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What Can One Church Do?

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth…”

This prayer challenges us to live into the gospel and make it real for our own day. In the case of domestic violence, this may mean finding ways that local churches and people of faith can do something that will gently and persistently shape the way members view and respond to issues of intimate partner abuse, whether it be in the community or inside the house of faith.

Here is a list of practical immediate ways to make your church a “Safe House.”

1. Always assume that there are persons in your church who have experienced or are experiencing abuse. Be aware of subtle messages in your church that promote the assumption that “everyone here is okay and every marriage and relationship is healthy.”

2. Make an intentional plan to educate your staff and leadership regarding the cycle of violence and the part denial plays in keeping it a secret.

3. If you have a church library, make available copies of books and literature that teach about domestic violence and provide information on local and national hotlines.

4. Put into ALL bathrooms small tracts, brochures, or cards that have hotline numbers and advice for those who are afraid to go home. Make sure the hotline number is in your Sunday bulletin, monthly newsletter, and on your church website.

5. As your pastors or pastoral team prepare couples for marriage, address issues of power and cooperation, gender roles, and family systems. If either person has been divorced, determine if abuse was a contributing factor and provide appropriate follow up.

6. Pray out loud for an end to domestic strife, protection for families, and support for law enforcement and agencies that respond to domestic violence calls.

7. Provide supplies for your local shelter or domestic violence office. They can supply you with a list. This accomplishes two goals: 1) helping them meet the needs of their clients and 2) letting every person in your church know where they can turn for help.

8. Invite counselors from your local domestic violence agency to speak to church groups or in your Sunday service.

9. Designate one Sunday a year, perhaps during October which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the US, for special prayers and educational opportunities for youth and adults. If you have a faith community nurse, this person can assist you. Check the website of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence for ideas.

10. Find out what public policies in your state or community provide safety and advocacy for those affected by domestic violence. Consider signing a petition or writing a letter to support legislation that provides shelter and support.

11. Resolve to pick one item from this list to implement this month. Don’t delay, for you may have an opportunity to save a life and help mend a broken soul.

What other things might a congregation do to make their church a “Safe House”?

Author: Anne O. Weatherholt
The Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt is an Episcopal priest and serves as rector of Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Maryland. She and her husband have two grown sons and both serve as chaplains for the Maryland State Police. In 2008, she authored Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence, a guide for clergy, congregations and church leaders.

4 Comments

  1. Michelle
    Comment #96808 posted October 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    It’s very sad and more that this is needed, but there’s no sense denying reality.

    This is fantastic. Thank you!

  2. Comment #96809 posted October 18, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    At the blog A Cry For Justice you can also find lots of resources and support for addressing domestic abuse in a Christian context.
    cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com
    It’s a very safe place for survivors as we filter out all comments that appear to be written by abusers. We also address many of the scriptural perplexities faced by Christian victim-survivors. And we seek to educate pastors and leaders so they can respond better to the issue of domestic abuse.

  3. Liz Liz
    Comment #96812 posted October 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Excellent practical suggestions for every church community and Christian group. So many of these points take into account that so much abuse is covered up because of shame, threats and fear.
    I will copy these points to give to our local ministers’ fellowship.

  4. Comment #96819 posted October 19, 2012 at 7:45 am

    yes … and we must educate each other on the insidiousness of emotional and verbal abuse under the guise of ‘biblical’ submission …
    http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com/2012/10/31-days-of-awesome-relationships-day-11.html

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