Confidentiality is one of the most important qualities of a pastoral leader. Faithful work is often as vulnerable and private as it is sacred. Pastors and deacons keep information confidential for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to,:
to model the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ and God's ability to love people fully as they are (beyond their best or worst moments)
to encourage people to seek wellness and wholeness without fear of retaliation
to care for people in vulnerable life situations
to decrease gossip
to deescalate conflict in communities
to remain neutral in the midst of legal disputes
to support individuals in health care environments and preserve medical privacy
supporting victims of misconduct, domestic violence and other types of abuse or violence
to enable people to self-identify on their own timeframe
to support people in their sobriety work
to preserve the dignity of individuals
In my work as a pastor and chaplain, I have confidentially listened to the homeless, congregants, those seeking to get married, emergency responders, veterans, candidates for ministry, colleagues, victims of mass casualty violence, individuals in prison, runaway youth and others. In each of these situations, my ability to keep information confidential has been received as a positive quality.
When I became the Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod on June 1, 2021, I began a job that expanded the amount of confidential information that I would regularly hear, know and have access to in our Synod records. In the months that I have served, I have tried hard to support and assemble intersectional confidants, consultants, advisors, staff and leaders in our Synod. I am proud of those who currently serve in our Synod and acknowledge the amount of work that is before us.
I also acknowledge, that despite my best efforts, there are areas where I have fallen short. I am grateful for all who have provided feedback, suggestions and vigorous engagement over the past months. As I have listened, I have learned. One of the things I have learned is that no matter the amount of thoughtfulness, empathy and humility a bishop may put into their work, not all confidentiality is viewed as positive.
Particularly when the actions of the bishop, Synod Council and Synod Staff rub against the deep wounds that individuals have experienced due to white supremacy and biased (conscious and unconscious) policies, confidentiality can translate into a lack of transparency and result in a loss of trust. Understanding that trust can be lost in one action, but takes thousands of trustworthy actions to rebuild, I hope to do the work needed to repair trust.
I have learned that consulting with diverse individuals in my decision making is important, but it is also important to let others know about some of the intersectional identities and ideas of the people advising me. My lack of transparency has given some the impression that I am not open to advice and led others to propagate of misinformation.
In order to increase transparency, at our recent meeting, the Synod Council created a Wellness & Wholeness Advisory Team to support roster leaders. This diverse team may be asked to advise the bishop on matters related to misconduct or formal wellness checks of pastors and deacons, but will also support the general wellness and wholeness of all roster leaders. The members of this team will have their identities and demographic info shared on our website.
As I continue listening, learning and leading, I hope to increase transparency about how decisions are made and who is involved in confidential conversations. Simultaneously, I recommit to holding the stories, experiences and the grief of victims confidential. Let there be no mistake, I am incredibly proud to be part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, where we currently:
center the voices of victims
keep the identities of victims confidential
provide care for victims of sexual abuse and misconduct
disclose reports of sexual abuse and misconduct
discourage the use of Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), so that congregations can have communal conversations about the support they need to heal and grow together
[Additional Reading About This - They Did Not Believe the Women, But We Should - or scroll to the bottom of our Contact form to learn about how to Report Misconduct]
Thank you again to everyone who has provided feedback and encouragement for our Synod. I hope you will continue to let us know about how we can improve. If you have ideas about how we can support the wellness of pastors and deacons or care for victims of misconduct, please share your ideas by contacting us.
The Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer
Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod