Walking to Indianapolis UPDATE 9/23

We’re off to an amazing start on the journey to Indianapolis. I’ve covered 28 miles in 14 days which is 6% and perfectly on pace to get the remaining 392 miles in 259 days done. Plus y’all have raised just under $400 or 10% of our goal which is incredible! You can follow me on Instagram (@revmomo ) for updates, and I’m including some pictures here as well.

FUNDRAISER INFORMATION:
to support survivors, you can send donations to Break The Silence Sunday in care of my address (message us for specifics) or PayPal and Venmo to breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com

ALL THE HASHTAGS
#BTSS #breakthesilencesunday #UCC #unitedchurchofchrist #generalsynod2023 #conversehightops #walkingforsurvivors

The whole journey … this app (my virtual mission) is keeping track of distances, showing how far we’ve come and how far we’ve got to go
So far we’ve gotten from my house in Bonduel, WI to mid-Green Bay … lots of miles to go, but enough under our belt to feel confident as well.
Kittens (Minerva in stripes and Lia in grey) after a walk, and a cool view of the purple Converse high-tops that we’re doing all the walking in.
The walking hat … can you tell we have a purple theme? That’s because it’s the color for sexual assault awareness.
The shoes. I’m wondering if they’ll hold up for more than 400 miles. They weren’t new when we started, having gotten us through many miles at Wisconsin Conference UCC annual meetings, and General Synod 2019 in Milwaukee, WI when Break The Silence Sunday was overwhelmingly approved by the Synod members to become an observed Sunday in the UCC calendar (4th Sunday of April)

Break The Silence Sunday 2022

As I write this, it’s January and we are nearly at the two year mark of living with the global health crisis of Covid-19 that has changed everything. In responding to the virus, we have changed the way we live with practices of social distancing and isolation. In many places in my part of the world, school became virtual and many who could were required to work from home, but both of those practices revealed problems in our society including lack of broadband internet access, lack of childcare, and the classism that resulted in someone telling me that “the important people” were working from home while store clerks, delivery drivers, utility workers, farmers and farm workers, factory workers, and more, the people on whom our society depends were on the front lines, often with little or no sick leave, having to work through whatever ills came their way.

And all of that is even before we consider what happened in other countries: places where social distancing simply isn’t possible; places where basic hygiene is challenging because of limited or no access to clean water; places where there isn’t internet so schools simply shut down completely. And, as I write this we are in the midst of the surge of the omicron variant in my part of Wisconsin. Infection rates are the highest they have been throughout these two years and our medical facilities and workers are overwhelmed, exhausted from fighting not only Covid, but the stream of misinformation that has made their work all the much harder. In the midst of this some churches and communities have returned to online only worship, while others have not returned to in-person worship since the initial shut-downs. So, what do we do about Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) in 2022?

BTSS isn’t something that, at least in my personal and pastoral opinion, moves online well. It’s something that I believe needs the human presence, the being together in the same space. Much of being a survivor of sexual violence relates to how we honor and reclaim our physical bodies, how we occupy space with bodies that have been cruelly mistreated by others. That said, there are communities doing incredible work with their online worship experiences that could well provide a BTSS service within that space with care and integrity.

So, BTSS, like all things these days, can be itself in many different ways, in many different spaces – both physical and online. The most important thing is that every community that engages with Break The Silence Sunday does so carefully, with the knowledge that it is a difficult, sensitive, and essential topic for the church and that there is a plan for follow-up and after-care for whatever they do.

And that’s something I’m learning that BTSS needs. We started in 2016, providing complete liturgies each year since, but I’ve come to realize that perhaps that’s not enough, not the only thing we need. In 2021 we provided a couple of prayers in written and recorded formats that could be added to worship. They were well received. So this year I’m thinking of just stand-alone prayers, things that can be incorporated perhaps on April 24th, but also perhaps throughout the year, smaller parts of the service that can provide repeated encouragement to folks in the pews (or at home on their sofas) that they, as survivors, are welcomed and embraced by a community of faith.

