The Diocese of Newark’s long history of being at the forefront of justice for all of God’s people is once again leading the way, this time to ensure that sexism and misogyny is eradicated within the Episcopal Church. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, and the continued wage and leadership gap for women across our country, it is disturbing to consider that this injustice is also a part of our church. Yet studies and anecdotal reports across the larger church have made it clear that the Episcopal Church is not immune from the societal sins of sexism and misogyny that have plagued the larger world.
At the 144th Diocesan Convention in 2018, a resolution was passed that created a new task force charged with addressing this important justice issue through reporting on gender equity with regard to compensation and role in our churches, developing anti-sexism training that will be required in the same way anti-racism training is, and submitting to the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church a similar resolution. The Anti-Sexism Task Force (ASTF) has been hard at work since that time, delivering on every part of its commission from the diocese, and is rolling out the training this year.
Multiple Beta Trainings with smaller groups in 2018 allowed for the ASTF to test the agenda and materials in smaller focus groups. Responses at all the beta trainings, particularly the final version, were overwhelmingly positive, and the Task Force is now ready to launch the required trainings in 2020. One of the two yearly offerings will be at Episcopal House, with the other being at a satellite location, to allow for easy access by those further away from Newark.
The first Anti-Sexism Training will be Saturday, May 9 at Episcopal House (registration deadline April 22), with a fall training on Saturday, October 17 at Church of the Messiah in Chester.
The training includes thoughtful discussion, interactive exercises, videos, and presentations. The format is a single day, with pre-work in the form of readings and surveys, and will be offered twice each year initially to allow all to complete the requirement within the three-year timeframe required. The task force is also contemplating evening sessions, which will occur based on need. Subsequent trainings for those who have completed this initial requirement are being planned, and it is hoped that we will be able to produce modular courses that can be done online, or in short interactive and easy to access sessions.
The ASTF was also charged with reporting on the status or women clergy in our diocese with regard to compensation and role, as well as sexual harassment and assault. A review of the compensation and role data indicate that the diocese is fairly equitable with regard to gender in full-time rector roles, but there is still more work to be done to review part-time data, and bias within search committees. Sadly, a survey of clergy showed that sexual harassment and assault is still a part of the life for many women clergy across the Episcopal Church. More work needs to be done, and it is hoped that through awareness and the training this horrific injustice will become a thing of the past.
And of course, our diocese is leading the way in this area. Our resolution requiring a task force and training was passed at General Convention, and ASTF Co-Chair Laura Russell is the chair of that interim body. They are developing training on The Episcopal Church level, and hope to make it a requirement across the Episcopal Church. Other dioceses are also following our lead and creating their own policies and training.
In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This important work by the ASTF is ensuring that our sisters in Christ are not forgotten, and recognizes that this diocese is committed to justice for all the children of God that all of us may be lifted up.