BTSS 2020 & Covid-19

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 (breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com), 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

 

2020 BTSS Materials

Hello friends,

This is a quick post to get the materials out to you as soon as possible. I will write more about these materials in a few days, about the process that got these materials together, and some thoughts behind them. In the meantime, yes the full document is just over 100 pages – it includes three survivor reflections, a sample sermon, a full liturgy, a new full evening liturgy, and two speeches from this past summer’s General Synod (mine to committee, and the committee’s speech to the full floor). Those last two are included for archival purposes so they’re all together. There’s also information about Strings of Strength (SOS) and BTSS in a Box. I’ll have separate PDF files of everything up by the end of the week if parish pastoring allows.

Peace and grace, Moira

BTSS 2020 WORD

BTSS 2020 PDF

Synod committee day & my speech

My friends, today was … you know I’m not sure I actually have words to describe today, so I suppose I’ll settle for amazing. This has been, many of you know, a long journey filled with more than a few (thousand) setbacks, naysayers, disappointments, and more Today General Synod 32’s Committee 9 met to discuss and deliberate the resolution for Break The Silence Sunday.

The members of the committee opened their hearts, and minds, and spirits and truly did God’s work. They listened to each other, some sharing their own stories of why this work is important. They asked questions, not about IF we should do this work, but rather about HOW to do this work in different congregations, communities, and contexts. They thought through ways to make sure we are paying attention to the needs of different groups of survivors. They even added back in words about the church’s complicity in protecting perpetrators and perpetuating rape culture that I had taken out in previous drafts (in hopes of making the resolution more politically acceptable to a broad audience).

We still have some hurdles ahead. The modified resolution will be put before the full body of the synod either Monday or Tuesday. Our incredible committee chair, Rev Cheryl Lindsey, will present on behalf of the committee. I cannot say enough about how wonderful Cheryl was in facilitating and guiding the committee’s work. She framed our work with prayer, nurtured and listened to all who were present, gave me time to speak and answer questions, and truly showed what a chair can be.

After the vote by the full synod (presuming it’s a positive decision), the resolution will move to implementation and an entirely different set of challenges will face us – the work of taking BTSS to the wider church.

I ask for your continued prayers. I have been at this such a very long time and it’s strange to think I won’t have to push for this part of the process much longer. That will take some time to get from my brain to my heart, and then an even longer time to adjust to a new and different kind of work of advocacy and supporting survivors.

In the meantime, several people have asked for the text of what I said before the committee today so I include it for you here:

Address to the General Synod Committee, Moira Finley, 23 June 2019
(FYI, the number of stories heard that are referenced below needs to be updated to include seven more stories Lella and I heard today.)

Good morning. Thank you for your time, and your commitment to our denomination, to the work of helping shape the life and ministry of our churches.

And I thank you in advance for what I know is a difficult conversation ahead of us today. Rape and sexual violence are challenging topics for us to talk about because they ask us to be vulnerable with each other, and to face things that many of us would rather not.

I have to tell you that today feels a bit like a moment when the church I love, the one that professes extravagant welcome, will pass judgement on whether or not I, a rape survivor, am truly welcome.

In July 2003 the General Synod met in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I attended as a visitor and had the luxury of lots of time chatting with folks, particularly in the exhibit hall. In one of those conversations, at the Justice and Witness ministries booth I asked the national staff member what the UCC was doing to support rape and sexual assault survivors.

He told me that it didn’t really happen to people in the UCC, and that even if it did it was a personal, private problem that we, a church that claimed to offer a prophetic word and witness to the world, didn’t have time for because it just wasn’t important.

I wanted very much to quit, to hand in my ordination, barely a year old, and go off somewhere without the church, to find life in a place where, even if I wasn’t accepted, if my life and experiences weren’t welcomed there wasn’t the hypocrisy of saying I was while, in practice, I was asked to be silent.

I can say today that I am grateful the dear friend I was traveling with, Sharon MacArthur, wouldn’t let me quit. She said I couldn’t for two reasons, first because I just don’t know how, and second because we, the church, needed me not to. The church, if it was going to be true to its calling to follow Jesus, needed me to stay, to struggle for what I know we can be when we live as fully as we are able.

