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The following letter is to a local church in San Diego that acts to prevent child sexual abuse and promote healing.

Pilgrims,

Congratulations on sending the Resolution for Safe Churches and Healing Communities to the Annual Gathering and having it adopted (http://www.scncucc.org/Annual_Gathering/documents/SafeChurchandHealingCommunities.pdf)! I have a vision of how, together, we can bring the Resolution to fruition. In fact, it is a vision of a movement that is impossible for any one person, like myself, to realize and will become a reality because of your participation.

I remember the pain I went through when I broke my own silence about being sexually abused by a priest when I was an adolescent. Many of you can remember the pain and trauma five years ago when a registered sex offender showed up asking to be part of our faith community. I think that the pain many experienced then had to do with not having a language or competency to deal with that pain at the time. Individual and collective abuse trauma experiences were triggered and we thought we might never recover, and look where we are now! We are more conscious, competent, and committed to preventing abuse of children, youth and vulnerable adults. Many are more healed and whole as a result of working with this toxic material as a church.

That’s a good start, but have we lived up to social justice work? We know that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Abuse of children, youth and adults is completely preventable. I am angry that this harm continues and that the global plague of human trafficking is fed by this early abuse. Are you? I am saddened and sometimes ashamed that churches do not speak to this and act to prevent abuse and directly promote healing from abuse. What about you?

As Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments (CMHHE), you called me to do the following things and more in our Conference and Denomination:

  • Being available to provide Healing and Healthy Environments services to the programmatic efforts of the United Church of Christ, related to, responding to and preventing sexual abuse and its damaging impacts on the community life of local churches, associations, conferences, and related ministries.
  • Making available educational program efforts related to strengthening the ministry of the laity and cultivating lay leadership development.
  • Maintaining, developing, collecting and disseminating expertise as requested, to respond to the issue of sexual abuse in this and other local church settings.  This expertise is resident within the CMHHE, and available to all who request assistance both within the UCC and throughout the Wider Church.

I have certainly been available and have made known my interest, passion and urgency to help congregations, our conference and the UCC be leaders in the healing ministry for all who have been victims of sexual abuse and other trauma.  How will our Resolution be taken up and implemented by congregations throughout the Southern CA/ Nevada Conference? And what is needed for the Resolution to be adopted by the national body at the Synod next summer?

My vision is that our Southern CA/ Nevada UCC Conference becomes a vibrant example of healing and safe communities. With this living experience of not only extending an extravagant welcome to all, but to being healing communities, the rest of the Denomination will also adopt the Resolution on Safe and Healing Communities at the Synod in Long Beach next summer. And then we will be part of a larger movement to help end abuse and help ourselves and others heal from trauma. That is what I think you called me to help realize, and what you signed up for in sending the Resolution to the Conference for adoption.

We can all do some things to move our conference and denomination forward. This is a call to action.

Step 1: For those who have not attended a Protecting All God’s Children workshop, please confirm your attendance at the September 23 workshop (11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m.). Invite friends from other congregations to attend, so that they can bring the workshop to their congregation. Invite friends from other UCC congregations and other churches to our Forum on healing from Trauma after our worship service on October 14.

Step 2: Most congregations in our (or any) Conference do not have a Safe Church/ Healing Communities Policy, let alone a Response Team, meaningful education program or assessment process for being a safe church and healing community. To remedy this problem, I have created resources such as books, courses and seminars. See www.jaimeromo.com and  www.healingthesexuallyabusedheart.com Refer others to these and engage others in conversations about our Resolution.

Step 3: The best way for other congregations to get up to speed is for a leadership team to participate in a Protecting All God’s Children Seminar. After much outreach, I have had little response. Together, we need to help every congregation to be conscious and committed to protecting children, youth and vulnerable adults from sexual and other abuse. Let me know if you will be part of a think tank/ working group to engage other congregations in this healing work.

Recently, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) has called on me to be a member of a new ‘Males for Trauma Recovery’ working group. SAMHSA sent me to Miami to be certified to offer Trauma Incident Reduction sessions for anyone who has experienced trauma. Here’s a good video about the Trauma Resolution Center and TIR. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvX6Zh2WHFk&feature=email

I would like to begin a TIR practice in San Diego County. This fantastic resource can benefit ministers, who are often under-supported as they care for so many who suffer, as well as many others. I need contacts for individuals and agencies that want to promote healing from trauma, utilizing TIR. Step 4: Let me know if you will be part of a think tank/ working group to engage community, congregational and Conference members in this healing work.

I see signs of great potential for Pilgrim being a leader in helping individuals and society prevent abuse and heal. There is an inter-faith coalition organizing to realize social justice in various areas together. This group will sign a covenant later in the fall, and I hope that one of the areas that this coalition commits to is what you have affirmed in my Commissioned Ministry and in the Resolution on Safe Churches and Healing Communities- to work to end sexual abuse and promote healing. Step 5: Support Pilgrim’s involvement in this coalition, which is being organized under the umbrella of Justice Overcoming Boundaries (JOB).

In upcoming weeks, I will distribute covenant sheets related to your participation in a Safe Church and Healing Communities movement. Thank you in advance for thinking and collaborating with me around how to move forward. Thank you for committing to participate in Pilgrim’s programs related to preventing abuse and promoting healing. Thank you for referring others to the Protecting All God’s Children seminar, and to inviting others to our educational programs. Thank you for calling on me to provide Trauma Incident Reduction sessions for yourself or others. Thank you for being an active part of this vision. Without you, it cannot become reality.

