August 2019 OrganistSRQ

Breaking the Silence

August 2019

Last month, The Boston Globe reported that internationally acclaimed organist James David Christie was “found responsible for multiple instances of sexual misconduct” at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, and Christie resigned from his post.

In the same week, a former student of Christie’s delivered a speech at the Boston Conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians (AAM), and several of my organist peers shared it on Facebook. If you’ve not yet come across Jake Street’s speech, you can read it here. I was particularly moved when he said, “There are no perfect ways forward, but our imperfect efforts to deal with this together will empower the vulnerable. Silence is death: it isolates and annihilates victims and empowers abusers.”

Many older colleagues have expressed to me that they feel anxious to consider the subject because social norms have changed seemingly overnight. In Street’s case, many of his peers responded to him with jokes that society might have once viewed as normal. This isn’t just an issue among organists; rather, the majority of people simply aren’t taught how to respond to trauma. It’s certainly easier to laugh off or avoid a painful situation.

Of course, we can’t change the events of the past when a member of our community reports abuse. However, we can ensure that our chapters respond in supportive ways when sensitivity is most needed. Whether you are an organist, piano teacher, music director, or an appreciator of the organ, we can all benefit from reminders of helpful responses when someone in our circle opens up.

If all of these recent conversations regarding sexual harassment feel overwhelming, this is an easy-to-read but comprehensive online resource.

For more learning about how to react when allegations of sexual abuse come to light, I highly recommend Hannah Heinzekehr’s article.

While I knew some of the signs for sexual abuse in minors, I hadn’t considered what to look for among all ages until my Safe Gatherings training last summer. If you work at a church that doesn’t require this training among staff, consider recommending it to your church leadership. 

  • Healthy Boundaries workshops – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Many Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches across the country hold these annual workshops, and this past year at my local presbytery, I learned a variety of ways to protect vulnerable congregants.

Finally, your AGO chapter can host a workshop discussing these topics and providing professional resources. Organists old and young can benefit from information about how to move forward if they are sexually abused or if someone in their circle (a choir member, student, etc.) comes forward.

Often, a listening ear can facilitate tremendous healing. If someone tells about their experience of sexual abuse, resist blame, shock, and the urge to question. If you hear about allegations secondhand, resist gossip and jokes, even with the good intentions of diffusing a difficult situation with humor. This not only protects the survivor, but anyone else in the room who may have experienced sexual abuse.

Much of the anxiety surrounding #MeToo deals with the fear of false allegations, but I believe even the 2-4% of false accusers deserve compassion. Healthy people don’t falsely accuse others of sexual abuse – something has gone terribly wrong inside a person when they seek to baselessly harm others. Ultimately, and thankfully, the responsibility to judge is not in our hands.

Any organization will thrive by seriously considering the wellbeing of its members. If one of us takes a cheap shot at a colleague’s hurt, what is our shared community worth? We all know that the AGO seeks to attract more of the younger generation, and we will succeed by protecting them. These are difficult subjects to discuss, but in the end, we only strengthen the Guild by learning more about how to support one another.

Amy Cerniglia

Past copies of the OrganistSRQ:

OrganistSRQ – August 2019

OrganistSRQ 05-01-2019
OrganistSRQ 04-01-2019
OrganistSRQ 03-01-2019
OrganistSRQ 01-15-2019
OrganistSRQ 12-15-2018
OrganistSRQ 11-15-2018
OrganistSRQ 10-15-2018
OrganistSRQ 10-01-2018