Sexual abuse: ‘Won’t somebody listen here?’

Service of lament confesses church’s failures, symbolizes hope for a more compassionate future

Jul 4, 2015 by and

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Laments and hopes by and for those who have endured sexual abuse were tied and untied in a July 3 evening worship service at the Mennonite Church USA convention.

Worshipers gather for a service of lament and hope for sexual abuse July 3 in Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Worshipers gather for a service of lament and hope for sexual abuse July 3 in Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Moving from sorrow and confessing to hope and joy, the service at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral across the street from the convention center found its genesis with a discernment group on sexual abuse and the church set up by the MC USA Executive Board in 2013.

The service was one of several ways the convention sought to address the reality of abuse, also including seminars, a confidential support group for abuse survivors, delegate events and a “wailing wall” for prayers in the exhibition hall.

Mary Lehman Yoder lights a candle at the beginning of a service of lament and hope for sexual abuse July 3 in Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Mary Lehman Yoder lights a candle at the beginning of a service of lament and hope for sexual abuse July 3 in Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

“Evening has now come,” prayed Mary Lehman Yoder at the service’s beginning. “As we gather here with our long-held sorrows, our righteous anger, our despair, stay with us in this time of worship. Listen to us, speak to us, through your Holy Spirit. Kindle your fire within our hearts. May the silence and the words of scripture, song and prayer keep us moving on the journey.”

She commented that rather than focusing on forgiveness, the service invited the roughly 300 participants to hold the tensions of the holy movement from lament to hope.

Though in many ways ornate, the soaring worship space’s rough-hewn walls were as raw and vulnerable as many people’s emotions. Exposed rafters were out in the open like the pain from transgressions too long held in the shadows.

People available to listen and sit with others in need quietly stood around the space, wearing stoles sewn and prayed over by members of New Creation Fellowship in Newton, Kan.

Chuck and Bonnie Neufeld lead music during a service of lament and hope for sexual abuse July 3 in Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Chuck and Bonnie Neufeld lead music during a service of lament and hope for sexual abuse July 3 in Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City. — Lowell Brown for MWR

Recently retired Illinois Mennonite Conference minister Chuck Neufeld and his wife, Bonnie, now attending New Creation Fellowship, led music with songs he wrote, as well as hymns.

“Won’t somebody listen here?” he sang. “Somebody ought to shed a tear. There’s a voice, and it’s weeping still, for what used to be.

“Won’t somebody look this way? Somebody better know what to say. There’s a voice, and it’s weeping still, for what used to be.”

Ribbons were handed out before the service to be tied and untied, a prayer form recalling the Holy Spirit working with people through the seemingly intractable knots of our lives.

“It may be what you hold in your hand this evening remains firmly tied, knotted, bound. So be it. It may be that this evening something is loosening, every so slightly. So be it,” said Yoder, inviting those who wished to come forward and let their strands flow out of a wide bowl. “It may be that this night something has opened up. Thanks be to God.

“It may be that your ribbon needs to be tied to someone else, bound to someone in sorrow and joy. Find that person and tie your strands together.”

The final song, a joyful expression for some, inspired some people to hold hands across the aisles while others clapped their hands in the air.

Still, the conclusion was painful and raw for others as people embraced, continuing the work of holding up each other’s burdens.

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