Initial Thoughts on the Situation at St. Luke’s UMC

No doubt many readers of this blog will have already heard the allegations regarding sexual abuse of power by Tyrone Gordon, the former pastor of the St. Luke’s Community United Methodist Church.

I’ve had several people, clergy colleagues and lay folk alike, asked my thoughts today, and I’ve been struggling with what, if anything, to write or say.

The allegations are horrible, and they should most certainly be taken with the utmost seriousness by everyone. Any allegation against a clergy, staff, or layperson of a United Methodist Church must be taken very seriously.

What got my attention, however, was that not only has Tyrone Gordon had been sued, but that St. Luke’s and the North Texas Conference are also named.

This fact, primarily, is what gives me an abundance of caution, and tempers what I might otherwise wish to say at this moment.

We should all also be aware that this also changes what others will publicly say too. The filing of a civil suit will, no doubt, severely limit what anyone connected with the North Texas Conference will say publicly.

In coming days and weeks, I am sure many will find this frustrating, and perhaps even see it is a lack of leadership. In my opinion, that would be a mistake. Careful silence during an ongoing legal case cannot really be taken as a sign of anything other than what it is.

My instinct tells me that people I know and respect could be pulled into this situation, may be called to testify in a lawsuit, or could be connected in some other way not yet publicly known.
(Please understand: I have no direct knowledge, just an intuition of what could be true)

Or, it could be that none the preceding sentence is true.

Point is this: we don’t know what we know or don’t know.

What I do know is that, as a clergy member of the North Texas Conference, I know and love clergy, staff and lay persons from St. Luke. I know, love, and respect clergy and staff of the North Texas Conference.

So, what I am doing most actively tonight, is praying for all those involved, and giving thanks for a legal system that allows our society a chance to bring even the most challenging moral questions into a court of law for adjudication.

Here’s what I’m praying for…

I pray that this situation will result in healing for anyone determined to have been subjected to abuse, harassment or intimidation. I pray, and I trust, that whatever the truth is, that truth will provide the avenue for that healing and restoration, should it be needed.

I pray for Tyrone Gordon and his family.

I pray for the good folks of St. Luke and for the North Texas Conference.

I pray for my friend and mentor, Dr. Zan Holmes.
Dr. Holmes, as you may have heard, will return to St. Luke as interim pastor, effective immediately, in the hope that his considerable skill, insight and wisdom can bring healing to that fractured church.

Dr. Holmes now lives just a few blocks away from Northaven. He’s worshipped with us several times, and Northaveners will recall that he was our guest for a very special “Feast of Beginnings” last Fall.

So, this afternoon I left a card at his front door, expressing the constant state of prayer both I and Northaven hold him in, trusting that this situation is, undoubtedly, heartbreaking beyond measure for him.

I pray for all of those attempting to work through their myriad and confusing feelings at this moment, that they might have patience to allow the system to work.

I pray for those anywhere who have been abused by churches or church staffs, but who have chosen to never come forward with their stories. This story, no doubt, churns painful memories for them.

Also, I pray for all of us in United Methodist Churches who are diligently working to make our houses of worship as safe as possible for children, youth and adults.

I pray for all these persons, and I encourage you to do this same.

Sexual abuse, sexual harassment, abuse of power and authority by clergy, are not acceptable in our churches and cannot be tolerated. However, we would be naive to assume that they never happen.

The best way to keep them from happening is to develop environments where these issues are talked about openly, and where plans and procedures are in place.

Ironically, we are just about to become much more public in talking through these very issues at Northaven Church. Last December, our Leadership Council reviewed our own (Northaven’s) guidelines for “Safe Sanctuary.”

These guidelines cover things like definitions of abuse and harassment, reporting procedures should (God forbid) an allegation against a clergy, staff or layperson ever arise.

They also set forth ratios for “teachers/students” for our Children and Youth Ministries. Over the past several weeks, as a part of our yearly training with volunteers, teachers, and staff, we’ve been reviewing these procedures. In January, we renewed criminal background checks on every volunteer that works with children and adults, and on all staff.

And, as a culmination of these efforts, our plan is to highlight these very issues in worship, next Sunday, February 12th. This was our plan, well before any of today’s news was known.(1)

We’ll plan to go forward with this, in the knowledge that it now has a relevance we could never have dreamed of last Fall.

In the meantime, I hope you will continue to pray for all those I’ve mentioned, and for anyone else who might need help and support in this time.

(1) In fact, it was the multiple and shocking situations at Episcopal School of Dallas, Penn State, and Texas Judge William Adams that spurred us to action, not this current story. Those were to be the basis of next Sunday’s discussions. This story simply brings it to a horrendous new level.

(As always, if you like this post, then “share it” or “like” it on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too…)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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