The Rev. Dr. Debra Pope-Lance presented this year’s Berry Street address with an essay entitled, “Whence We Come and How and Whither.” The essay examined clergy misconduct within Unitarian Universalist congregations and addressed the many complications of being what she called “after-pastors”—the clergy who serve a congregation after clergy misconduct has occurred.
Speaking to the culture of silence and minimization that at one time permeated clergy culture around issues of misconduct, Pope-Lance said, “Some did imagine that misconduct must be weighed against other accomplishments.” Certain behaviors were overlooked, for instance, in the case of a great preacher or a dynamic organizer.
Times are changing in this regard, however. “The public is outraged and they are taking action,” said Pope-Lance. This action is ranging from state legislation placing restrictions on whom a minister may have a sexual relationship with to physical attacks on clergy.
Pope-Lance pointed to a breakdown in the special ministerial relationship as the starting point of clergy misconduct. Pope-Lance said, “When boundaries are crossed, the special relationship loses its transformative power.” Yet, the relationship retains the imbalance of power and this is where the power to harm manifests.
For a congregation, the aftermath of clergy misconduct can be as difficult to navigate as the original incident of misconduct. Ministers coming into these congregations, the after-pastors, face a barrage of challenges in helping these communities heal. “After-pastors must both serve and survive,” said Pope-Lance.
In conclusion, Pope-Lance reiterated that ministers have the “power to humiliate or bless, harm or heal. What is needed is a recognition of our power.”
The Berry Street address was established by William Ellery Channing in 1820 as the Ministerial Conference at Berry Street. It is the longest running lecture series in the United States and is now traditionally offered at the conclusion of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s “Ministry Days” conference. The presenter for the 2012 Berry Street address will be the Rev. Dr. Fred Muir.
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In its second day of meetings prior to the opening of the 2011 General Assembly in Charlotte, N.C., the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board of Trustees devoted considerable time to matters related to next year’s “Justice GA” to be held in Phoenix, Ariz. The board also welcomed a new member congregation and approved the reunion of the UU United Nations Office with the UUA. (Click here for our report on Tuesday’s board meeting.)
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