Lesson #8: Religious leaders and church domestic abuse champions

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Training one religious leader and one church member in each church on responding well to domestic abuse is one of our key recommendations from our research with churchgoers in north-west England (www.restoredrelationships.org/cumbriaresearch). We recommend that the lay person is identified publicly as the church’s domestic abuse ‘champion’, enabling people to seek them out if they want to disclose experiencing abuse, and making sure that the task of supporting a victim or survivor is not just the responsibility of religious leaders. In the area studied, Cumbria, there was an excellent Domestic Violence Awareness programme of training days run jointly by ecumenical body Churches Together in Cumbria (representing the majority of local churches) and a domestic abuse support service. Some of those trained were later identified as domestic abuse ‘champions’. The training proved effective: those attending churches where someone had attended been trained to respond appropriately to domestic abuse were more likely to be aware that of people in their church who had experienced domestic abuse, and more likely to be aware of support services they could refer victims to. Church members, when asked how the church could improve its domestic abuse work, often said that someone from the church should be trained. As an Anglican woman commented: “I really don’t feel ministers have any more time to dedicate to this which is why a bank of central church leaders (lay) like myself could train and then offer prayer and guidance in a totally non-judgmental way”.

Principles to help build bridges

  • Recognise that church members may already have skills that would make them excellent ‘domestic abuse champions’ (for example, listening skills or social work training)
  • Good training on domestic abuse already exists, run by religious and non-religious organisations. Ensure you are aware of what this training is.

Strategies to help build bridges

  • Identify one or two church members with expertise and/or interest in domestic abuse and ask them to prayerfully consider becoming the church domestic abuse champion
  • Find out what courses on responding to domestic abuse exist in your area or run by your denomination, and arrange for you and a couple of other church members (your possible ‘champions’) to attend one
  • Task your church domestic abuse champion with reaching out to the local domestic violence support service to offer the church’s support (for example, donating children’s toys or sanitary products, or volunteer time)

Questions to ask yourself:

(if you work in a community-based agency)

  • Can you offer to run a training course in partnership with some local churches or an ecumenical or interfaith organisation?
  • How can I develop a strong relationship with a local church to enable co-delivery of support for survivors? For example, could I advertise for volunteers from the church to support my agency’s work?

Questions to ask yourself:

(if you are a religious leader)

  • When you have appointed a domestic abuse champion, how can you make sure everyone in the church is aware of who they are and what their role is? Could you arrange a ‘swearing in’ ceremony for their role, for instance?
  • Can you provide resources to enable your domestic abuse champions to perform their role well (e.g. funding for a training course or travel expenses)?
  • How might non-religious domestic abuse organisations best be persuaded that the church can become a place of safety?

Kristin Aune, Coventry University