I spent the first two Saturdays in January attending a training on supporting people who had suffered trauma. I have volunteered, along with several other folks from First Parish, to be part of “Can We Talk?”, a monthly support group for people who have suffered trauma in their lives and a need a place to share their stories. It is a new ministry being launched by Reverends Janine and Rodney Dailey, the new pastors at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lowell. “Can We Talk” is a program that was started by Rev. Liz Walker (of WBZ fame) and the members of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church where she serves. She and other members of her congregation led the training.
The goal of the program is simple: to create a safe and sacred place for people who have suffered from trauma to share their stories and be heard. As part of the training, people shared their own stories of trauma. Stories of family members lost to gun violence. Stories of childhood sexual abuse and not being believed. Stories of struggles with addiction, gang violence, homelessness. Stories of how social agencies re-traumatized the people they were supposed to help. But here was the interesting thing. Although the training sessions were intense and heartbreaking in their content, I left feeling more hopeful about our country and our world than I have in a long time. I have been reflecting on why that was.
Rev. Walker talked about the power of abiding with one another. She said that was the whole point of the ministry. While simply listening to people with respect and care doesn’t seem like it changes anything, it actually does. Being seen, being heard, being held can heal the isolation, loneliness, and disconnection that trauma causes. It is a first step. And all it takes is an intention to listen.
Surrounded as we are by the deep divisions and nasty discourse around us, much of it hateful and hate-filled, I can fall into feelings of helplessness and even despair. I can’t change things on a national level, let alone a global one. But at Bethel AME, I have been invited to do what I love to do anyway—listen to people’s stories—and it will help. It will help me and I hope that it will help the people who come as well. This is the work of Beloved Community: abiding with one another. “The person in love with their vision of community will destroy that community. But the person who loves the people they are with will create community wherever they go” to adapt the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What a wonderful mission statement: to abide with one another, wherever we may be.” I believe this is something we already do at First Parish and do well. And that we can take a faithful risk to do so more intentionally within and beyond our sanctuary.
-- Rev. Ellen