Here we are, the beginning of April, and I should be writing to encourage everyone to continue their planning for this year’s observance of Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS). I should be making a daily post about Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and I should be celebrating the first BTSS since it became an officially recognized observance of the United Church of Christ.
But, of course, I’m not. I’m sitting in my front room which has been converted to a home office, improvising and adapting like everyone else as we learn to live under isolation and quarantine rules for the covid-19 public health emergency. In my parish, as in so many others, pastors and lay leaders are working hard to keep people connected, to create worship that can be experienced by people in a variety of ways, making sure that people without internet capabilities don’t get lost in our move to video worship, cancelling long planned and looked forward to events, and worrying about all the people we can’t visit in nursing homes, assisted livings, and their own homes. We know it’s the right thing to do, that protecting our collective health while relieving the burden on our medical facilities and professionals is essential, but it’s still hard.
For BTSS and its work there are three important things to note right now: postponement & prayers & caution.
Postponement – At this point, with a suggested observation date at the end of April, it is my (Moira’s) advice that you and your community postpone your Break The Silence Sunday worship and educational events. It breaks my heart to say that, and it feels like a bit of a failure, but it is the right thing to do. This is NOT a service that can be done in a virtual context, at least not unless that was already your worshiping experience. There are too many risks involved – for worship leaders who aren’t familiar with the video/live technologies feeling extra pressure no one needs right now because this is a difficult subject to address in the church under the best of circumstances; for survivors who might be watching alone with no one to support them; for survivors who might be obliged to be in isolation with their abuser or who might not have disclosed to their now constant living partners about their histories (more on that in a minute). Perhaps you could consider a date towards the end of the summer when, prayerfully, things have reopened more fully, or in October which is domestic violence awareness month, or at another date when the calendar of your parish or community best fits.
Prayers – now that my parish has figured out how worship will happen in these days, and we have a pretty good rhythm for it, I will be able to turn my heart and mind to writing some new prayers for BTSS, particularly short ones that can be shared in video or live formats, to at least honor and recognize the survivors in our midst, and our intention and commitment to more fully stand with with them, and work for change.
Caution – Wisconsin’s order, like that of many other states, is called “safer at home”, and I understand the intent behind that statement, but the reality is that not everyone is safer at home. For far too many, home isn’t a safe place and many folks are now locked in with their abusers. The outlets they had – school, work, shops, the library, the swimming pool, the park – all those places are closed and there is no where to go that is even remotely safe. Every shelter and crisis center I know of is experiencing an even higher than usual call volume, folks not knowing where they can turn when they can’t get away from the person hurting them. In addition, for many survivors the isolation and social distancing, as well as the general climate of fear around the virus, has threatened to overwhelm our already traumatized brains. For many, PTSD, anxiety, insomnia, and their associated physical symptoms have all been made worse by these days. My caution in these days in manifold. (1) be careful how you talk about “safer at home” and if someone tells you they feel stuck at home, listen and don’t judge, they have a reason for what they’re saying; (2) go gently, particularly when you’re sharing lists of extra things that could be accomplished in these days, how many more online meetings you invite people to, or what you’re expecting of folks while they’re coping with an unprecedented global crisis – no one’s brains, hearts, or bodies are functioning at their absolute best right now, adjust expectations accordingly; (3) keep these numbers and websites handy … Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) 800-656-4673 and live chat (a sometimes much safer way for folks to connect) at https://www.rainn.org/ and the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (voice) and 800-787-3224 (TTY) and live chat at their website https://www.thehotline.org/help/
Finally, know that I am here by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or phone (715-851-3080) if I can help you with your BTSS planning, or in any other way as a survivor during these days. ~ Moira