Friday, October 2, 2009

A Faith-Based Approach to Domestic Violence Work

What does it mean to be a domestic violence program and a spiritual community?

For Renewal House, it means that we believe each person/family that comes to us deserves love and respect. This comes from the Unitarian Universalist core value of affirming the worth and dignity of every person. In reality, putting this principle into practice can sometimes be challenging. We work with many individuals who have been badly abused – both physically and emotionally – throughout their lives. For these folks, it is difficult to trust anyone or believe that anyone could truly care about them. Many of them struggle with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. They are not always easy to work with, and some have been turned away from other programs because of their problems.

However, the important thing for us to remember is to not blame them when their behavior makes them difficult. The imperative is to understand and accept their difficulties and struggles, and assist them in discerning how best to move forward in their lives in healthy, safe ways.

Thus, when we say we believe in the worth and dignity of every person, we mean that Renewal House and its staff:

  • offer a safe place to live for themselves and their children.
  • build relationships with individuals and families in our shelter.
  • provide respectful advocacy to assist individuals in meeting their goals.
  • listen and provide encouragement and support.
  • allow individuals to “fail” and to try again and again.
  • provide spiritual support to people of many faiths, or no professed faith, and create spaces and contexts for those adults and children who want to express their spirituality as a tool for healing.
  • provide ongoing support to our guests after they leave the shelter in order to help them build new lives for themselves and their children.

In a conversation with a UU volunteer this week, I shared with her the idea that we offer a great deal at Renewal House, and that the families and individuals that come to us can decide for themselves how much or how little to take advantage of our services. It is each individual’s decision whether or not to accept what we have to offer – and to shape it to meet their varied needs – and, in turn, teach us how we can better support them as well as those who come after them.

I am proud to work for an organization that believes in the worth and dignity of all people. It is a lovely philosophy and, at times, a true struggle to put into practice. And yet, it makes Renewal House a program that truly walks with people through some of their darkest days – a time in their lives when they would rather not be seen or acknowledged. And in that journey we are all transformed.

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