Committee 16: Safety, wellness & mental health

tiles that say "stay safe"

Sweet sixteen! Resolutionpalooza continues today with a look at all the resolutions heading to committee 16 on safety, wellness, and mental health. The name of this committee causes me to want to write a resolution making it a Title IV offense to omit the Oxford comma, but I digress.

The resolutions here primarily deal with issues of mental health, which is a super important issue. In the US, mental health care is not as accessible as it should be. I’m not sure what services and care are available outside the US to Episcopalians. So we have a serious challenge to society and to the church. I’m just not sure that resolutions are a useful fix in most cases. With that said, on to the resolutions.

 

A019 Create a Task Force on Senior Wellness and Positive Aging. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If passed, this resolution (referred from the 2022 General Convention) seeks to create a task force to “identify the major challenges to positive aging” and “communicate with congregations, dioceses, and provinces to collect information about their approaches to these challenges” among other things, including encouragement of advocacy by the Office of Government Relations. These are fine tasks, but I’m not sure we need to create a task force to get this done. People who are passionate about these issues could simply get together and do these things. That said, if folks on the legislative committee have done their homework and think such a task force could be useful, I’d believe them. We are an aging denomination, so it makes sense to address issues of aging.

 

A023 Authorize and Support the use of the Best Practices Guide and Model Anti-Harassment Policy. Full text. Likely vote: YES, if amended.

The pragmatically named Interim Body to Oversee the Continuing Development of Anti-Harassment Best Practices, Model Policy Examples and Varied Training Materials has developed a model policy on the prevention of harassment. We have plenty of work to do on this front, as I hear story after story of people (usually women or LGBTQ folks, but not always) being harassed in churches, whether as employees or parishioners. The church should be a safe place! So here we would adopt this model policy and encourage its use at all levels. So far, so good. When things start to get murky with this resolution is its idea that the Episcopal Church website will somehow curate feedback from people using the policy, and Episcopal entities will report (to whom?) on a regular basis. There is a request for $75,000 for this website, and I can’t tell of that’s $74,900 more than we need or hundreds of thousands of dollars short, because it’s not clear to me what exactly this website will do and why. So at a minimum, let’s adopt the new model policy and encourage its use. Perhaps it would be best to stop there, and then if we see a need for some kind of formal feedback loop, we can build something starting with the next General Convention.

 

A074 Completing Mental Health Ministry Curriculum for Clergy. Full text. Likely vote: YES.

This resolution is an example of the unhealth of our church, in that we should have been able to complete the work envisioned here without involving 1,000 bishops and deputies. But since we’ve started, it makes sense to finish up a curriculum to train clergy “in ministering to persons and families experiencing mental health challenges in the church.” The sum requested is modest at just $14,000, and the curriculum will be useful for new clergy and for clergy continuing education.

 

A075 A Directive for Clergy Mental Health Ministry Training. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

The explanation of this resolution contains links to resources for which no Spanish translation is provided.

I see that the legislative committee has recommended the adoption of this resolution, which is puzzling to me since it refers to documents that have not been provided and is therefore out of order. We cannot approve a thing without seeing it, and that thing is a curriculum (referenced correctly in A074, I think, but the curriculum isn’t finished yet). Moreover, this resolution tells the President of the House of Deputies to find someone to do the work of figuring out how to require training for postulants and new clergy, but we already know how to do that: put the requirements in the canons. The intentions are good here, but this is neither an effective plan nor an appropriate resolution for us to consider. If amended, this might work. Perhaps the vbinder doesn’t show the perfected version of the resolution. If they’ve fixed it, great! If not, hard pass.

 

A076 Strengthening of Churchwide Training in Mental Health First Aid. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution, if passed, seeks to provide training in Mental Health First Aid to Episcopalians, both lay and clergy. Note that Mental Health First Aid is not a generic term, but a specific curriculum offered by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. It appears that the program is available in languages other than English, including Spanish. I’m not totally sure why we need an Episcopal version of this, rather than just sending people for training, but maybe there’s a good reason. In any case, my math says the resolution seeks $314,000 to do this work. Perhaps that’s a good investment, but if we’re going to start training clergy and lay leaders on the provision of first aid, but it would make sense to prioritize first aid and CPR. And if it would be good to be realistic about how many clergy will take part; it’s hard enough to get clergy to do the canonically required trainings they now must complete. Adding an optional one may not yield the numbers suggested by this resolution.