So here we are today. Sixteen years later, after a lot of pain and tears, and more patience than I ever imagined I had, thanks to the support and encouragement of some remarkable people.

I want to thank my friend, my support pit bull, Lella Baker for taking her vacation time and own money to be here making sure I get snacks and water and tissues.

And I want to thank my Wisconsin Conference minister, the Rev Franz Rigert, who helped me dream up Break The Silence Sunday five years ago, taking off its hinges a door that had felt firmly closed and bolted shut for more than a decade.

In thanking them I am aware that I am here, in many ways, because of the actions, both good and bad, of other people.

The men who raped me set my life on a path I did not choose, and do not want.

I did not ask for this to be my story, for this to be the work of my life, but having it set before me I have chosen to pick it up, and to use the horror of what I experienced, the pain I live with to this day, and the incredible grace of the people who have helped me along the way to do what I can, to do something to further the transformation of the world, in the hopes that my work, however small it might be in the grand scheme of things, might be my part in following in the footsteps of the man of Nazareth.

While I acknowledge that I was set upon this path by men who did almost indescribable harm to me, I have been held together, nurtured, strengthened, encouraged, and loved beyond measure as well.

I owe the greatest debt of gratitude to my momma, Nancy, who found a way to support me despite the grief and pain of seeing her daughter in such physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

And a huge part of why I am here today, why I am so committed to what the church can be for survivors, is due to the love and nurture of some people at the church I grew up in, First Congregational UCC Albuquerque, New Mexico.

They held me and my family together through the most unimaginable of hells, helping with food and rides and more when nothing else could be done, waiting until we were ready to talk despite their million questions, and simply holding us in the light and grace of God’s gathered people.

I have been told I am too hard on the church, demanding we meet an unattainable standard of support for survivors of sexual violence, but I know it isn’t unattainable because I have received – from those folks in Albuquerque – the support I seek for each and every survivor, in each and every congregation in the UCC.

They didn’t get it all right. There were missteps and ill timed or badly worded moments, but they tried, and showed up, and kept showing up over and over again being the living presence, the hands and feet and hearts of Jesus in my life.

And I stand before you today a pastor of three UCC congregations, places where incredible healing and transformation has taken place because we have opened space for stories of the places where our lives haven’t been perfect, where the mask we show the world has fallen away and we have dared to be what we are – fragile, vulnerable, beautiful, and human.

But this resolution isn’t about me, or my congregations. We will continue to speak out, to break the silence. This is about us, the Body of Christ, the church together, and how we will respond to survivors.

Because I am who I am, and I have lived through all that has shaped me in these going on forty-six years, people talk to me, sharing their stories. When Break The Silence Sunday was born, in the fall of 2015, I started keeping track of everyone who told me their story. My list is now 778 stories long, 36 of those being since I arrived here at Synod on Thursday at about noon.

Survivors are desperate to find someone who will listen, who will treat them with dignity, and their story with the sacred respect it deserves, not trying to fix it.

They are looking for someone who will sit with them in the mess, in the uncertainty, with the struggles, doubts, fears, dreams, worries, hopes, and questions.

My survivor siblings, and I, are waiting for a voice from God’s people to say “we believe you”, and we cannot wait any longer. The silence of the church is deafening, and it is killing us.

Conservatively speaking at least a quarter of the people you share your pews and potluck tables with are survivors of sexual violence.

We live every day with the reality of our stories and we need to know, from the church, that we can bring that story to the community to be heard without shame or pity, that what we tell you will not face the victim blaming and shaming, the what were you wearing or why were you there alone or why did you wait to tell someone or why didn’t you try to get away, or all the other questions society is so quick to ask when we disclose what we have lived through.

We want to know that in the church we will find a place where we won’t be offered theologies that reinforce archaic ideas of purity, tired and hurtful theologies about suffering, and simplistic theologies about forgiveness that fail to understand the depths of pain survivors experience, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The resolution before you isn’t a timely response to the #metoo movement in our society, but the work of my life, of more than thirty years of wrestling with being a rape survivor AND a person of faith.

This resolution asks our church to start talking about the reality of rape and sexual violence, but not as something we can fix by teaching consent, healthy sexuality, and constructive means of dealing with anger. Those are vitally important things for us to be doing, but they come too late for me, and for my survivor siblings, because we are here, living with the reality we bear in our bodies and our hearts of the most intimate violation of the body of Christ.