I will be writing these prayers over the next month or so, hoping to have them all to you by way of our website and Facebook page by the beginning of March. To use them faithfully in worship you’ll still need to do some preparation, making sure folks know that they’re coming, that you’ll be dealing with some hard subjects, allowing survivors and their supporters to prepare their hearts and minds, or absent themselves if they need to.

The need for Break The Silence Sunday is greater than ever. The years of the pandemic have made a lot of things worse. Survivors have, in many cases, been obliged to isolate with the person who is abusing them. Financial pressures have made already complicated situations even more volatile. With medical systems overwhelmed, survivors aren’t able to get to the physical care they need, and access to mental health resources, already incredibly difficult, has become near to impossible for many. Yet the need continues. In the first year of the pandemic, the number of calls I had from survivors needing to talk tripled. In the second year, that number has tripled again. Survivors are struggling, and the church is deafeningly silent.

For those of you who know me well, you’ll be able to testify that I am a card carrying optimist, a belief founded in the essential goodness of who we are and who we can be. But my optimist heart is tired, tired of trying to understand why the church, and the United Church of Christ (UCC) in particular since that’s my tradition, can’t seem to speak out in support of survivors. To be clear we do good work advocating for change, for teaching about consent culture, for the work of ending rape culture and those are all incredibly important things, but they come too late for me and for my survivor siblings. We’re already sitting in the church’s pews, and viewing the church’s online services, carrying with us in our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our spirits the wounds the church doesn’t seem willing or able to address.

I was raped in 1987, and ordained in the United Church of Christ in 2002. When I have asked questions about the church supporting survivors I’ve heard the same things across all these years – it’s personal and private and it makes people uncomfortable – and then the platitude that we have lots of important things we have to address as the church, we can’t possibly give our time to everything, and it’s just not important for the church to address (that’s been said quite literally in those words).

Idealistically I believed when I was told that the secret to getting on the national church’s radar was to have a resolution passed at General Synod. So we did, the resolution to make BTSS part of the national church’s calendar passed overwhelmingly at General Synod in Milwaukee in 2019. But then the pandemic came, and the great social upheaval of the summer of 2020, and the election of 2020, and despite sexual violence being repeatedly in the news with the #metoo movement and more, and with a resolution about supporting survivors, the message of the national church was about preventing sexual violence, about consent education, an about Thursdays in Black (an important symbolic gesture started from the World Council of Churches … Wear a pin to declare you are part of the global movement resisting attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence. Show your respect for women who are resilient in the face of injustice and violence. Encourage others to join you.”). Again, all of those are incredibly important things, but they do little if nothing for those of us who are already survivors.

Supporting us, speaking to us about our holiness, saying overtly that we are welcome in the Body of Christ with our wounds, with or without forgiving our perpetrators, with the struggles and questions we have about where God was when we were victimized, helping us to find a way forward that honors our past without blame or shame – those are the tasks of supporting survivors that I believe are being done on the local level, in communities of care, but aren’t being addressed by the wider church, and I can hear their silence.

Last year I wrote:

The Body of Christ has been raped and abused and the Body of Christ must stand up to witness with and support survivors, saying repeatedly and clearly that they are believed, loved, and valued as they are.

We must continue to do the work of education about consent, and healthy relationships, and all the hard work that needs to be done to prevent future rapes, but we must at the same time stand in solidarity with those of us for whom consent education and prevention didn’t work, who bear the scars in our bodies and souls of other people’s violence.

I know that what I’ve written today might sound critical, but it is because I want the best for the church, because I know what the church can be when it gets it right, when it’s willing to stand up for and support survivors. I know this from first-hand experience – I wouldn’t be here today without the support of the church I grew up in and the encouragement of the churches I serve.

