What happens next?

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is over. Our collective attention turns to things to remember in May  – brain cancer awareness, lupus awareness, and mental health awareness month to name the ones that are closest to my life.

Sadly, SAAM came and went without a word from the national leadership of the UCC. Not a facebook status (on the national page, or the justice & witness page); not a blog post; not a mention in the keeping you posted emails. There were a few pictures of the national staff wearing black on Thursdays (#thursdaysinblack – a campaign to end violence against women), but even those stopped being posted about mid-April.

It’s left me sad, and more than a little disillusioned, unsure where I fit in my denomination, one that proclaims enthusiastic welcome of all, who talks the talk about embracing us all wherever we are on life’s journey, and yet … there is silence about something that affects so many of the people who sit in our pews, and do the work of our churches. It breaks my heart to see all the justice issues we lift up (which we surely should be doing – all of them incredibly important, and interconnected), and to see no mention of something that affects about 1/4 of the world’s population. I don’t know what to make of the silence of the national church, but I have to be honest with myself (and with you dear reader) that it hurts my heart, and my soul.

I am trying, however, to find focus and hope with the good news of courageous congregations that opened their worship spaces, and their hearts to Break The Silence Sunday this year.

The Wisconsin Conference of the UCC has been fabulous, thanks in large part to the enthusiastic support Break The Silence Sunday has received from our conference minister, the Rev Franz Rigert. Word is still coming in from congregations that participated, or will be soon when it fits their liturgical calendar. The feedback has been incredibly positive, and life-giving. (There’s still plenty of time to send in an evaluation, a few notes about what you did, how you did it, how it was received, and so on … drop us an email please.)

And there have been other places where BTSS has found a listening reception – Congregational UCC in Decorah, IA; Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO; Rincon Congregational in Tucson, AZ; and more.

I am grateful to each and every congregation, and pastor, and lay leader who took the brave step of opening up this conversation that matters so very much.

As we look ahead, it will take some time to gather information, worship bulletins, and evaluations from congregations that participated. Then the work begins – of writing new materials, adapting what we did this year, gathering prayers, and artwork, and music, and resources for congregations. New materials will be produced every year until rape is no more.

We will have a display at the Wisconsin Conference UCC annual meeting at Green Lake Conference center, June 10-12. You won’t be able to miss our very purple display. You’ll be able to get your BTSS buttons, and stickers, and order a t-shirt or twelve. You’ll be able to look at materials from congregations that participated in 2016, consider statistics and ways to integrate the ideas from BTSS into your worship and education programs throughout the year.

If anyone reading here is interested in creating something to be included in the 2017 materials, the deadline will be sometime in early December, but there’s no need to wait – get out the paint brushes, the dancing shoes, the banner making materials, the composition paper, the pens, and pencils. You can send materials via email at anytime.

And for now, let us pray together that the silence of the church about rape and sexual violence, which we have successfully broken in small, but meaningful ways, might continue to be broken, and that the perhaps deliberate silencing of survivors might come to an end.

Arundhati Roy

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