It asks us, the United Church of Christ, to be true to our calling, to truly be Christ’s people, to bind up the broken-hearted survivors in our midst, offering the love and grace of God without judgement or pity.

It asks us to be prophetic, not in the ways we usually understand that word, but by learning to listen, really and truly listen with our hearts and our souls

It calls us to the holy work of lament, of hearing stories that will unsettle us and upend things we thought we knew for sure, hearing pains that can be healed, not through our actions, but through our openness, our willingness to sit in the midst of the mess.

It invites us to be brave, as our survivor siblings are brave each and every day of their lives, to trust, deeply and completely, in the One who calls us each by name, opening space in our congregations, our communities, and our hearts for survivors to share their stories and experience the grace that carries us all.

I thank you for your time, and your prayerful consideration.

Lists, Or Synod’s Almost Here…

2019-Synod-Logo-verse

Anxiety Time (AKA, Let’s Make Lists)
Outside my window here in northeast Wisconsin there’s a storm blowing in unsettling all the living things inside and outside the house. On my computer screen there’s a countdown clock that tells me the United Church of Christ’s General Synod begins in just over NINE days. On an anxiety scale of 1 to 10 I’m a pretty solid 23 at the moment. There are lists upon lists:

  • Things to pack (must finish t-shirts and put new laces in purple shoes, oh and boxes of advocacy materials, buttons, and such);
  • Things to do to leave my parish in good shape during my absence (made largely possible by amazing people in all three of my congregations, and my tremendous licensed local pastor who will preach all three services on the Sunday I’m gone);
  • Things the kittens need, and instructions to their caregivers:
  • Things domestic like vacuuming, and laundry
  • Things to do to keep my head on straight like one more visit to Dr. Ben (psychiatrist), and refilling all my medicines
  • Things that need to be done for the advocacy work of Break The Silence Sunday at Synod itself which I confess I’ve been putting it off, the whole list including writing this blog post because thinking of the vulnerability required to do this well is overwhelming and the thought of how many stories I might hear, and how many times I might share mine, is humbling, and downright scary.

A Sure Thing
There’s a nagging voice in my head that says none of it will be enough, that one more time my request that the church support survivors of sexual violence will be met with disdain, and dismissal, the refrain that we’ve got other more important justice issues before us, that this just simply isn’t an issue for people in the UCC, or that it’s a private, personal matter that can’t be talked about in congregations because it makes people uncomfortable. (FYI, all these are things said to me by various people, clergy and laity alike, in the UCC over the last seventeen years.)

Many folks keep telling me that the resolution for BTSS to become a national observance of the UCC is a “sure thing”, but enough of my roots are in Kentucky, steeped in horse racing, to know that there’s no such thing as a sure thing. (Plus, I’m a Boston Red Sox fan and we all remember that the utterly improbable happened in 2004.) I know these folks are trying to be reassuring, I do appreciate their words, and maybe they’re right, maybe it’s finally the moment, but until Synod Committee 9 has met, and referred the resolution to a vote on the floor of the Synod, and until the entire Synod has voted to adopt the resolution I don’t think I’ll be convinced (and maybe not even then, but that’s why friend Lella will be with me, to remind me of such things).

As I see it, one of two things will happen – the resolution will be adopted, or it won’t. Either way, the work of Break The Silence Sunday will continue because I know exactly the impact it’s having, and lives are literally in the balance, survivors are hanging on, sometimes by the thinnest of threads, needing a listening heart, a kind set of ears, and a welcoming hand of friendship and solidarity.

