Although it’s not the regular vestment for Lutheran clergy, Bishop Martin Wells often wears a clerical collar.
The collar — frequently worn by Catholic and Episcopal priests — makes the church more public wherever he goes, said the leader of the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It also makes him more approachable, he said, and invites people to enter into conversation.
These days, the clerical collar has become a way for Wells to show solidarity with Catholic priests, as well as with other members of the Roman Catholic Church. “It’s a way of sharing a burden a little bit,” he said.
As the Catholic Diocese of Spokane emerges from a sex abuse crisis that had forced it into bankruptcy, Wells and other religious leaders throughout the region have offered pastoral care and support to Catholic leaders, parishioners and especially to victims of sexual abuse.
For the past few months, pastors in Spokane Valley have banded together to discuss what they could do to bring healing to the entire community. Sex abuse, after all, not only affects the victim, said the Rev. Chuck Wilkes, a pastor at Spokane Valley Nazarene Church. The crisis also has hurt the victims’ families, clergy, church members and society as a whole.
The Rev. Ian Robertson, also of Spokane Valley Nazarene, has been meeting regularly with Catholic priests in Spokane Valley as well as Catholic Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane. Together with Joe Wittwer of Life Center, John Repsold of Fourth Memorial and Monte LeLaCheur of First Church of the Open Bible, Robertson has extended a helping hand to Skylstad, as well as offered the bishop friendship and support.
“What a great man of God he is,” Robertson said Thursday as he introduced Skylstad during a seminar addressing the problem of sexual abuse.
“The bishop was the most humble man who was there,” said John Tusant, executive director of the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals, who attended the seminar earlier in the week. “He was very transparent and apologetic for what has happened in his church community.”
Earlier this spring, a “Resolution of Solidarity with Victims of Sexual Abuse and with the Spokane Diocese” was passed overwhelmingly by Wells and other members of ELCA’s Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod.
The resolution condemned the abuse and pledged to work to prevent it. It also offered support and prayers for “justice and healing for all who are abused,” as well as to members of the Diocese of Spokane.
For the next five years, the synod has pledged a symbolic contribution of $1,000 annually for the healing of victims and restoration of parishes. The money will come as a mission grant through the synod’s SHARE Fund.
“We didn’t want the Catholic congregations to feel isolated,” said Wells. “We wanted them to know that they haven’t been forgotten and that there are people who are standing with them during this terrible moment. … We can’t say it’s only the Roman Catholics who have these problems. It’s all of us. This is how we band together to make sure we all stay healthy.”