Best Practices

The vows of baptism and ordination hold clerics accountable for improper conduct and discipline as defined in Title IV. In the broader topic of Priests and Deacons, members of the clergy and other experts state the vocation involves stress, isolation, and vulnerability for priests and deacons as they minister to the hurting of the world, sometimes on a 24/7 timetable. The vocational reality can become a dangerous precursor to behaviors chargeable under Title IV.

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.

Bishops have expressed the need to further train priests and deacons. They have experienced pressures in their own ministries, both prior to becoming bishops and afterwards. The also see the need for training in their flocks. The Bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, says training starts for clergy with rereading the vows of ordination.

 

 

The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Bishop of Indianapolis

 

The Rt Rev. Wendell Gibbs, Bishop of Michigan, says discussing boundaries is basic to all continuing education. He says that training also involves helping clerics realize they can’t forget those boundaries when they aren’t wearing a clerical collar. He offers wisdom through examples, such as the relaxed atmospheres of camp or informal congregational parties, where a cleric should be especially conscious of boundaries.

The Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs, Bishop of Michigan

 

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.

The Rev. Canon Bradley Wirth Rector, All Saints Episcopal Church, Columbia Falls-Whitefish, Montana

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.

 

 

Sally Johnson, Esq., Chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies

 

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, Executive Officer of the General Convention, goes so far as to say a cleric who does not elect to undertake continuing education in Title IV canons might be one who needs proactive attention. Canon Barlow says the bishop or the bishop’s staff should view a cleric’s lack of continuing education as a concern regarding the cleric’s potential behaviors in the future.

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, Executive Officer of the General Convention

Best practices for ministry include formal training and education as well as informal education. An example is talking to colleagues for advice. The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma, is very direct in his advice. He says if a cleric feels he or she probably should mention something to the bishop, there is a need to do so.

The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, Bishop of Oklahoma

A cleric who isolates himself or herself from other clerics may have a difficult time finding quality pastoral care. The cleric should not seek pastoral care from his or her own congregation to maintain boundaries.  Clergy members who contributed to this website agree it is important for a cleric to have another cleric for support, listening, and guidance. The Rev. Dr. Molly James gives counsel by advising a cleric doesn’t need to be a lone ranger “out there.”

The Rev. Dr. Molly James, Dean of Formation for the Diocese of Connecticut

 

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.

The Rev. Canon Bradley Wirth Rector, All Saints Episcopal Church, Columbia Falls-Whitefish, Montana

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 wellbeing of the cleric. Canon Michael Hunn says it is also for the health of the church.



The Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal 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 in this topic of the website 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 Rev. Canon Michael 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 bivocational or otherwise part-time in their church work or ministering in institutional settings.

Loading FAQs...

Loading Glossary...

No words could be found.
Loading Resources...

No resources could be found.
Feedback