given up hope of change. To shake myself awake again, I began a personal “Me Too” journal of the encounters in my life that crossed boundaries. I have 18 items so far. As I began to write, lost memories returned.  I didn’t think there would be so many. They fall far short of criminal actions. I think of them as encounters that taught me to be wary – to watch out for unspoken intentions, for hidden messages, for intrusions into my personal space.

And then I began to count the cases of clergy sexual abuse I have had a role in responding to as a district superintendent or bishop. More than 25, overwhelmingly men who used the trust of their office to gain sexual access to vulnerable women.

Today, as we remember that God repeatedly shines new light and calls people out of darkness, I want to share three messages.

To women and others who have learned to be wary. I’m sorry. You can be the beautiful, whole, beloved daughters (children) of God. Own and honor the integrity of your personhood: body, mind and spirit. If you feel unsafe around someone, don’t “be nice.” Protect yourself. If you feel another person may want something from you that does not belong to them and that you are not offering, don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. If a person invades your space, your security, or acts without your consent – tell someone. Do not become compliant or make excuses for your abuser if your personal integrity is under assault.

To anyone who has been sexually harmed by a Church leader. Sexual abuse, misconduct and harassment by a clergy person violates a sacred trust. As your bishop, I take reports of misconduct by clergy very seriously. If you have been harmed by a member or officer of a local congregation, I encourage you to share your experience with your pastor, or other trusted leader in the church. If you have been harmed by a clergy person, or an employee or elected officer of the Conference, report your experience to a district superintendent or other trusted Conference leader, who will work with my office to restore the sacred trust of the ordained ministry, and to find a just resolution to your concerns.

To clergy and others in trusted leadership in the Church. Do not confuse self-giving love with self-serving love. It is never OK for you to become sexually involved with people in your care. It is always your responsibility to maintain healthy professional boundaries. Don’t put yourself in a situation where your intentions might be misunderstood. The Church has given its stamp of approval to you as a safe, trustworthy spiritual guide and companion at the boundaries of life and death. Just as you have the power to heal, you also have the power to harm.  Your sexual attentions are not a form of ministry, or therapy. If there is something in your life that you can’t share with anyone – you may be a danger to the people in your care. Find a spiritual advisor, counselor, or mentor to help you sort through your “stuff” and ensure that you are a trustworthy pastor. If you do not or cannot maintain the sacred trust of your office, for the love of Christ, step out of ordained ministry.

Let this season of awakening open us to a new way of being in relationship, in which men and women of all sexual identities and orientations, and regardless of power or wealth, honor one another, until the radiance of God’s glory shines upon us.

Send me your thoughts.


Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater Northwest Area


[i] NPR – W.Va. Officials Warn Of Increased Cases Of Human Trafficking

 

greaternw-map

Our Address

Office of the Bishop 816 S 216th #2 (Street Address) PO Box 13650 (Mailing Address) Des Moines, WA 98198-1009
© Copyright 2019, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area. All Rights Reserved.