A Mere Ten Minutes
When the committees meet on Sunday I will have ten minutes to address them about why we are bringing forward this resolution, why BTSS matters, Trying to figure out how to condense it to a mere ten minutes will be the work of the coming days. How do you condense hundreds of stories, including your own, into ten minutes? How do you let the impact of the statistics – once in every 92 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in the United States – sink deep enough into people’s hearts, and minds, and souls that they understand the urgency of this work? How do you help people to understand that sexual violence isn’t about sex, but about violence, power, and control? How do you explain that you believe prevention work, and teaching consent, and all those good things are indeed important, and valuable, but they aren’t enough, and they didn’t work for people who have already been sexually violated? How do you help people to understand that the focus on prevention often leads to more victim blaming, shaming, and guilt? How do you help people understand that yes, you’re hard on the church, demanding even, because you know what it can be when we get it right, a place of incredible healing and hope? How do you do all this, be honest and open about your story, and not turn into a giant puddle of goo? I’d appreciate any feedback you’ve got on what you would include in a ten minute talk about why the church should support survivors as vocally as BTSS asks them to because it’s really tempting to say “it’s important because people are dying” and sit down, but that probably won’t do.

One More List (How You Can Help)
So, perhaps (hopefully) you’re wondering how you can help? I’m glad you asked, I have (here’s a surprise) a list:

  • Follow the new Break The Silence Sunday Instagram account (@breakthesilencesunday) where we’ll be posting oodles of pictures from Synod, advocacy items, and solidarity with and support for survivors, and probably pictures of a lot of cups of coffee;
  • Follow us on Facebook where, if I’ve done everything technologically correct, the Instagram account will also connect;
  • Contact delegates in your conference, particularly those who might be assigned to Committee 9, and encourage them to learn about the work of BTSS, and why it’s important;
  • Reach out to a survivor you know and check on how they’re doing, these are mighty tough times to be a survivor;
  • Pray, light a candle, hold us in the light as it’s going to be a tough week from June 20th to the 27th;
  • If you’re a survivor, reach out to us (or someone) because we believe you, and you are not alone;
  • Let me know your thoughts on what you’d include in a speech about why BTSS matters
  • If you’re a survivor who’s comfortable with doing so, reach out to us with a photo of yourself holding a sign that says “this is what a survivor looks like #BTSS”, you can email them to breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com
  • Financial donations are always welcome – PayPal and Venmo both at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com

So here we go, in the home stretch, at least for this part of the work. I know we have what it takes, but it’s going to take everything we’ve got. But in the end I have to remember some of the words of the incredible Audre Lorde who said:

“And of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside.” (from Sister, Outsider)

2019 Break The Silence Sunday Materials

“There is nothing to writing.
All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”

~ Ernest Hemingway

I’m not a huge Hemingway fan, not the least because he seems to have a hatred of commas, writing all those short staccato sentences that feel like gunfire when I read. But this quote has come back to me over and over in the past couple of weeks, a reminder that the work of writing is intensely hard, and at least for me, costly in body, mind, and spirit. It is also work I am honoured and privileged to do.

This is the fourth year I’ve written materials for Break The Silence Sunday. Every year I think it should, somehow, get easier, and every year it seems like more is required of me, as a pastor, as a survivor, as a human being.

Part of this is, of course, because of the world we are living in, the stories on the news every day about rape and sexual violence, and the general state of society here in the United States.

Part of it is also that I want to do better every year, make the liturgy, and commentary, and everything else the best it possibly can be. I remember a class in seminary where we were discussing the purpose of the church and how what we say about Jesus’ life and ministry shapes that purpose. I was frustrated because my classmates seemed to be having an intellectual exercise, all hypothetical ideas about some ideal church. I went to my professor to share my concerns. He listened with a pastor’s heart and said something like, “well, the problem, my friend, is that you know these aren’t just ideas, they’re matters of life and death.”

I want these BTSS materials to be their best because lives really, truly are hanging in the balance. In these days where sexual violence is a story on the news, a joke at the comedy club, and a derogatory meme on the internet, survivors are desperate to be heard, to know that their stories, and their lives matter.

So here they are my friends, the 2019 materials for Break The Silence Sunday, as both BTSS 2019 WORD and BTSS 2019 PDF.

I hope you’ll pray about ways in which your community can support our work, and support the survivors in your midst.

 

 

General Synod Resolution

Friends, I have a proposed resolution to go before the 2019 General a Synod in Milwaukee calling on the UCC to create Break The Silence Sunday as a denomination wide observance to support survivors of rape and sexual violence.

We are on a short calendar to get six congregations to sign on in support before the end of the year deadline for submitting the resolution to the national church.

I am attaching the resolution here as a Word document btss general synod resolution and would be grateful to anyone whose congregations might consider such support.

