Stories No Longer Untold

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This quote is at the top of the page of OSU, Our Stories Untold: “There is no agony like having an untold story inside you.” - Zora Neale Hurston

Perhaps you know the weight of carrying a secret, or an untold story inside. And perhaps you also know something about the freedom that comes when the secret can be let out, the story told. When you discover that people can know the story, and yet still love and care for you, and even begin to understand, empathize, and offer support. It can make all the difference in accepting it, accepting yourself, and moving on to a better place. It can be like a huge burden has been lifted. It’s like the healing presence of Jesus, who knows us completely, and yet still calls us to be his children.

OSU is an independent network of people who have experienced sexualized violence, and/or who know and love someone who has experienced it. Believing that the harm caused by sexualized violence, especially in communities of faith, needs to end – they have created an online space for untold stories to be told. The founders and directors have a connection to the Mennonite Church, yet we know that sexualized violence is not just a Mennonite problem; it’s a problem in every denomination. The safe web space of OSU is open to all. The purpose is to offer support and to advocate for those who have suffered sexualized violence, and organize to end it in our communities, “lovingly, fiercely, imperfectly, and as best we can.

So what about the CRC, do we have places that are safe enough for untold stories to be told, places where we can feel supported, where difficult conversations can take place, and where healing can begin? An online space is one thing. Real live safe spaces in our congregations are another. Safe Church Ministry longs for the day when our congregations can be safe places for untold stories to be told. And we welcome your ideas about how to create these kinds of spaces. What does your congregation do to create safe spaces, where people feel safe enough to share honest struggles and untold stories?

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What does our congregation do to create safe spaces for people to share the hard stories?

Well our leadership does not really do anything. Individual pastors, including our current interim pastor, have sat and listened to some of us who ask them to listen/help/pray with us.
It not a practice of our leadership to encourage us to share the hard stuff.  Generally our leaders do not admit their own struggles, at least not publicly. There were 2 elders years ago who tried to be supportive. One came back a few times and gave me a good book to read. The other started a small group for those who struggle. One of these men moved away. The other left our denomination.
Some did begin a support group for people with depression which lasted a year or so. It was a good try.
One of the issues with it was that people with depression and their families were in the same group. Separate groups at least some for the time would have been better. So would trained leadership. But it was a good try.
There are individuals in our congregation who reach out to those who struggle with abuse issues and untold stories. I am thankful for some long term friends who have listened and loved me and stuck with me. I too, reach out to others and we are mutually caring and supportive.
If our leaders never admit they struggle about anything then why would anyone confide in them. If everyone has to look nice on Sundays and seem to have it all together then there is no place for messy lives. If we are not a safe place to admit we struggle with spending too much money, or playing computer games, or getting angry or being lazy or frustration with our children, or even that we are physically ill or in debt,  then how can we ever admit to addictions or mental illness of being a survivor of sexual abuse?

If we have not really understood how much God loves us and longs for deeper relationship with us,
if we have not learned how to accept our own struggles,

 if we have not learned it is ok to make mistakes,

if we have not learned how to ask and accept help from those who would understand,

 if we have not learned to do the work of prayer and repentance and learning a new way to be with God’s help; then how can we support others?

In general, many people care –but they don’t know how to help. It is scary for them, they want to just say the right thing and fix us. We all need to be taught how to care for ourselves and others.

So my suggestion is that anyone who gets to lead needs to truly seek God about how to lead. One thing they will learn is how to be humble and honest and repentant and transparent without shame, about their own life and then learn to do that with others.
For the rest of us who are not permitted to lead, we do the same.
For the survivors and those with untold stories we do the same as above  and we keep  loving and praying and listening as we are walking/screaming/suffering/crying out and receiving the joy of our own healing journey with those we have who do care.

MJill H,

 

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Thanks for this thoughtful reply! I agree that leaders set the tone, and their willingness to be vulnerable and open seems to be a key ingredient. I appreciate this verse, 1 Peter 4:8, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins". I think genuine love and care for someone will show through, even when we make mistakes, or don't say exactly the right thing. Listening is often far more important than speaking. Rather than "fixing" we need to be present, reflecting the love of Jesus. Thanks again for your comment.

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