Friday, December 18, 2009

Partners in Faith

Over the last few years, I have felt the need to reach out to all those who are working in the area of faith-based organizing and domestic violence. It is important for us to share the work we are doing, support one another, and perhaps to find ways to work collaboratively.

On December 2, we hosted a gathering at the UU Urban Ministry that brought this group of people together. Fifteen women gathered for the meeting, with several others wishing to be there but unable to attend. A fascinating conversation ensued regarding the work of faith-based organizing in Boston and across Massachusetts. It was a candid discussion, with folks discussing the challenges of allowing survivors of domestic violence to express their faith within the context of groups, shelters or programs that were not receptive to “faith talk.” We discussed how faith can make a strong impact on survivors’ ability to heal, yet social workers and domestic violence facilities can be quite resistant to integrating faith, and can even feel threatened by faith or clergy. We also discussed how some clergy don’t know the reality of domestic violence and can cause more harm than good for a survivor who is struggling to decide if God condones the way she/he is being treated in their relationship.

As you can see, the conversation was rich. We discussed promising practices that are working in various domestic violence programs, such as spiritual retreats, spirituality/healing groups and trainings of clergy and faith groups in domestic violence. We brainstormed about ways we could reach out to the domestic violence/sexual assault programs in Massachusetts to provide education and resources on integrating spirituality/faith into their programs. And we dreamed about the possibilities of having chaplains that could offer spiritual resource and support to program staff/volunteers/interns.

As the time came to a close, I mentioned that we needed to wrap up. Everyone was amazed that the time had gone by so quickly. One person commented how nice it was to be in a room of support around issues of faith, saying it felt like something she had been searching for and was happy to have found. And when I asked if we should set another meeting, all agreed with a resounding YES! So we will meet again, and continue to support one another and dream of ways we can get better connected.

Some people and faith communities who we wished would attend were missing, and we will need to do more work to bring others to the table. However, it was a good beginning that supports survivors who want to discuss their faith and how it has helped them to heal. It also supports those who work in the domestic violence field who want to discuss how their faith has kept them going, as well as survivors who need to share the reality of spiritual abuse they suffered through their relationship that continues to haunt them. We call ourselves “Partners in Faith” and we are hopeful that we can offer a hopeful, supportive resource that can bridge the church/state barriers as we all acknowledge the importance of addressing the FULL person in their journey to healing.

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