A small group at Briargate Presbyterian Church recently gathered together to design an invitation for the Louisville church’s upcoming domestic violence workshop. Pam, whose mother had been killed by her father in 2008, was ready to share her story publicly in hopes that others would not have to experience what she, her family, friends, and church members have experienced. Pam said, “I want our invitation to read, ‘It happened in our church!’”
Pam’s mother had decided she was finally going to leave her abusive husband. According to family, she had taken the appropriate steps of filing a domestic violence protection order, but a judge denied her request and she had gone to her house to collect her belongings. Data shows leaving is the most dangerous time for an abused woman, and that proved true for Pam’s mother who was murdered by her spouse.
Pam has told her story many times, to the court as well as the media. But now it was time to make something positive come from that tragedy, and the Briargate Presbyterian Church community was ready as well. Dorene Seidl was a much beloved member of Briargate. In many ways, Pam’s family grief was also the congregation’s grief.
Approximately one in four women in the U.S. has experienced some form of physical violence and at least three are murdered each day by a spouse or intimate partner, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The sobering facts, released each year, show that violence in the home continues to be a growing problem in the U.S.
The Rev. Nancy Troy has served as Briargate’s pastor for five years. She previously worked at Louisville’s Center for Women and Families (CWF) which provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, counseling and advocacy for those who have experienced sexual assault or partner abuse. She also worked with the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) where she worked to establish the Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network (PADVN). Troy said of her becoming Briargate’s pastor, “perhaps it was ‘for such a time as this...’”
The October 17 workshop that Briargate will host uses many of the resources that PADVN developed and recommends. While the workshop is open to the community, it is hoped that congregations will particularly be represented. Troy says, “It’s important that congregations know that when they gather, there are survivors, perpetrators and bystanders there.”
She stresses that the silence needs to be broken in faith communities so women and men know there is a place where they can find help.
Troy believes strongly that churches need to partner with community experts. “We can’t do what the trained professionals can do, but we can recognize the signs and refer, refer, refer! We can walk with them. We can weep with them. We can be there as they take back their lives.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an initiative to educate the public about the harsh realities of this crime and the continuous efforts to get communities and congregations involved in helping to lift this issue out of the shadows and into the public spotlight. Social service and criminal justice agencies deal with it every day. Police officers say it is one of the most difficult calls they receive because emotions are often out of control by the time they arrive.
“Children learn in the home believing it’s the only way of life they know and it perpetuates itself,” added Troy. “With domestic violence, unless you know the dynamics of control and power, you may have a simplistic view of what domestic violence is. It is emotional, intimidating to families.”
Although PADVN offers worship materials for Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday (October 11 this year), the Network stresses these issues should not be relegated to one Sunday or one month. “Our church members should hear that violence is not God’s intention, that healing is possible, and that we are a safe place to find help.”
Plans continue at Briargate. Resources from PADVN have been selected. Some men of the congregation have made a Silent Witness silhouette of Pam’s mom. The Center for Women and Families has been invited to share their resources. Invitations have gone out. Flyers have been distributed.
Will people come? “It’s hard for congregations to imagine that this could happen to them,” Troy says, “but it happened here, and this is the time to share our story, to heal our wounds, and to encourage action toward ending domestic violence.”