Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori: On Healing and Wholeness

Posted Feb 12, 2015

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued the following statement:

On Healing and Wholeness

Healing is the primary work of people of faith and the communities of which they are a part.  Christians, as disciples of One who came to save (rescue, heal, make whole) the world and its inhabitants, seek to heal their relationships with one another and with all that is.

Episcopalians believe this is God’s mission and we are its ministers or servants.  We are meant to seek to repair what is breached and broken, to stitch up what is torn, to heal what is sick, to release what is imprisoned and oppressed, to comfort the dying, to encourage the ignored, forlorn, and grieving. Our life finds meaning in responding to the cries around us and within us, as individuals in community. We follow One who was himself vilified, tortured, and finally executed for proclaiming the possibility of reconciled relationships in communities divided by poverty, violence, and religion.

The tragic death of Thomas Palermo challenges us all to attend to the work of healing.  We cannot restore what is past, but we can seek reconciliation and wholeness for all who have been affected – the Palermo family, Heather Cook, the biking community and others in Baltimore, the Diocese of Maryland, bystanders and onlookers who have witnessed any of these traumatic events.

We begin in prayer – lament and wailing at loss and at human frailty.  We continue in prayer – for succor and comfort, for compassion, for transformation and healing.  Episcopalians worship a God who came among us in fragile human flesh and suffered pain and death at the hands of other human beings. We understand his resurrection to mean that death does not have the final word – and that healing and wholeness transcend the grave. That healing is never quick or easy, it does not “fix” what has already happened, but it does begin to let hope grow again.

Our task is that hard work of healing. It requires vulnerability to the pain of all involved – victims, transgressors, onlookers, friends and families and coworkers and emergency responders and community members. A violent death often divides communities, yet ultimately healing requires us all to lower our defenses enough to let others minister to us, to hear another’s pain and grief, to share our own devastation, and indeed to look for the possibility of a new and different future. Healing also comes through a sense of restored order, which is the role of processes of accountability.

Healing requires hope for a redeemed future for the Palermo family as well as Heather Cook. Many have been changed by this death, yet their lives are not ended. They can be healed and transformed, even though the path be long and hard. Our work is to walk that path in solidarity with all who grieve and mourn. May we pray with the psalmist, “Yea, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” May we also be that companioning presence, the image of God in the flesh, for those who walk through that valley.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church


Comments (18)

  1. Stephen J Waller says:

    What gracious and healing words from the Presiding Bishop. Thank God for her willingness to speak out in the midst of such hurt of the healing ministry which belongs to all of God’s people, acknowledging our part in the disease and brokenness.

  2. This is by far the most cogent, compassionate, and Christian thing that has been said about the whole situation since it happened. Thank you, Bishop Katharine.

  3. Raymond C. Ball says:

    Mindfulness is the beginning of repentance, and Bishop Schori’s words help us to remember that. Thanks to the Presiding Bishop’s words we have the theme for Lent this year. If we learn best from our mistakes may the errors of our past lead us into wholeness (holiness) and healing in our beloved Episcopal Church.

  4. Thomas Rosa says:

    Such words call me to think on a more profound level of understanding. They are filled with faith, hope and deep love.

  5. Charles K. Roberts says:

    “…the possibility of a new and different future…” — a brave vision. I will pray that it be so.

  6. Dru Ferguson says:

    Ditto all that has been said.

  7. Pete Haynsworth says:

    Having trouble reconciling the statements of Schori and Jennings on the Cook matter. How about the PB and HOD Pres issuing a _joint_ communique.

  8. Betsy S Ivey says:

    The healing words of PB Katherine are what we need in understanding the place of this tragic event in our collective being as a Church. May we be a healing presence to ourselves as we walk in solidarity.

  9. James Cesarini says:

    Good words, YES, but they are JUST words. PB Schori had the opportunity to turn words into action back in September and she failed, so these words are just words, and too little, too late in my opinion.

  10. Linda Parry says:

    If God loves and forgives Heather Cook, who are we not to? We can surround the bereft and injured with our love, and extend forgiveness to Heather Cook, whose burdens most of us will never have to carry. We ALL need to heal, and with God’s love, we can.

  11. Alda Morgan says:

    The PB’s words are well-spoken and articulate, but–somehow–ring hollow to me. While she acknowledges that healing (especially in tragic circumstances like these) is not easy, is a long, hard road, she misses something. She says that we begin in prayer, in wailing and lament. Somewhere, I would like to hear about repentance and change in our behavior. It appears that responsible officials in the Episcopal Church were well aware of Bp. Cook’s difficulties with alcohol and her past history of arrest, which took place only some months prior to her election. Yet, the decision was taken to “forgive” it, let her stand for election, and not to inform the electing convention of these facts. Moreover, I’ve heard that there was evidence of this problem at the time of her ordination. I suspect that others were aware of her history. Yet, no one stepped in to confront or help her and a man died because of that. There is no guarantee, of course, that something like this still wouldn’t have happened as long as Bp. Cook continued to drink and drive. …whether or not she was confronted with the problem. But, in crucial circumstances, she wasn’t. My experience has been that we in this church often are soft on this problem, unwilling to confront…bad form, maybe, certainly uncomfortable. And we hide behind the command to forgive, not to be judgmental. As the PB says, we cannot change the past or restore life to Mr. Palermo, but maybe we could take a more honest look at this tendency and take some responsibility for the demand that places on us the next time one of us runs into it.

    1. Jon Spangler says:

      Alda Morgan,

      Even the measures you call for–measures I wish had been taken and would recommend myself–“begin in prayer – lament and wailing at loss and at human frailty.” We progress to these next steps only if we acknowledge our common human frailty–as cyclists, drivers, priests, and humans–from the beginning. This extends to our individual and corporate responsibilities–met and unmet–to challenge and intervene with those burdened by addiction. I weep for all the people who missed multiple opportunities to intervene with Heather Cook: they, too, must feel torn by their failure(s) to act: there is a tremendous cost to inaction.

      Our church has long been known as a “shelter” for those who love “strong drink.” We have taken some beginning steps towards a more “sober” (responsible) approach to alcohol and drug use among our members, particularly our clergy, and Tom Palermo’s death is an obvious and glaring example of our institutional shortcomings thus far. More must be done, and I have been a advocate of such changes for decades.

      The tension between the pastoral and prophetic functions in our church is not new, but a holy compassion must always undergird both. I see no reason to doubt Bishop Katharine’s sincerity or authenticity here–these words need to be said *in addition to* the taking of stronger actions in a different–and more appropriate–forum later on.

      But first, last, and always, we must pray–and “weep with those who weep.”

    2. William A. Flint, PhD says:

      I concur, Alda.

    3. Ron Hewett says:

      Well said, Alda. Words to live by. I also feel there is the issue of integrity and lack there of on the part of church officials in the Cook incident. It seems we are preaching integrity, yet we fail to live it.

  12. Anne Bay says:

    The Presiding Bishop is trying to do damage control. It’s too little too late I’m afraid. The red flags of Heather Cook’s Alcoholism were evident as far back as 1988, as documented by former students. Heather’s Alcoholism was evident from the get-go. It’ is very difficult to understand all of her employers missing the signs of her progressive Disease. Clearly the 2010 DUI should have been the absolute end of applying for bishop. Instead, the people who were in charge of the examination process didn’t understand how Alcoholism works and looked at the DUI as a “one time thing.” I think what Presiding Bishop Schori should be addressing is the church’s failure to be able to screen applicants for untreated Alcoholism. There are a large amount of clergy in Recovery , but I hasten to point out that that means actual long-term Recovery; ie. sponsor, meetings, service in A.A. , etc. etc. The several Alcoholics that I know who have many years in A.A. all say the same thing, no newly sober Alcoholic should ever be put in a position of high stress -one A.A. clergyman said in his opinion, a minimum of 10 years in the program (A.A.) should be a guideline to be even proposed for holy orders and bishop? -That needs specialized consideration. I know there are many Addiction specialists that the Episcopal Church could use to examine candidates. It’s important to know that Alcoholism is a Progressive Disease-it’s not a “moral choice”-it’s physiological Disease and usually genetic. The University of Indiana released a current study that identifies eleven genes in the body of an Alcoholic that is only in the body of an Alcoholic. As Dr. Pursch said, Alcoholism is a progressive Disease and not a “behaviour” like biting off your fingernails. Education is the key.

    1. Jon Spangler says:

      Anne Bay,

      I agree with your recommendations regarding clergy and addiction. Our church has never fully acknowledged the costs of drug and alcohol addiction, nor has it acted sufficiently to ensure that we live a “sober” life as both individuals and as communities. Those tremendous costs are tragically exemplified by what happened when Heather Cook killed Tom Palermo in Baltimore, but this is far from an isolated incident within the church family.

      As always, “we begin in prayer – lament and wailing at loss and at human frailty.” And take action where we can to uphold each other in that frailty, intervening more often than we have to “bear one another’s burdens.”

  13. Alda Morgan says:

    Jon, Thank you for reminding me of the need for compassion when we face our failures and those of others. Might not repentance be a motivating factor in reminding us that we are all frail and, therefore, need to show compassion when others fall. Compassion does not exclude acknowledging our failures which is an important step toward healing. I fully share Ms. Bay’s observations about alcoholism, that it is a progressive disease, that it must be taken very, very seriously, both to support those in recovery or trying to be and to guard our institutions and their missions from the ravages of unacknowledged disease. Thank you, both of you! Finally, I’ve no question whatever but that the PB was sincere in all that she wrote and I support it. I simply missed in her words the need for repentance on all our parts if full healing is to come about. Repentance includes taking steps to make a difference, not just feelings. I hope this sad incident can be a spur to the Church’s efforts to deal with alcoholism in its ranks and the social ethos that has encouraged it. Jon is right, we need to pray and pray a lot–pray in grief, in repentance and contrition, in hope, and then we need to go out and work at what needs to be done to avoid such tragedies in the future.

  14. Stewart David Wigdor says:

    Let us all praise the Lord Hallaleuah
    Let us all pray to the Lord Halleleuah
    Let us all sing to the Lord Halleleuah
    Let us all come from the Lord Halleleuah
    Let us all love the Lord Hallelauah
    As the Church seeks to be who they are on earth, let us understand the Church came from the Mouth of the Lord and thus exists to be Divine for Him.

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