For victims of sexual abuse and their community

Marian Free

Preface:

On the basis of personal experience, I suggest the following:

Immediately after the event is made public, a senior member of the church speak to the congregation (headmaster to a school), explaining what has happened and what action has been taken.

Counselling be made available for all who feel it necessary. At the very least people feel encouraged to talk (rather than not to talk).

Discussion be held about the nature of forgiveness and compassion (versus blanket acceptance of people and their behaviour) – to provide skills for those who will find themselves talking to people outside the church.

Forgiveness of the perpetrator, or even that prayers for the perpetrator may not be appropriate here.

In creating liturgy, it is important that the community listen to the individual story and create a liturgy which addresses the issues faced by the particular person/situation. Ask the person/community to read the liturgy to ensure that their story has been heard and that they feel that what is planned is going to be helpful to them

LITURGY OF HEALING

FOR CONGREGATIONS

The Story

Begin with the story {A great deal of flexibility and sensitivity needs to be exercised here. If the person who has behaved badly has not hurt anyone apart from themselves, there will be a different emphasis from a situation in which a community shares a sense of guilt for not protecting the vulnerable or a situation in which they community feels that they have been let down. If a young person is involved, the family may choose not to be present so early.}

Introduction

In communities things do not always go to plan. People let us down and behave in ways that are unexpected. Sadly, the church is no different. In this community our trust has been badly shaken (and one of our number has experienced something we would rather not even think about). We are trying to discern how to be “Christian” in this situation and how to deal with our shock and our grief and our sense of betrayal.

To whom do you turn when those you trust let you down?

What does it mean to forgive when the action is unforgiveable? Is it “Christian” to be angry, confused, to ask where God was? What does it mean to be church? How does one show compassion and act with justice? How does one deal with the fact that one feels culpable – unable to protect the innocent? How does one even talk through what has happened without feeling “dirty”, gossipy.

These are all questions we must face and struggle with. While our faith may not be shaken, our faith in the church may well have been damaged. We need to be free to talk, free to be honest, free to ask our questions – of the church, of God, of each other. We need to face the present with honesty and courage, so that we can move into the future with confidence in ourselves.

We are here today, to share our sense of horror, to pray for (victim’s name), to offer support to each other, and to try to see a way into the future.

Let us pray:

Infant God,

held in the arms of Simeon,

be near us as we try to come to grips

with the destruction of innocence

the betrayal of trust,

that has occurred in our midst.

Vulnerable God,

who knows of what we are capable,

help us to understand our sense of helplessness,

our shared guilt, our failure to prevent what has happened.

Jesus, who overturned the tables,

who wept at the tomb of a friend,

hear our anger and confusion,

our shame and grief.

God of truth,

give us courage to face this event

with honesty and integrity.

to acknowledge our own culpability

our confusion and despair.

Give us understanding and direction,

that through our love and care

(name) may become not the victim, but the victor.

Holy God,

whose church is built on human frailty,

we acknowledge our own faults,

and grieve the hurt we cause.

Forgive us when we fail to act wisely and justly

And when our institutions fail.

God of love,

help us to see clearly who and what we are

give us the sensitivity to support (name) and her (his) family

in ways that will help

and to support one another as we face this blight amongst us.

Holy Spirit, source of life,

give us courage to move forward,

faith to sustain us,

wisdom to act appropriately,

gentleness with one another,

healing of ourselves and our community

that we may grasp hold of and live out the new life you offer.

Gentle, loving God, we pray for (name) and her (his) family. In this time of horror and heartache, we pray that they may know you beside them – as a vulnerable baby, as a carefree child and as one who was betrayed and abandoned. In the midst of their despair and hopelessness, may they find strength and courage and healing.

[We pray for (name – the perpetrator) and his (her) family, praying that we may learn to forgive, (but not condone) and he (she) may find the courage to face his (her) demons ] Really don’t know if this is appropriate here.

Symbolic action – lighting candles for hope

Placing flowers in a prominent place

Ritual washing of hands, symbolic burning/washing of something that may represent the action.


FOR INDIVIDUALS

Introduction

(Name) has asked us to be present today as he (she) works through the process of healing. (Perhaps something here about the stage of the process at which the person is – angry, guilt-ridden, depressed, ready to move on.)

Leader (0n behalf of all those gathered addresses the person seeking healing)

(Name)

Child of God,

innocence stolen,

trust betrayed,

hear our prayer for healing and for wholeness.

Son (daughter) of this church (parish, school),

confused, angry, ashamed,

hear our prayer for your future and for life.

We who let you down ask for your forgiveness.

We who share your sense of betrayal seek answers.

We who are members of this institution commit ourselves

to the creation of an environment in which all are safe and protected from harm.

We give thanks that you allow us to walk with with you, and pray that we will not let you down.

Walk boldly into the future,

claim the power of God to rebuild your life,

refuse to be bound by the past,

know yourself created in the image of God,

beautiful, strong and loved.

Let us pray:

Vulnerable God,

creator of the weak,

stand with us in this time of horror,

give us the courage to make hard decisions,

help us to name sin and then to forgive when we can.

Healing God,

bringer of new life,

restore our community,

give us understanding and strength

help us to face with integrity the frailty of humanity

and of the church and so and to build a new tomorrow.

(Name),

No one should endure what you have endured.

No one should be abused in the name of love and compassion.

No one should have their youth and innocence wrested from them.

We pray that you will not be bound by the past,

that you will find the courage to trust and to love,

and strength and hope to build a future,

May this experience encourage us to recognise, name and deal with the sinfulness

In our institutions and to commit ourselves to protecting the vulnerable among us.

I (we) anoint you in the name of God who created you, Jesus who stands beside you and the spirit who will sustain you.

In the name of Jesus Christ we ask for healing.

(Those present could give the victim symbols of hope and/or strength – flowers, acorn (Julian of Norwich), or wrap the person in something beautiful – a scarf for example which becomes theirs to keep.)

Readings

Rape of Tamar, Dinah, Jehosophat’s daughter

Children of Rahab, Readings and Psalms from Miriam Therese Winter.

Hymns

Colleen Fulmer – We are the Body of Christ

677 Christ’s is the world in which we move

682 When human voices cannot sing

683 God, when human bonds are broken

689 Lord, hear my praying, listen to me

690 Beauty for brokenness

Marian Free

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