The materials for Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) have been out in the world for a little more than two months. They’ve been emailed to all the U.C.C. churches in Wisconsin, and have found some listening hearts in other communities from St. Louis to Phoenix, among the U.C.C., but also among Baptist, and Methodist, and ELCA Lutheran congregations. I have had some wonderful feedback, and appreciation for the idea, the materials, and the courage to open up space for this conversation.
There has also been, not entirely surprisingly, some negative feedback – people who say we don’t need yet another designated day for yet another designated topic for the church to address; people who think that this shouldn’t be discussed in church at all because it’s too personal, and too sensitive; and the folks who have said that we are, collectively, already overwhelmed with issues that matter and don’t have time for one more. I’ve handled most of that quite well, with only one major rant to my nearest and dearest friends, and only a handful of excess cookies.
But the strange, and perhaps good, thing that’s been happening is that since the materials were released an increasing number of people (clergy) have reached out to me because they need to help someone in particular in their parish with the aftermath of rape or sexual violence. These clergy come to me and tell me that they are completely unprepared, uneducated, unaware of how to help, what might be unhelpful, and they don’t know anywhere to look for resources. So they turn to me, and for that I am truly grateful, but it got me to thinking that something is lacking in how we are educating our clergy (well probably more than one thing, but I digress).
When I was in seminary we were taught to refer, refer, refer, to be careful about how much pastoral care we offered because we aren’t trained as psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, social workers, or the like. And I understand that, BUT much of what my colleagues have been calling me to talk about isn’t the stuff of that kind of care.
In every instance the person they’re working with also has a counselor of some sort. What they need is their pastor to be present with them, to wrestle with the G-d questions, the tough stuff of faith about where is G-d when these awful things happen, and why does a G-d of love allow such stuff. They need their pastor to be part of their team, to maybe drive them to an appointment, to help them figure out how to be as safe and comfortable in worship as possible, to know that they have panic attacks at times, and be sensitive to their concerns about how we do this thing called church.
I am grateful to the colleagues who have reached out for help, who have admitted their ignorance about how rape and sexual assault affect people, and who have looked for ways to educate themselves. It has reminded me just how important the work of BTSS is, and will continue to be.
On Friday, Sexual Assault Awareness Month will begin, and we will be just 24 short days from the suggested date for the first observation of Break The Silence Sunday. I’m hoping to write often during the month (daily would be a dream, but let’s be a bit realistic here) with information, statistics, stories, quotes, and other things that might be helpful to those preparing to lead worship, attend worship, and those who aren’t ready just yet to do either.