On February 4, as part of our current series on sin and redemption, we will be holding a special service we’re calling “Speak Out Sunday.” This will be an opportunity for our church to speak about the very important topic of sexual violence – its prevalence in our society and in our scriptures, and our desire to heal from our own past experiences of it and have no place for it in our future.
That Sunday, I will preach on why there is no place for sexual violence in the love of God and the family of God. Before my talk, we will hear a personal story about suffering sexual violence from a trained speaker. We will respond in worship and with communion together, and our prayer ministry team will be available to pray for you. Additionally, we will share resources that Sunday for people with past or current experiences with sexual violence or domestic violence. After the service, the trained speaker will also be available for a time of Questions and Answers.
We will follow up with a free training for the afternoon of Sunday, February 18th, on how to helpfully respond to someone’s disclosure of an experience with sexual violence.
This event has been months in coming for us and is undertaken with the partnership and support of a number of other clergy and social services resources. Given my own experience of sexual abuse as a child, and given the rising waves of disclosures regarding sexual violence in this #metoo and #timesup season in our culture, I have had a desire for us to address sexual violence together for months. My wife Grace and I have also been speaking with friends and mentors Ray Hammond and Gloria White-Hammond, senior pastors of Bethel AME Church in Boston, who are planning their own version of this experience on another Sunday this month. Our own plans are influenced by the powerful work of We Will Speak Out.
In preparation, Ivy and I have spoken with staff at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), who will partner with us in the event, providing a speaker from their trained speakers’ bureau, holding an optional 20-minute Q and A after each service, and leading the training for us that I mentioned. We also have spoken with other mental health clinicians, researchers, and experienced clergy on how our community can address sexual violence clearly and safely, working to prevent future trauma and navigate people’s past trauma with gentleness and care. All of these professionals have shaped and encouraged us in our plans and are so thankful our church is addressing this topic.
We will not be holding group conversations on Sunday on this topic and are not urging you to share whatever story you may have regarding sexual violence or domestic violence with anyone you are not absolutely comfortable and safe speaking with. In fact, if you have your own experience of sexual or domestic violence, our hope is that you will not need to experience any more disclosure than would be most helpful for you. We hope you will be empowered to seek whatever disclosure and help you need from God and appropriate professionals and trusted friends. We will give related guidance to our community group leaders in this regard.
We are compelled by the Spirit of our good God and by the times we live in, though, to speak out on this topic. We hope that you will join us on February 4th, at either our 9:30 or 11:30 AM service, and pray that God works through this service to increase safety and health and healing in our community and in our region. In addition to the resources we will share on Sunday, our pastoral staff remains available to speak with you, should that be helpful for you.
I pray that you will know Jesus close to you, born into our world to be our wonderful counselor, our prince of peace, and God with us all, and specifically with you, today.