When I was a newly ordained transitional deacon, I moved from the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Soon thereafter I traveled to the City of Charleston for my first official meeting with Bishop Ed Salmon. He really only had two things to say to me. First, he told me that we in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina were not confused about who Jesus is. Second, he told me that people would try to dump garbage at my feet (i.e., triangulate) and that my job was not to be a garbage collector. In other words, individuals were sure to bring their complaints about other parishioners or staff members to me with no intention to deal with those relationships themselves.
Bishop Salmon, who would later ordain me to the priesthood, never failed to remind his clergy that triangulation, rumormongering, and gossip rip apart the fabric of a community of faith. These are just a few of the many ways that we fail to bear witness to who Jesus is. As I have preached in an important sermon about our use of language:
“Christians have a particular obligation to use words carefully, regardless of how others might choose to use them recklessly.”
While recognizing that God’s grace and mercy are greater than these mistakes, which we make daily, we are called to respect and to nurture both healthy boundaries and healthy behaviors in our common life as followers of Jesus.
Safe Church ministries and a Conversation Covenant are two important ways for us to pay attention to this in our common life at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. I take these very seriously, and I invite you to do the same so that together we will, more and more, bear witness to who Jesus is. We have been reconciled to God through Jesus, and we been entrusted with the message of reconciliation as his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). This I believe.
— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector
Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church is committed to providing an environment free of abuse, exploitation, and harassment for our members, friends, and guests. This is part of our baptismal covenant in which we promised “to respect the dignity of every human being.” Through the ministries of Safe Church, resources and training are provided to help us keep that promise.
People are required to take this training in order to hold a wide range of leadership and volunteer positions in our congregation. However, everyone in our community of faith is invited to take this training. Indeed, doing so creates a safer environment for all of us.
For more information regarding these ministries, please contact our Safe Church Coordinator, Pam Harvey.
(adapted and amended from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas)
The mission of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church is to know and share the love of Jesus Christ. Frank, confident, and trustful conversation is an essential part of reflecting together on the mystery of God in Jesus Christ and God’s creative and redemptive love in our own lives and in the world around us. Often, though, we are led into difficult, even disturbing, conversations as we bring the length and breadth of our assumptions, hopes, opinions, and certainties, into the formative power of Christian faith. Avoiding the issues around which passion and disagreement reside might well be an easier path, but commitment to remaining in conversation with one another despite our differences is part of our calling as followers of Jesus Christ.
In order to mark both our commitment to conversation and our recognition of the challenges, we affirm:
- that we are all made in the image of God and must, therefore, treat one another with respect and dignity;
- that we are free to explore different ideas and beliefs as well as to grow and change theologically;
- that we share a common sinfulness and, therefore, will understand only partially and be mistaken frequently;
- that we do not have to agree in order to love one another;
- that our conversations, even our most passionate disagreements, take place in the presence of the Holy Spirit, whom we seek not to grieve.
And we strive:
- to approach conversation with a willingness to listen and learn, acknowledging the value of opposing views;
- to treat one another as honest inquirers, attempting to discern God’s truth in a complex world;
- to engage ideas without attacking or dismissing those that hold them;
- to acknowledge the limited perspective of our own experience and opinions, and be open to the possibility of our views changing;
- to consider the possibility that we might be mistaken, secure in the knowledge of the love and forgiveness we have all received in Jesus;
- to challenge one another while seeking not to give offense;
- to consider challenges from others while striving not to take offense too readily;
- to serve reconciliation by sharing when we have been offended, and by not sharing anonymous complaints or stating “people are saying” or “I hear that”;
- to acknowledge stereotypes, ask for clarification in order to avoid misunderstandings, and make room for complexity;
- to embrace the words of Psalm 19:14 as our own prayer: “Let the words of my mouth . . . be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”