Clergy Gather for "A Sacred Trust"

 Rev. Laura Merrill, Assistant to the Bishop, leads the gathering in San Antonio through an opening litany.

Rev. Laura Merrill, Assistant to the Bishop, leads the gathering in San Antonio through an opening litany.

Clergy from across the Rio Texas Annual Conference gathered at four churches last week for A Sacred Trust: Clergy Sexual Ethics Training. The training is required for all clergy serving within the bounds of Rio Texas and conference clergy serving elsewhere.

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Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Rio Texas Annual Conference addressed those gathered for the training. He expressed the importance of the day's material.  

"We have an absolute obligation in the Rio Texas Conference to get this right," said Schnase. "For the safety of our people, for the good of our churches, for the health of our pastors and their families and the ministry of the conference."

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The training was led by Beckey Posey Williams, Senior Director for Sexual Ethics and Advocacy for The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. She spoke to the groups of clergy at four churches: University UMC, San Antonio; First UMC, Kingsville; Manchaca UMC; and First UMC, San Angelo.

Whereas trainings like this are often seen as nothing more than another requirement, A Sacred Trust went deeper.

"This training spoke deeply to the quality of our relationships and the power we hold as clergy to hurt or to help," said Assistant to the Bishop Rev. Laura Merrill.

According to Merrill, sexual ethics training in Rio Texas is about more than covering legal liability. "Accountability for us as Christian leaders should extend way beyond legal questions, to a responsibility for the health of our people and that of our own hearts," she said.

Widespread reports of sexual abuse in all industries, as well as the #MeToo movement, is a reminder of how essential this work is for the United Methodist Church.

"I think it's important to take time to particularly focus on sexual ethics because of the disproportionate harm that can come when we don't pay attention to this," said Schnase.

 Clergy spent much of the day in small group discussion.

Clergy spent much of the day in small group discussion.

Capital District Superintendent and member of the planning team Rev. Teresa Welborn heard positive responses from attendees.  

 Beckey Posey Williams leading the training at First UMC, Kingsville

Beckey Posey Williams leading the training at First UMC, Kingsville

“I heard from clergy that they were grateful for the new conversation around sexual misconduct at the training and appreciated the focus on self-care,” she said. “Several clergy have also followed up with me to seek out resources such as a spiritual director and to inquire about starting a new covenant group for clergy spouses.”

Clergy members who were not able to attend the training are urged to sign up for one of the two makeup sessions. They will both be held in San Antonio on Saturday, Feb. 17, and Tuesday, Feb. 27 from 10am to 4pm. Registration is required and available at riotexas.org/sacredtrust.