You can reach me with your community’s support, questions, or comments at pastormoira73@gmail.com

Thank you.

Onward ~ how do we keep going?

Break The Silence Sunday is now three years old. There has always been some push back, people who don’t think that this work needs to be done, or shouldn’t be done in church. That push-back has increased lately. Part of it is, I think, a general world weariness. The news is overwhelming, and folks get tired of being constantly on alert, waiting for the next crisis to respond to. It’s tempting to give in, to give up, to go back to bed, pull the covers over our heads, eat ice cream, pet the cat, and ignore the world.

I’ve been in a bit of that place the past few days. Some of it had to do with dealing with a major adult challenge (buying a new car when my old one gave up), but there was also just this overwhelming sense that BTSS wasn’t enough. The tape that plays in my brain got stuck – this isn’t enough; it’s just a drop in the ocean considering the scope of the problem of sexual violence; that people in positions of power and influence were against it (if not openly opposing it at least quietly going about saying it wasn’t important). My brain got stuck thinking that the work would never be enough, that it would barely make a dent, that people like Dr Mukwege are doing so much better and more important work (please … check out his foundation http://mukwegefoundation.org and the incredible things they’re doing for survivors of sexual violence in conflict/wars). The dream of having the church truly be a place where survivors would be heard, and respected, and supported in their journey seemed too big, too far away.

This is not a plea for you to tell me that BTSS does make a difference, but rather some thoughts about how we sustain and find the energy to keep going in the work for justice. When I get to this place (and it happens rather often), I have a set of movies that I watch to remind me that the struggle is long, but as Dr King said in a 1964 commencement address at Wesleyan University (Middleton, CT), “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The movies are a reminder for me that the work worth doing will take my whole life.

So tonight, to encourage myself, I rewatched “Iron Jawed Angels” about the movement to get women the right to vote in the United States. There’s a scene, after Inez Milholland has died on a speaking tour supporting suffrage, when Alice Paul has fled the work, taking refuge at her family’s farm. Alice can’t face the cost of the work, that someone should die she says in a fight that shouldn’t even have to be fought. Alice’s mother, a deeply rooted Quaker, says to Alice, “you put your hand to the plow, you finish the row.” If it’s the work you’re called to, you finish it, whatever it takes. You can take a break, but you don’t put it down for good.

I wish, in so many ways, that this wasn’t the work I was called to, that I could put it down, or as someone recently told me “let it go”. But this isn’t “Frozen” and I can’t. This is my life. Being a rape survivor defines a huge part of who I am, and it surely affects how I look at, and live in the world every minute of every day.

And lately, I’m not entirely sure I want to put it down – not while my sisters and brothers are suffering; not while churches are still pouring out toxic and abusive theologies about purity, and suffering, and God’s will; not while survivors are afraid to tell their pastors about their experiences for fear of judgement; not while our culture still encourages men to violence as their default emotion; not while someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every 98 seconds (National Sexual Violence Resource Center); not while churches are screamingly silent, so incredibly silent about the suffering and struggles of people in their pews.

Later in the film, when Alice is struggling while other suffragists are in jail, Ben Weissman (a fictional Washington Post reporter) says to Alice, “You couldn’t fold if your life depended on it. You don’t know how.”

I’ve decided, at least for tonight, that it’s a virtue to not know how to give in, or give up. Call it stubborn, or illogical. Tell me I’m an unrealistic optimist, or an idealist with no idea how things actually work (both things people have said to me lately about the work of BTSS).

Go ahead. I’ve heard it all. And I’ve heard far worse. Nothing folks can throw at me about this work will compare to the words the men who raped me used to try to destroy my sense of self.

Guess what – it didn’t work. Against all the odds, I’m still here, and so are lots and lots and lots of other survivors. And I will work for them today, and tomorrow, and every day until the church universal gets its act together and supports survivors with theologies of love, and grace.

So, as my pastor growing up always said, a reminder that we look ever forward to the fullness of time when justice will prevail … ONWARD!

In case you’re interested, some of my other films for encouragement are:
Amazing Grace, Spotlight, Selma, Wonder Woman, Harry Potter (particularly Prisoner of Azkaban), Restoration, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Kingdom Of Heaven, Dead Poets Society, and True Believer