Near the end of May 2019 I spent almost five days with researchers and community partners from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada exploring what collaboration on faith and violence might look like. As I drove from Fredericton to the Halifax airport, I thought about how this meeting had come to be and I wondered what would happen during our time together.
In 2018 I received a copy of In Churches Too: Church Responses to Domestic Abuse – A Case Study of Cumbria co-authored by Kristin Aune (Coventry University) and Rebecca Barnes (University of Leicester). This was the first time I had seen the results of a congregational survey of domestic violence. Aune and Barnes worked together with Restored, an international Christian alliance working to transform relationships and end violence against women whose headquarters are in the UK, and Churches together in Cumbria, an organization developed to facilitate information sharing and cooperation amongst local churches.
129 churches in the county of Cumbria in north-west England participated in publicizing and distributing the survey which members of their congregations could complete either on paper or online. The results align with many of the findings of the Religion and Violence research team but also provide new information. Just a couple of examples: older people are less likely to report having experienced domestic abuse than younger people; and fewer than one in four women who have previously sought help for domestic abuse did so from a church.
I met with Barnes at the International Sociological Association Congress in Toronto, Ontario to discuss the possibilities of her and Aune collaborating with members of the Religion and Violence research team on future research. After consulting with Nancy Nason-Clark and Steve McMullin, we offered to create an opportunity to meet face-to-face to present the results of our different research programs and explore potential international collaborations. While planning was underway, Aune met Ruth Powell of NCLS Research in Australia and suggested that she join our meeting. Powell was interested in learning more about conducting research about domestic violence in churches because she had been invited to prepare a national congregational survey on domestic violence for the Anglican church. Lisa Oakley of the University of Chester whose expertise is on spiritual abuse was interested in contributing to the collaboration. We also invited Rev. Daphne Marsden of Christ Church, New Zealand, whom we knew from our work with Catherine Clark-Kroeger. Rev. Marsden brings experience of providing pastoral care to women in prison, most of whom are survivors of some form of family violence.
Our International Collaboration on Faith & Violence was hosted by Acadia Divinity College in beautiful Wolfville, Nova Scotia. We spent time discussing our research interests and identifying gaps in our knowledge. Aune, Barnes and Powell gave presentations to the public. Nason-Clark presented to about 50 local religious leaders at a clergy breakfast. Graduate students and faculty from Acadia Divinity College shared their research with the group. Rev. Marsden delivered the sermon during a morning service in the Acadia University Chapel.
In getting to know one another, we identified opportunities for future collaboration. We made plans for co-authored articles. We agreed to seek out funding in our home countries to carry out studies that would complement each other’s ongoing work. There is much to do but it is good to know that there are good scholars and community partners willing to work together for change. I drove back to Fredericton excited about carrying out our plans.
Catherine Holtmann, 26 June 2019