BTSS is a movement of hope, even if this moment seems to be a bit of the valley of shadows. That’s because it’s a movement and movements take time. We can do this, even if it requires a long view. We believe that, as individuals, as congregations, and as the wider church we can do better in supporting survivors, creating space where they feel safe sharing their stories, and honoring their courage and resiliency. We can find new ways of thinking about, and talking about our faith that don’t glorify suffering and don’t perpetuate the abuse that so many have suffered. And we believe that we can work together to change the culture that allows sexual violence to happen, building a future where survivors can share their stories without shame, and where all can live free from sexual violence.

And if nothing else gives us reason to hope it’s that you, yes you, are sitting here reading this material. Maybe your community has a supportive pastoral staff and all you need to participate fully. Maybe you’re the pastor who is going to invite your congregation to observe BTSS for the first time and you’re anxious, but also confident, that it’s what your community needs right now.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking you’d like to suggest it to your pastor or worship committee or whoever in your context might be most supportive, and you’re just not sure any of them will be. Maybe you’re a survivor who thinks you’re perhaps, possibly ready to share your story and hoping your faith community will receive it with grace and love.

Whoever you are, whatever the situation you find yourself in, you are the reason Break The Silence Sunday will ultimately make healthy, sacred space for survivors in our faith communities.

The suggested date for Break The Silence Sunday is the fourth Sunday of April. This keeps us within the national observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), but it is just a suggested date. In 2022, that date is Sunday April 24th.

This is, in the UCC’s calendar also Pacific Islander Asian American (PAAM) Sunday, a vital part of the diversity of our life together. There are also churches that will observe Earth Day events at the weekend, particularly given the current state of climate crisis. Please feel free to pick a time that works best for your community.

Some have held observances in October during the observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, remembering that much rape and sexual violence occurs within domestic relationships. Other communities observe during the summer, and still others find Lent an appropriate time to take on the challenging work of learning about sexual violence and creating space for survivors. Whatever date you choose please feel free to adapt these materials, use them for inspiration, and craft whatever you need – worship, prayer, study – that best fits the needs of your community, particularly in these days of living with Covid.

If you’ve been with us from the beginning, thank you. The archive of materials is available on our website and you are welcome to change and modify them so they work best for your community. All we ask is that you use proper attribution for those who have written these materials.

Please, whatever you do, we would appreciate feedback about what you liked, and didn’t like, about these materials, what worked for you, what was a challenge, and what could be provided in coming years to help you better implement BTSS in your community. There’s a feedback form at the end of these materials if you’d like to mail it in, of you’re welcome to send questions and comments to our email at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com.

Again, please be in touch if there’s anything here you need to talk through, if you have questions or concerns, if you need to share your story, or if you just need a cheerleader as you work towards bringing Break The Silence Sunday to your community.

Thank you for your openness to this work, welcome, and God’s blessings.

Peace and grace, Rev Moira Finley

Strings and things – a project

820

That’s the number of stories shared with me (and Lella) by survivors since Break The Silence Sunday began not quite five years ago.Seventy-eight of those have been since the beginning of General Synod on June 20th.

I’ve kept track of every story, usually initials, sometimes a name when they’ve asked me to use it, and maybe a little note as an aid to my memory about who they are and the story they carry. I’ve tried to respond to every story with gratitude for the sharing, knowing myself how hard it is to tell, to not want to be a burden, to share something that many people can’t begin to imagine, much less live with.

Lately I’ve found myself replying with words something like, “your story is heard, and believed, and held in God’s grace”. (Yes, I know that last bit might not work for everyone … so could we maybe agree on grace as a concept, in this case like tenderness and love combined, that holds the story without judgement, shame, or blame?) I’m finding those words comforting to survivors, and to myself, maybe because they’re the words I heard, and still need to hear even all these years later.

And that got me to thinking about some sort of tangible way to symbolize this with survivors come the next General Synod, 2021 in Kansas City.

