BTSS 2016 ~ In The Books

Well, we did it. The first Break The Silence Sunday is done. It was an important day in the life of our parish, a hard day for many, but one where we opened up space for the holy to come in and renew us with grace and mercy.

Word is starting to trickle in from other congregations, and communities that observed Break The Silence Sunday. My deepest gratitude to everyone who helped plan, and lead worship in these places, and to everyone who even read the materials that they might be useful in the future.

If you, or your community, used the resources for 2016 in any way (or are planning to in the coming months), please help by filling out the survey at the end of the packet, or emailing your notes about what you did, creative ideas you employed, hymn changes you made, and all those things. You can send it by postal mail to the address in the packet, or just drop us an email.

I took a few days off after months (years really) of working on BTSS. I had some nice naps, and read a novel, and let someone else cook for me. Now, back at my desk, a kitten sleeping nearby, I’m reminded that it’s time to pick up the work again, to start thinking about BTSS 2017 and what kind of materials we might need to create, new prayers to write, new songs to sing, and so much more.

Save this date now – Sunday April 23, 2017

New materials will be available in mid to late January (if you’re interested in writing a prayer, suggesting a hymn, offering an idea for story telling, designing a banner, or contributing in any way, please drop us an email … it’s never too early to start).

In the meantime, several people have asked what I said as a sermon reflection during worship in our parish so I include it here for you.

Reflection for Break The Silence Sunday 2016The world suffers because of the silence
Rev Moira Finley
Tri-Jo Parish United Church of Christ

I desperately wish we were not gathered here today for Break The Silence Sunday. I wish it was something we didn’t need to do, to honor the stories of survivors of rape and sexual violence; to admit that the church has often failed to stand with those survivors, to help them through their pain, accompany them in their grief, and offer them the promise of G-d’s incredible grace. But we need to be here, gathered together as G-d’s people, facing our fears, letting the tears flow, and opening ourselves up to the work before us that someday a day like this will not be necessary.

The work of Break The Silence Sunday is something that I have been trying to get to happen for nearly fifteen years. My hope that the church, in every place, could be a place of healing and hope for survivors, a place of advocacy and social change has been met with resistance, and hostility. I am too stubborn to stop sometimes and so I kept pushing, even though it felt like the door to even have a conversation about rape in the church was firmly shut. That was, until our conference minister, the Rev Franz Rigert, offered to help me open the door. And so Break The Silence Sunday was born, and today with churches in Wisconsin and a few other places, we are experimenting with this idea of committing ourselves to listening to survivors; to facing the pain, and heartache without judgement or pity; and to working for a change in our society, and around the world, that rape might someday be a thing of the past.

I thought about telling my story of being a rape survivor this morning, but I have done that in this place, surrounded by your great love, before. I did, for those of you who may not have heard it, print a few copies of my story, or at least part of it, and you can take those home, and ask me questions about it later.

But what I realized I really wanted to say today is why this matters so much to me.

I have these buttons that say “This is what a rape survivor looks like”, and I wear them on most days. They are quite something, and they engage people in ways I would never have imagined.

There was the woman in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store. I smiled and said hello, and then she paused for a rather long time and read my button. She looked at the button, and then at my face, and back to the button, and back to my face and then she said, “you should be ashamed of yourself.” I was confused, so I asked for some clarification. She said I should be ashamed of advertising that I was broken, damaged, and a loose woman. It took about every ounce of patience, and faith I had to not start screaming at her that I have nothing to be ashamed of, that the only ones who bear shame are the men who raped me.

But then there was the woman at the Fleet Farm. I was browsing in the candy and nuts aisle, and a woman was there stocking the shelves. I said hello, and she stopped to read my button. Then she started to cry. She sat down on the floor, her head in her hands, and managed to whisper, “I’ve never told anyone what happened to me.” So I sat down on the floor with her, and held her hand until she caught her breath, and there, in the candy aisle, for the first time in her life, a beautiful woman named Carol told me what happened to her nearly forty years before.

Those things, like what happened with Carol, are far more common than things like what happened with the woman at the grocery story. I have found that the button is a little bitty opening of the door for people who have lived for so long in silence, carrying within them the stories of pain, and heartache, and violence that the world thinks we should be ashamed of. And every time I encounter one of those angry, shaming, hateful people, I remember Carol and so many others who need today to happen even if they aren’t here with us this morning.

I have heard stories from people who were abused as young as three and four, from people who were raped in their sixties and seventies, and everything in between. I’ve heard from people who knew their assailants, because they were members of their family, or a trusted friend, or a member of their church, or a romantic partner, and people who were assaulted by strangers, and those who were somewhere in between, someone they kind knew was the one who raped them. I’ve heard from women, and men, from people of all races, and faith traditions, and economic status. I’ve heard from people who prosecuted, when through the struggle of the judicial system to try and find justice, and from people who never told anyone what happened.

And over, and over again what I have heard, and what I know from my own experience, is how hard the stories are to carry alone, in shame, and in silence. A story that we are afraid to speak, or ashamed to share, or one that we have told and it has been met with disbelief, doubt, and scorn – those stories, inside of us, given no voice, receiving no true compassionate listening, those stories have the power to destroy us.

But a story told, and heard, and listened to; a story met with gentleness, and love, and grace; a story that is honoured, and respected, and believed – those stories, even if they continue to haunt our dreams, even if they sometimes still overwhelm us nearly almost thirty hears later, they have still lost some of their power over us because now it is a burden shared.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that there comes a time when silence is betrayal. The church around the world has, for far too long, betrayed survivors with their deafening silence. Survivors have been offered platitudes at best, and bad theology at worst, told that their suffering is making them stronger, or more faithful, or that they have to forgiven quickly and unconditionally, and that they should endure whatever has happened to them quietly, because this is a private issue, it’s personal, it makes people uncomfortable, it’s about sex and we can’t talk about that.

But none of that is true. Rape and sexual violence are not about sex, but about power and control, and yes, what happens to an individual survivor is private, and personal, but it’s also corporate, and happens to all of us. The body of Christ has been broken, and torn, and beaten, and raped, and abused. But it can be healed, made whole, renewed with G-d’s love, and the courage of congregations willing to do what we are doing here today, willing to Break The Silence. Amen.

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