Painful stories can be uncomfortable, both to hear, and to tell.
But a new webpage called “SOS Share Our Stories” aims to make room in the Christian Reformed Church for just those kinds of experiences. The webpage is part of the CRC’s online sharing platform, The Network.
‘Amy’ was the first person to share her story on the site. A friend of the pastor was abusing her, she writes in ‘Amy’s Story,’ and when she told the pastor, he seemed to disbelieve her.
“For a long time I was desperate for my story to be heard and believed,” Amy told The Banner. “Through my healing journey I’ve learned that my story is true and important, regardless of whether or not anyone believes me.”
Safe Church Ministry of the CRC was created in 1994 to “equip congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response.” Recent strategic planning for the ministry identified “the need for people to be able to share their stories,” according to director Bonnie Nicholas.
“We do need a safe place to share,” said Nicholas. “I wish it could happen in churches. We haven’t figured that out yet.”
Beyond giving abuse survivors a safe place to be heard, the website’s purpose is also “to help people understand the experience of abuse and how they can come alongside in ways that are helpful,” she added.
Survivors like Amy are hoping people will listen: “I share my story in order to bring awareness to the ways abuse and assault are mishandled in the CRC so that changes can be made, and to encourage CRC members and leaders to support survivors of abuse, even if only by believing them,” she said. Over 300 people have viewed her story.
“The ongoing failure of some classes and congregations to implement safe church practices” was discussed at synod, the CRC’s annual leadership gathering (Acts of Synod 2018, p. 476). Each classis (regional group of churches) is encouraged to have a safe church coordinator (volunteer or paid), although to date only 40 percent of classes do. The Safe Church Ministry offers a $1,500 stipend to help classes establish this position.
Nicholas recently asked Safe Church coordinators to elicit stories for the new website from those who have experienced abuse, even if the stories happened a while ago.
“We offer this to people,” she said. “Sometimes it takes a while to be able to share a story. Sometimes right in the moment is not the best time.”
Anyone in the Christian Reformed Church is invited to submit a story of abuse to the Safe Church Ministry by email to email@example.com.