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Halsey helps United Methodists watch out for women, children

4/22/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of Peggy Halsey is available.

A UMNS Feature By Linda Bloom* By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK - When the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal became public, Peggy Halsey knew exactly how to handle queries from United Methodists regarding the policies of their own denomination.

She and others working for the church not only had already put procedures in place regarding sexual misconduct and child abuse, but also had produced "how-to" manuals and trained a number of people in the denomination's annual (regional) conferences to respond to such situations.

For more than 20 years, Halsey has tackled such issues as executive secretary for ministries with women, children, youth and families for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. After a total of 33 years with the mission agency, she will retire June 30.

The 59-year-old native of Gainesville, Fla., had her first prolonged exposure to mission work as a young adult in the board's US-2 program. In 1970, she joined the staff of the board's Women's Division and worked in financial interpretation for the next decade.

The creation of her current office, first called "Ministries with Women in Crisis," came about as the church realized that mission work also encompassed such societal ills as rape, incest, child abuse and sexual harassment.

When it came to confronting such issues, "secular women in local communities led the way," Halsey recalls. "But we joined in pretty quickly."

She credits the late Lula Garrett, leader of what was then the board's National Division, as being among those with the foresight to see that the church could help these women and children and to ensure that the work was taken seriously by making it a program of the board unit on national and community ministries, rather than just part of the Women's Division.

"If we hadn't done it that way, we wouldn't have had access to men and clergy the way we did," Halsey explains. The Women's Division, however, has always offered strong support and involvement with the program.

Back in 1980, she didn't find as much resistance as expected to tackling topics like sexual abuse - as long as it was in the outside community. A more difficult task was "getting people to acknowledge that people in the church were both victims and perpetrators."

Pastoral care then was basically confined to dealing with death and, occasionally, divorce. Seminaries didn't touch upon issues like child abuse or incest, she says. The first resource book on such topics wasn't available until 1983 or 1984.

The Rev. Marie Fortune, a United Church of Christ pastor, became a pioneer in the area of domestic violence. As early as 1978, she participated in a consultation with the board's National and Women's Division on this special mission with women and children. "From the very beginning, her perspective helped us to shape what we were going to do," Halsey explains.

The Board of Global Ministries always has worked with other denominations on addressing issues of violence and abuse. Much of that work has been coordinated through the National Council of Churches' Justice for Women Working Group and the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence, founded by Fortune. "We made an early commitment that whenever we could, we would provide excellent ecumenical and interpretation resources," Halsey adds.

Consultation, resourcing, training and networking are key parts of her job. Within the denomination, she has worked with the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women, particularly in the area of clergy misconduct.

In 1994, for example, Halsey's office and COSROW co-sponsored a national training event for annual conference advocates of clergy misconduct victims. That was a direct result of the many pleas both agencies were receiving from those victims, she says. Every bishop and cabinet was invited to send a team to be trained. Such training opportunities, along with other resources, have continued over the years.

Halsey's work with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship led to the establishment of policies and procedures for churches on child abuse issues, as well as the development of a how-to manual on "Safe Sanctuaries." Demand for the manual surged again last year in the wake of the Catholic Church sex scandal.

In recent years, she also has focused on issues like welfare reform and has been especially pleased with the work being carried out under the United Methodist Council of Bishops' Initiative on Children and Poverty.

Halsey has served as the board's liaison on the initiative since 1996. "I've been moved by the commitment by a lot of the bishops to this," she says.

The work on children and poverty has given her a new depth of awareness on what it means to be from a Wesleyan heritage.

"The only real reason to be a separate denomination (in Wesley's time) was to be with the poor," Halsey notes. "This initiative has tried to recapture why we exist."

Through consultation work, Halsey plans to continue pursuing some of these issues in her retirement. But she also wants to devote more time to watercolor painting, a longtime pursuit.

While much progress has been made through her office, she believes the work related to abuse and violence and poverty is far from over. She adds: "I hope it is not too long before someone young and energetic and visionary picks up this unfinished mission agenda and runs with it."

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*Bloom is United Methodist News Service's New York news director.

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