General Convention committees consider Safe Church training resolutions

By Melodie Woerman
Posted May 2, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] During an April 30 online hearing, the bishops’ and deputies’  Legislative Committees on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Exploitation, & Safeguarding heard testimony on two resolutions about the need to make more people aware of Safe Church training and to make it available to non-English speakers.

Resolution A064 would allocate $15,000 to The Episcopal Church’s Office of Communication and Office of Formation to promote the new online Safe Church training modules that many people in the church are required to take. The new training sessions conform to the 2018 updated Model Policies for the Protection of Children and Youth and for the Protection of Vulnerable Adults.

The 80th General Convention is scheduled to take place July 7-14 in Baltimore, Maryland. For the first time, legislative committees are meeting in advance of convention to carry out some of their work.

Eric Travis, a member of the Task Force to Develop Model Sexual Harassment Policies and Safe Church Training – the body that proposed A064 – said the group worked hard to create new training materials that closely followed the model policies, and more people need to know about it. “In the work that we’ve done in the last three years we’ve discovered a great number of dioceses didn’t even know that there was a new model policy available to them, and what that meant for them in their diocese, in their churches,” he said.

Paul Ambos, deputy and chancellor of the Diocese of New Jersey, also supported the resolution, saying he recently learned that the senior warden of a major parish in his diocese had never heard of Safe Church training, “which I found to be shocking.”

Another resolution, A065, calls for translating the new Safe Church training materials into Spanish, French and Haitian Creole so that members of The Episcopal Church for whom those are primary languages can participate in the training. It would provide $300,000 for this, along with $50,000 for an ongoing task force to create and implement these materials.

Travis testified in support of this resolution, too, noting that it takes more than Google Translate to create training in new languages. “There is a need for contextual and appropriate translations of materials, especially as we deal with issues of Safe Church matters,” he said.

The committee noted that Spanish, along with French and Haitian Creole, is named in the resolution because they affect the largest groups of non-native English speakers in The Episcopal Church. In the Diocese of Haiti, numerically the largest in The Episcopal Church, members may read French but speak Creole, the committee said. And according to committee member the Rev. Anna Carmichael of the Diocese of San Joaquin, “the Latino Hispanic community is the fastest-growing community in The Episcopal Church right now.”

In addition to the committees’ deliberation on languages beyond English, the Rev. Valerie Webster of the Diocese of Montana asked whether training materials can be used by those who are hard of hearing, and by blind or partially sighted people. The Rev. Shannon Kelly, officer for young adult and campus ministries for The Episcopal Church, who participated as an expert witness, noted that audio materials always are accompanied by text, and all videos are closed-captioned. Developers are working on ways to make the material available to those who are blind, she said.

New Hampshire Bishop Rob Hirschfeld wondered whether the named languages are enough. “What about Korean, Japanese and other Asian languages?” he asked. Kelly said that being able to translate materials comes down to two things, no matter which languages are involved. The first is “capacity of the personnel we have,” Kelly said, noting that a volunteer task force has been working on this, aided by a relatively new half-time staff person. “But budget for translation is the biggest hurdle,” she said, “because it costs money to have human beings who are good at this translation do this work.”

For Central Pennsylvania Bishop Audrey Scanlan, having appropriate translations is a justice issue for the church. “It’s a real problem for us in continuing to identify ourselves as a white, English-speaking church,” she said. “It should be a no-brainer that materials are always translated into every language in which The Episcopal Church has representation.”

The committee will have hearings on three other resolutions later this month, two on gender equity issues and one on a model anti-harassment policy.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.