There is abuse happening within church congregations and there are resources to help.
That was the main message behind a conference hosted by New Hope Family Ministries at Huron Park Baptist Church in Woodstock on the weekend.
“A lot of churches have turned a blind eye to the fact that there is abuse happening within church (congregations),” said Pastor Phil Cole, one of three pastors at Huron Park Baptist Church and a supporter of New Hope Family Ministries. “As a church, you have to learn how to reach out and help.”
Cole said the conference was organized to raise awareness that New Hope Family Ministries, which operates from 24 Light St. in Woodstock, has the resources to help churches reach out.
Established four years ago, New Hope Family Ministries is a faith-based non-profit charity offering practical workshops along with Biblical counsel on relational violence, including sexual, physical, spiritual, verbal and emotional abuse.
“We're unique, there's no other organization like it out there,” Cole said.
One of New Hope Family Ministries' key resources is its Hands of Hope manual, which provides practical ideas on ways churches can help members of the congregation who are suffering from abuse.
The organization also runs a variety of programs, counseling, workshops and practical assistance for individuals, including a divorce care support group and mending the soul and single and parenting sessions.
“Our challenge is getting the churches to recognize that there's a need and we have the resources to help with that need,” said Cole. “There's a lot of denial that this is happening in church (congregations).”
So far, New Hope Family Ministries has helped hundreds of people deal with one form of abuse or another, said Linda Jacklin, the organization's executive director.
Those seeking help don't have to be members of a church to access New Hope Family Ministries' programs and resources.
About 70 people, including several from other communities, turned out for the conference in Woodstock, which Jacklin said is more than was anticipated.
The conference featured presentations by guest speakers, including author Lina Aziz, Janice Dinsmore and Woodstock Police Service Sergeant Marvin Massecar.
His presentation was titled, “The Elephant in the Room – Relational Violence in the Church.”
Massecar shared his story of growing up in a home where there was domestic violence.
“We as Christians need to understand that domestic abuse exists in the church and it has to be confronted and dealt with,” he said. “For so many years a blind eye has been turned (to it). Everybody knows it's there, but nobody wants to talk about it.”
Massecar said that having lived through it, relational violence is something that has to be addressed.
“We have to do a better job of getting our young men to understand what a man is,” he said. “Hollywood shouldn't be setting the standard and being the role model.”
Massecar said he didn't grow up in what would be classified a Christian home, but he started attending church regularly when he was 15.
He said for him it was his father-in-law who set an example of what a man should be.
When he deals with abuse cases as a police officer, Massecar said his experiences give him a great degree of empathy for victims, coupled with a greater degree of frustration when some of them return to abusive relationships.
“With what's going on in the home, love really has nothing to do with it.”
When it comes to New Hope Family Ministries, Massecar said the organization is “a perfect avenue to meet the needs (of relational violence) from a faith-based perspective.”
New Hope Family Ministries can be contacted by telephone at: 519-533-0555 or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org