Peace,

Jaime J. Romo

Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments

jjromo@gmail.com

A Revolutionary Resolution

“So, you got your Resolution for Safe Churches and Healing Communities.” A woman said to me in the parking lot after the vote had been taken by the Annual Gathering delegates. Every year, 145 United Church of Christ congregational representatives from the Southern California/ Nevada Conference (i.e., diocese) gather to assess the work they do together and propose new initiatives.  She smiled and walked to her car.

“My resolution?” I thought. It’s OUR resolution. An overwhelming majority of the people who could vote voted for this, representing the collective church, based upon a central UCC principle of ‘covenant.’ Coming from a Catholic background, I jokingly call the UCC the ‘church of you can’t make me.’ The UCC operates from a grass roots, local governance model, unlike other more hierarchical models, which have been critiqued as more bureaucratic or practicing window dressing when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual abuse. This local governance model is refreshing and democratic, as well as frustrating in that it can seem very time and labor intensive to reach consensus and then implement what was reached by consensus.

My church sent the Resolution to the Conference and now it will go to the National Synod next year for acceptance by the National UCC, and I am proud of this effort.

Perhaps the only reason my church got involved with this issue was because five years ago a registered sex offender showed up one day and asked to be able to participate. And that later became the catalyst for me to take up a formal role as a Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments, a first in the UCC and perhaps in any faith tradition. Church leaders from across the country called my pastor to ask for our policy and he urged me to take up this formal ministry (to coach ministers and lay leadership teams to create meaningful abuse prevention policies and healing practices) that I naively thought would be enthusiastically received.

I had already experienced betrayal, sexual abuse and abandonment by religious leaders through my initial experience of sexual abuse by a priest and his church employee friend, and then subsequent resistance from church leaders when I came forward in 2003. Beginning in 2010, as a Commissioned Minister, I have often experienced individual and institutional denial and resistance to engage in this work, even though I have brought resources to help. And so to speak about sexual abuse in a larger church setting with ordained and lay leaders was extraordinary.

As one person who spoke on behalf of the Resolution stated, “This isn’t the Catholic Church. We deal with things here. That’s why I’m a member of this Church.” Here is what a Church group is addressing in one region and will propose to the national denomination to respond to:

  • One out of four girls and one out of six boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday (Finkelhor, 1990).
  • The rate of child abuse is ten times the rate of cancer (Sadler, Chadwick, & Hensler, 1999).
  • Ninety-three percent of sex offenders describe themselves as “religious” (Abel et al., 1987).
  • Offenders known to have abused many children who maintained significant involvement with religious institutions “had more sexual offense convictions, more victims, and younger victims” (Eshuys & Smallbone, 2006).
  • In a survey of 2,864 church leaders, 20% knew of a sex offender who was attending or serving as a member of their church (Liautaud, 2010).
  • Many victims suffer significant emotional and spiritual damage.

And what is it that UCC members from around the country be discussing and voting on next year? I will include the actual resolution on Safe Church and Healing Communities:

“Whereas, the safety and well-being of all God’s children is of utmost importance and concern in our life and our service as the Church body of Christ;

And whereas, all forms of abusive behavior and especially sexual behavior, exacts immeasurable spiritual, psychological, and physical costs in terms of suffering, human potential, social stability, and damage to the credibility and commission of all churches;

And whereas, an estimated thirty-nine million people, alone, in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form;

And whereas, we , as an instrument of Christ’s compassionate peace, are called as a Church body to create environments and communities in which victims of abusive behavior can find support and healing;

And whereas, we, as an instrument of Christ’s justice, are called as a Church body to prevent abuse and abusive behavior and to deal with and resolve directly and fairly instances of abuse should such arise in our communities;

Be it resolved, that the Southern California Nevada Conference recommends the provision within the Conference of an educational program of direct curricular study and resource availability to furnish and support: 1) the development, creation, and assessment of safe church policy at the congregational, association, and conference levels; 2) the creation and maintenance of healthy and healing church communities and environments at the congregational, association, and conference levels; 3) and the development of a safe church and healthy and healing communities support network.”

No one cheered. This was no press conference or photo opportunity, although I wanted to cheer for this historic, courageous and visionary stance.

I have found that religious groups are too often places where people with imperfect lives, let alone with past trauma and shame, particularly related to sexual abuse aren’t really welcome to bring their imperfection. That is why this Resolution, this covenant, is as big as the declaration of independence.

To me, the Resolution means that we declare that we will no longer go along with the tyranny of exploitation, harassment, intimidation or sexual abuse. We covenant to begin in our own local communities the profound work of recognizing and responding to our own experiences of abuse and trauma. We commit to take action to eliminate human trafficking in all its forms, particularly commercial sexual exploitation of children.

There is an old UCC bumper sticker that reads, “To love is to care and to care is to do.”  I hope the Southern California/ Nevada Conference will take action to implement this resolution and be an example for the rest of the UCC Conferences and churches across the country.

For more information, see www.healingthesexuallyabusedheart.com and www.jaimeromo.com

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