Clergy in the modern church may experience increased vulnerability as their work reaches into new areas of ministry, especially in an era of national unrest, poverty, and violence. Additionally, clerics are often bivocational or are working outside the once-traditional congregational model, producing new challenges in both urban and rural ministries. Furthermore, the changing demographics of the church have brought new cultural practices and languages that demand new sensitivities. These were touched upon in the topic Priests and Deacons Vulnerability.
There is no doubt that the most recommended practice to prevent behaviors chargeable under Title IV is training and continuing education for awareness of “red flags.” That training must include financial reporting practices, boundaries, safe church concepts, and learning how to take care of one’s mental and physical health, among other important topics.
Much of the training needs to be centered on the Canons of the Episcopal Church and Title IV specifically. The Rev. Canon Bradley Wirth has been a deputy to seven General Conventions and a member of various joint committees on church canons. He worries that some clerics have not been taught the canons with the same degree of detail that used to be provided. Additionally, the level of training in Title IV canon law has varied in local diocesan formation programs. He is one of the strongest advocates of this Title IV educational website and has served on its foundational committee.
If a diocese doesn’t provide opportunities for continuing education in Title IV, experts say clerics should ask for it. One of those experts is former Minnesota Chancellor Sally Johnson, Esq., who wrote much of the original Title IV canons. Decades later, she is still active in crafting Title IV revisions and also serves as the Chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies.
The Rev. Canon Bradley Wirth is one cleric who really knows such isolation, for the nearest cleric or even another human being can be miles away in the geography of his ministry. He says he is always conscious of his isolation and makes sure he takes careful contemporary notes of any “disturbing situation” and shares them with another cleric by phone or even with the bishop. Isolation should never mean being alone in having peers and mentors. He also says it is imperative to make pastoral calls to “new people” in public places outside of an isolated church office.
Knowledge of best practices and ongoing training allows a cleric to develop an educated “gut feeling” about what may be a red flag or other difficult situation. These skills may be developed in conversations with others, such as in a clericus meeting or workshops at clergy conferences. Best practices awareness is not just for the health and well-being of the cleric. Bishop Michael Hunn says it is also for the health of the church.
Examples of best practices continue to warn against behaviors that lead to Title IV offenses. Education and training define what is canonically permitted and prohibited. The supplemental videos under this topic offer additional wisdom and relate practical examples. Additionally, clerics address the needs of deacons, who often will work with the most vulnerable people in their vocation. Alexizendria Link addresses deliberate and not-so-deliberate choices a cleric makes. The Rev. Gay C. Jennings gives the advice that a cleric is also God’s child just as the people being served are God’s children. The Rt. Rev. Michael Buerkel Hunn asks the clergy to be attentive to their own self-care. The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas speaks about dealing with the wounded. The Very Rev. Miguelina Howell challenges the clergy to learn and relearn the canons. The Rev. Dr. Molly James has more advice about seeking support from other clerics, and The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe says Title IV incident prevention includes reflecting on one’s own experiences.
Companion sections of this website will specifically address other clerics who share their special vulnerabilities because they are bi-vocational or otherwise part-time in their church work or ministering in institutional settings.