When her husband died by suicide, the Rev. Dawn Anderson at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas TX wrote in a September 4, 2014, Christian Post article: “most people were wonderful, but a few said inappropriate things that made this difficult time harder.” It was an article she opened with a Scripture verse:
What miserable comforters you all are! (Job 16:2b).
It’s a great, fast, informative article. Worth a read.
Some other things struck me about Pastor Anderson’s experience and the experience of survivors of clergy abuse these days.
She drew on her experience in a way many of us survivors will recognize, becoming pastor and facilitator for Christian Survivors of Suicide, a support group open to anyone in the Dallas area. (There, she reported hearing many comforter ‘horror stories.’ She does not suggest these poor comforters intended harm, only that they lacked skill and knowledge–and perhaps the self-awareness to know what they needed to learn skills. In response to that, Pastor Anderson wrote her article, in ways I used to see survivors inspired to write for us.
The good pastor’s reflections also highlight a danger for anyone, including lay groups, seeking to support survivors of abuse. There really are do’s and don’ts. There really is a way that, no matter how good your intent or your confidence that you can help,the fact is that this is not an area where you can or should “wing it.” If you are not well-versed in trauma issues and not well founded in mental health, you will hurt some survivor. Maybe not every one, but you will inadvertently add a new, fresh second wound to someone’s life. And, the way most survivors react, you will never know it.
Lay people newly committed to engaging with the Church on the issue of abuse often forget that, while they focus on things to be fixed, they can overlook things that are done well in their diocese. My cautionary note follows:
As you work to improve the Church’s response in whatever way you are called to do, you choose, remember that doesn’t mean your new focus and commitment — and good intentions — mean you have the skill to help survivors. If you have meetings, be sure to bring local social workers. Rely on professionals. Don’t fool yourself that being a “friend” is enough, even though you may well find wonderful friends among survivors. At your local meetings, really consider inviting the victim assistance coordinator(s) to be available to talk to survivors on their turf about options. Most dioceses have dedicated survivor ministries better able to care for survivors–or to help you care for survivors–than you are able to do alone.