The answer, clearly, is string!

If I knit one shawl every month from now until the next Synod, I’ll have 24 of them.

If I recruit other people to knit, crochet, weave string into scarves, shawls, and wubbies (more on that in a minute) then I could have oodles and oodles of objects, soft and cuddly objects, for survivors to have when they share their story at the Break The Silence Sunday booth. Because as sure as I’m sitting here, and as sure as the kittens are demanding I get up and feed them, there are gonna be a whole lot more stories now that BTSS is moving to the national stage, now that we’ve taken down the door, now that we’re all working together to break the silence.

So, here’s the plan (if you aren’t a string type creating person, please skip to step three where we need your creativity in naming things):

Step One: You – fabulously wonderful string artist type person – commence making objects in whatever pattern you like, by whatever technique you like (I am an utter failure at crochet, but I’ve been knitting for 40 years)

Object Suggestions

Shawls – something like 24″ x 60″, give or take

Scarves – well, you know, a scarf is sometimes skinny, sometimes not; sometimes long, sometimes not; variety is key here, but scarves are clearly skinnier than shawls in width

Wubbies – my William had one of these when he was little, they’re about 12″ square (big washcloth?) and get carried around in backpacks and purses and such so when you need to know it’s there, you just reach in and pet it; the person who gave us William’s called it a wubbie and so here we are

Object Requirements

Soft, seriously soft. Don’t go into debt buying cashmere or something, but we want snuggly.

Probably acrylic or a blend thereof; if your string has wool in it, please let us know (see further steps); washable is really useful, particularly for wubbies.

Colours – somewhere in the purple-ish range of things. Purple is our theme colour for sexual assault awareness (my living room looks like Barney the Dinosaur exploded), but please think of this broadly. The string I’ve started with has loads of yellow and pink in it. And remember, purple is a whole range of colours. It doesn’t all have to be lilac and lavender pastels.

Step Two: You – fabulous string creator person – arrange to send me your creations. This step needs some sorting out. If you’re near me I can collect in person and bring you a snack. If you’re further away we shall conscript the postal services into delivering, and give the carriers a snack (and probably mail you a treat too). But, we’ll get to this when we do because it’s going to take some time to get the creations going.

Step Three: We attach a note to your creation that says something like

your story is heard, and believed, and held in grace
with the BTSS logo
maybe your first name or initials as creator
and some sort of name for this project

(hello non-string people, this bit is where we need you and your use of words to come up with what we’re calling this work). I had thought of “Comfort For Survivors”, but the more I said it in my head the more it sounded like the comfort women of World War II and I just don’t want that (if you don’t know about it, please go here … https://www.history.com/news/comfort-women-japan-military-brothels-korea).

So, the project needs a name … what shall we call it to convey the meaning that these objects are symbols of the courage of the survivor for sharing their story, it being received by our BTSS team, and it being held in the loving grace of our hearts?

Step Four: We give out these objects to survivors. Perhaps it will all be when we get to General Synod in 2021, or at the Wisconsin Conference Annual Meeting in 2020 (where I’m sure to hear many stories), or they become part of our website outreach to folks, or ??? In any event, the objects eventually end up in the hands of survivors.

Step Five: You relish in the support you’re offering to survivors you may never know, but who now feel a whole lot less alone in their stories, and in the world.

Step Six: You make more objects, and repeat the entire process until rape culture ends.

If you’re game to help, even one scarf or wubbie would be great, drop me a note: at breakthesilencesunday@gmail.com, through the comments here on the website, or on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/breakthesilencesunday/

Same goes if you’ve got ideas about what we can call this enterprise. Drop me a note and let’s get a good name going.

Also, you don’t have to be any good at this. We’ll take your best efforts. This isn’t about perfectly knitted, crocheted, or woven objects. This is about you expressing your love for survivors of rape and sexual violence.

