Transforming Worship

Breaking the Silence

By Rev. Sandy Boyce, Deacon, Pilgrim Uniting Church, SA

Break the Silence Sunday (BTSS) is an initiative that began in the United States, with a specific focus on sexual assault and rape. The SA Presbytery and Synod agreed in February 2019 to adopt the global day for BTSS, the fourth Sunday in April.

BTSS aims to be a catalyst in the church to:

* acknowledge the reality of rape and sexual violence in our world;

* support survivors by creating a place where they can tell their stories, feel loved and supported, and find encouragement on their healing journey;

* commit ourselves to the work of changing the world, creating a future world free from rape and sexual violence

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Not until the half of our population represented by women and girls can live free from fear, violence and everyday insecurity, can we truly say we live in a fair and equal world”.

Rev Dr Paul Goh, Justice Officer, SA Synod, and myself collaborated on preparing and promoting resources for congregations.

Pilgrim Uniting Church provided a meaningful service for the first Break the Silence Sunday in South Australia, seeking a balance with naming issues while also being mindful of pastoral sensitivities for people in the congregation and those who came from the wider community and other congregations.

You can read a copy of the service on the Pilgrim Worship Resources website (see link below).

I preached from the Gospel set for the day, with Jesus appearing to the disciples and to Thomas. “None of us go through life without the experience of suffering. It is part of our human condition. So we must make space to acknowledge that grief and loss, sadness, pain and hurt, fear and doubt, frustration, depression and disappointment, anxiety and rejection, are part of our life as individuals and communities.

The church has not always provided an opportunity for people to bring their pain and suffering into worship, to name it before God.

People learn to live a kind of double life where pain is somehow closeted away. The Good News of Christian faith is not, “Come to Jesus and all your problems will disappear”. Rather, it is that the God we know in Jesus will never leave us: we do not have to face our struggles alone.

We can never be separated from God’s love – but we will still bear the scars of human life. And so did the risen Christ.

When he slipped through the locked doors and appeared before his frightened disciples, he showed them his scars from the cruel crucifixion. The risen Christ had scars; being raised from the dead did not erase them. The scars of Good Friday are visible on Easter Sunday. In his risen life, Jesus became the wounded healer”.

Listen to the full sermon

A number of people who attended the service offered comments about their experience.

“Pilgrim’s ‘Break the Silence’ service was what I’d expect from Pilgrim: socially engaged, honest, powerful, humane, encouraging of commitment to justice and compassion. But I couldn’t help thinking about the perpetrators too, and about our need to question the culture of power and flawed masculinity that produces abuse.” (Judith)

“We were both deeply moved by the Break the Silence service and believe it is essential that the church continues to tell these hard stories. It is a risk that people may relive past traumas but we owe it to them, the often silent victims, to do so in a compassionate and caring way, which is what happened in the service. Thank you.” (Joy and Don)

“It blew away my ‘know this issue well enough, let’s move on’. The Luka song became a metaphor for ‘out of sight’ and ‘condoned’ and ‘trapped’ …that assault and rape becomes institutionalised by perpetrator and victim alike. BTSS raised difficult issues sensitively in a worship setting. There was a risk of setting embers aglow in people’s hearts, potentially with unwelcome consequences, because the issue is inherently scary. But it was true bravery to craft such a pastorally sensitive service.” (Rose)

“I attended and participated in Break The Silence Sunday Service. It may have been challenging and confrontational to some but it ended up being a beautiful and powerful worship.” (Rev Dr Paul Goh, Justice Officer, SA Synod).

Ministers and Congregations may like to note the date for next year’s BTSS, 28 April 2020, and may also consider linking a ‘Break the Silence’ service to other related community days such the UN Elimination of Violence against Women Day on 23rd November, or the Friday before which is White Ribbon Day (22nd November 2019), or another appropriate date. Resources are available on the SA Synod page and Sandy’s Pilgrim Worship Resources page.

Rev Sandy Boyce may be contacted at boyce@pilgrim.org.au, 0409283004.

Photos: Paul Goh