I’d be in favor of our church encouraging clergy and lay leaders to take this training program. I’m not sure an expensive, complicated program is going to pay the dividends the proposers envision.

 

A078 Promote Equity and to Reduce Differences in Mental Health Outcomes. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution encourages, urges, calls upon, charges, transmits, recognizes, and refers. If nothing else, I admire their diversity of verbs! Essentially we’re expressing a lot of feelings about mental health and then telling the OGR to advocate accordingly. While I see that the committee has recommended adoption, this resolution will not change much on the ground.

 

A079 Mental Health Sunday. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

If passed, the General Convention would designate “as Mental Health Awareness Sunday the Sunday closest to October 10th, which is World Mental Health Day.” Your mileage may vary, but I don’t love theme Sundays. Our church follows a liturgical year which beautifully and deliberately takes us through a cycle of readings and celebrations to point us always to the Paschal Mystery, the gift of God’s love for us in the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. I just don’t love looking away from the most important things. But some congregations seems to love these kinds of themed celebrations, so clearly there are a variety of views. The committee has recommended adoption, so I’m probably blowing into the wind anyway.

 

A082 Support the Episcopal Veterans Network. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

The Standing Commission on World Mission is launching an Episcopal Veterans Network. This resolution seeks to commend that work and to fund a part-time coordinator staff position for $90,000. I think a network of veterans sounds like a good idea, but I generally don’t think the Episcopal Church should fund grassroots networks and organizations, unless it is for a very specific project that fits into a churchwide strategy. I’d like to see the EVN raise its own funds, just as other networks and organizations do. But I wish them well in their work.

 

A089 Address Violence Against Women and Girls. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

Violence against women and girls is a grave problem around the world. And I think there are concrete steps Episcopalians can take to call attention to this violence and to reduce it. This resolution identifies a couple of resources, one coming from the Anglican Communion Office and one from the United Nations. Thank you, proposers, for providing both documents in Spanish and English. In any case, the resolution tells people to something and suggests these resources. We should already be doing something, and there are staff folks and existing networks who can lift up this work and these resources. This is yet another example of General Convention not needing to do a thing for a thing to happen.

 

C030 A Resolution to Create Safe Spaces. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

I see that the committee has recommended this resolution for adoption, which is surprising to me, unless they have a perfected version of the resolution that is not available for us to see yet. As presented here, this resolution is entirely out of order. It asks us to commend “Safe Church” but no links or documents are provided so we know what we are commending. The second resolve reads, “permission is granted to dioceses to authorize different resources, training products, and methods of delivery that meet the needs of dioceses, congregations, and diocesan institution.” Different resources for what? Which training products? I think they are talking about allowing congregations and other organizations to use varied curricula in the training for the prevention of sexual misconduct, but none of that is specified in the resolution. It’s just not clear what we are signing off on. Clarity is good. Ambiguity is not our friend when it comes to resolutions.

 

D031 Addressing the Ongoing Harm of Coercive and Abusive Christian Ministries. Full text. Likely vote: NO.

This resolution, also recommended for adoption by the committee, is puzzling. It laments “the historic and ongoing prevalence of coercion and abuse within Christian social ministries, with particular acknowledgement of how participation in religious services has been a prerequisite for the receipt of social support, how evangelizing publications have been packaged with material support, and how support has been denied to individuals whose relationships do not conform to Church-dictated structures.” OK, abuse is bad. The next resolve asks the Episcopal Church to repent of our own sins, but the first resolve seems to be taking aim at the stick in another’s eye while we have our own log to deal with. And while I agree that some Christians have sinfully tied coercive practice to the provision of support, I also don’t think it’s a sin to tell someone about Jesus when you help them. In fact, I think the greatest gift we can give anyone is a knowledge of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. By all means, coercion has no place in the Gospel. This resolution appears to me to paint with a broad brush, and I’m just not sure who the target is. If the concern is Episcopalians doing this, it would be helpful to say that.