Looking forward to all your creativity. ♥ Moira

What happened on the Synod floor

Hello friends, We’re still processing everything that happened in the incredible 691 yes, 10 no, 0 abstentions vote a week ago at the UCC’s General Synod in Milwaukee. We’re still figuring out what the next steps look like, lots of questions: how to liaison with the national church and a reasonable timeline for that; how to gather the writers, and resources that we need to make Break The Silence Sunday the best it can be, offering support and opening the door to healing for people in every community; how to prepare for the next General Synod in 2021 in Kansas City. While all of that happens and a thousand post-it notes go up in my front room (completing its transition to campaign headquarters), we wanted to share with you what we’re calling “The Speech That Made All The Difference”. Our incredible committee chair, the Rev Cheryl Lindsay, allow the committee to do what it needed to do – open space for healing, stories, and hope; brainstorm dreams and ideas about implementation before we’d even discussed if we were supporting the resolution (that seemed a foregone conclusion in committee from the beginning); calling attention to communities that might be underserved, or underrepresented by BTSS’s work to this point including communities of color, LGBTQAI+ communities, and people with disabilities. (An apology … In an effort to be avoid a gender binary we discussed, but neglected to include specific wording about male survivors. This was an entirely unintentional oversight and despite the fact that this language isn’t in the final resolution, we will definitely be working on including those resources in our materials going forward.) So, our incredible chair made all that happen and then she was tasked with three minutes on the Synod stage to make the case for adopting the resolution. She was AMAZING!!!!!! The video is here (taken from my mobile phone, from a distance, with shaking hands) and I’ve done my best to transcribe the video as well. Please take a few minutes and listen. This is why the work is so incredibly important.


Transcription of The Speech That Made All The Difference by the Rev Cheryl Lindsay

emphasis (bold) added towards the end because that’s a seriously important question she asks…

Moderator (Mr Norman Williams): Does the committee wish to speak to the motion?

Rev Cheryl Lindsay: Yes, thank you. The Gospel according to John tells the story of Jesus encountering a person who had been hurting for a long time, who was in the midst of the community of faith, suffering, on the sabbath day no less, but whose pain had become a part of the landscape, but not acknowledged or addressed in any way. But Jesus sees and asks the question, “Do you want to get well.” Siblings in Christ, our congregations are full of survivors of rape and sexual violence who are in desperate need of the body of Christ to open the door to healing, to make space for their stories, to be seen and heard, to be acknowledged and believed; waiting for the church that proclaims that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here; waiting for that church, that not only welcomed their presence, but the totality of their lives, their story, their pain, and their truth; for the church that boasts of a still speaking God to no longer be complicit and instrumental in the silencing and shaming of her members. The silence is a disease in the church making us unwell in immeasurable ways; the silence magnifies the hurt; the silence deepens the pain; the silence kills; the silence has to go. It’s time church to break the silence. It’s time to show up for survivors. It’s time to demonstrate our love and support, to educate and equip ourselves to be faithful allies, companions, and friends, so that survivors may know that they don’t have to leave a part of themselves outside of their faith journey or their faith community; so that a congregant does not reach her 90s before hearing words of healing and restoration for the deepest, and longest held hurt of her life, from the pulpit of the church to which she has belonged from the cradle. And as that congregant told her pastor, who happened to be a member of our committee, to tell the General Synod that the God who is still speaking needs to break the silence today. Break the silence to make way for healing. Break the silence to make room for hope. Break the silence because rape and sexual violence are more prevalent than we realize including within our congregations, and if we cannot bring the good news into this part of our life together what gospel do we proclaim? If we cannot break the silence our faith communities will never be whole, will never be healed, will never be well. Do we want to be well? Break the silence. I strongly encourage the 32ndGeneral Synod to vote yes on resolution 9, Supporting Survivors Of Rape and Sexual Violence Through the Ongoing Church-wide Observance of Break The Silence Sunday.

[clapping and shouting]

 

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)