From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
United Methodists use education to head off potential abuse
Thu, 15 Aug 2002 15:36:38 -0500
Aug. 15, 2002 News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville,
NOTE: This report is a sidebar to UMNS story #366. Head-and-shoulders
photographs of the Rev. Stephanie Hixon and Bishop Charlene Kammerer are
available at http://umns.umc.org/photos/headshots.html.
By United Methodist News Service*
United Methodist leaders are focusing on training and education as a first
line of defense against possible sexual abuse problems.
Around the U.S. connection, clergy members and even lay people are
participating in workshops or seminars dealing with sexual ethics and the
denomination's policies. Such events have been going on for years. Many of
the church's annual conferences, or regional units, held a round of training
sessions on sexual ethics at their yearly business sessions this summer.
"Education is an ongoing process," said the Rev. Stephanie Hixon, who heads
the staff of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women
in Evanston, Ill. "The best experts in the field continue to learn about
The Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference held a workshop in May featuring
Joy Melton, the author of the manual Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of
Abuse in the Church. Bishop Neil L. Irons required all conference clergy to
participate, and lay members were encouraged to attend, said Peggy Halsey, a
Board of Global Ministries staff person who deals with issues facing women,
children and families.
In Western North Carolina, Bishop Charlene Kammerer required all of the more
than 800 appointed clergy to attend one of three scheduled training sessions
on sexual ethics. More than 1,000 clergy and church staff turned out for the
three sessions, held in mid-May. The training had been scheduled for more
than a year.
Kammerer issued a statement reaffirming the denomination's stance and
continual revisions of its policy on clergy sexual misconduct as recorded in
the 2000 Book of Discipline. She admonished the clergy that if information
comes to her about any clergy sexual misconduct she must and will act on it.
"I am no longer just your colleague and friend," she said. "I am your
supervisor, and what you share with me will not be confidential. This is my
At one of the sessions, the Rev. Mary Jane Wilson-Parsons, a sexual assault
counselor, spoke to more than 500 United Methodist clergy and church staff
assembled at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in High Point, N.C.
"The very nature and work of ministry is intimate," she said. "It is because
of these intimacies that we run the risk of engaging in unethical situations
with those whom we work with and supervise."
Wilson-Parsons cautioned the clergy to guard their role as pastor. "It is
never appropriate for clergy to engage in a consensual love affair with one
of their parishioners."
Western North Carolina adopted a policy on sexual misconduct by church
professionals at its annual session in June last year. Among other items,
the two-page policy defines sexual misconduct/harassment and lists
procedures for reporting and responding to complaints.
Throughout the daylong sessions, clergy delved into resources related to
power and control in ministerial relationships, clarifications on healthy
relationship boundaries, watched a video on handling clergy sexual
misconduct and studied a graph on clergy misconduct ranging from boundary
violations to rape.
"This was very informative," said Harold Zimmerman, local pastor of
Cornatzer United Methodist Church in Advance, N.C. "This is an issue that
has concerned me for some time. I tend to be a hugger, and I don't want to
do anything that may have a bad perception."
# # #
*Dawn M. Hand, director of communications in the Western North Carolina
Annual Conference, contributed to this report.
United Methodist News Service
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