Photo by Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

3 Responses

  1. David Gortner says:

    A074 through A076 are mapped as correctives for a deficit in clergy training and congregational capacity for recognition of mental health challenges and for appropriate care and support. These resolutions were evaluated fully by LC-16 following significant work by the task force from which they came.

    A074 — The curriculum outline (19 pages of content) developed for clergy is viewable in the Blue Book report by the Task Force on Ministry with Individuals with Mental Illness. The curriculum is well under development and at this point needs refinement and delivery preparation along with language translation. Areas include the following:
    – Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training certification
    – Helpful and Unhelpful Theological / Biblical Frames and Spiritual Practices
    – Individual Pastoral and Spiritual Care, and Discernment of Concerns
    – Family Pastoral and Spiritual Care, and Discernment of Concerns
    – Community Inclusion for Individuals with Mental Illness and Their Families
    – Care for Community in Balance with Individuals’ Mental Health/Illness
    – Self-Recognition, Self-Review, Self-Restoration, Self-Resilience, Self-Strength
    – Response to trauma in the wider community
    – Establishing Resource Connections in One’s Community
    – Alliance and Advocacy

    A075 is a resolution moving forward what was already voted and approved in 2022-A109, expecting the training of “that all those to be ordained from January 2024 onward be trained in this new curriculum that will include training in Mental Health First Aid and in the advocacy work of the National Alliance on Mental Illness,” and ” the training of all active priests, deacons, and bishops in this curriculum for mental health and mental illness awareness.” This is a natural next step that involves reporting of training as it will be enacted, once launched following completion of curriculum.

    A076 (training in Mental Health First Aid) is for the whole church, with the understanding that this training is the foundation and starting point of the A074 curriculum for clergy, and with the recognition of its value for lay leaders in any ministry setting to have this training. The total cost is spread across three triennia, with the heavier cost in the first triennium to train a full core of instructors within the Episcopal Church. So, of the full $324,800 across three triennia, $158,600 is for this next triennium. The yield is 53-59 trained instructors, deployed to train 7500-10,500 Episcopalians in basic Mental Health First Aid in the next three years and up to 31,500 Episcopalians by the end of 2033 — including all active clergy. Instructors’ training is paid for, but they are not compensated for offering trainings to the Church. In the end, the cost is $10.31 per member of the Episcopal Church trained to recognize, assess and approach, engage in caring conversation with, and effectively nudge toward resources those in our churches and communities that are experiencing mental health challenges. This is the cost of effective care and ministry.

    • Scott Gunn says:

      Hi David, thanks for your comment.

      A074, yes, this is why I supported it. Let’s flesh out the outline.

      A075, yes, the resolution moves forward what is started. But its mechanism for ensuring compliance is flawed, and it reads as if the curriculum is finished, when it is still an outline as I understand it. The solution is to re-write the language to combine A074 and A075, perhaps to authorize the completion of the curriculum subjected to external review and then continuing. Or wait until the curriculum is complete to assign it.

      A076, it’s just not realistic to think that all active clergy are doing to do this, especially when it’s not canonically required. All active clergy do not complete their canonically required training. And I think the stated number of lay people who will complete the training is also extremely optimistic, but I’d love to be wrong. This just seems to me like a lot of money to spend on this, but I’ll gladly admit my error if I’m wrong about all this. I also wonder if we should also (or first) invest in basic first aid and CPR training, if we’re going to do this. And just as people take non-Episcopal first aid classes, I wonder if we can simply send people to non-Episcopal Mental Health First Aid classes.

      Thanks for your comment! Conversation is SO important as we deliberate, and I’m grateful for this one. Hope to see you in Louisville.

  2. Stacey Fussell says:

    I really appreciate your work on giving these summaries and your thoughts on Resolutions. I serve on LC 16 and am sorry to say I hadn’t caught an error in the V-Binder until you highlighted it in this post. C030 was not recommended for adoption at our last Committee Hearing. We took no action on it as we were seeking clarification from other sources, including legal/insurance ramifications. I’m hopeful that our Committee secretary can get this corrected.

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