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Ordinary Time 2017

06 June 2011
violence - workplace

A year ago I was attacked in the place where I worked.

While rehearsing the choir in the church on Sunday morning in preparation for the service I was suddenly and violently grabbed, held and verbally threatened by a choir member.

The circumstances of the violent incident meant that it was deeply upsetting not only to me, but to the choir and members of the congregation.

And while violence can occur in church just like anywhere else (and, yes, there are those pioneering pastors packing pistols) most people assume that it will be random. A drifter, a bum, a drunk. Someone wanders in and does something stupid.

But what if it's someone you know? What if it's someone you love?

What if it's someone who you've known worked with for several years? You've sung, prayed and shared many meals together. Week in and week out: rehearsal, Evensong, breaking bread, Eucharist, passing the peace.

“this cannot be happening”

By now you've probably figured out that this is not a pleasant topic and you're tempted to stop reading. This will never happen to me, you think. Or, this will never happen in my church . . . in my denomination . . . to anyone I know.

Let me tell you that I thought exactly the same thing as I was being held against the choir stall in front of about 100 or so people: "this cannot be happening".

But it was.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Should you call the police? If the handbook you give to your church staff and lay leadership addresses violence it probably requires this anyway. In the situation I experienced no one called the police that morning (myself included). It's hard for a community to call the cops on someone they love, but by not reporting an illegal action you implicitly condone it. Tough love, I think they call it.
  2. Should you pray? Despite everyone being shaken, I think continuing with the service that morning was a very good thing. I was not physically injured and was eager to continue with the job I was there to do. I really love this church music work -- what Erik Routley called our "duty and delight". In my haste to get on the organ bench and begin the prelude, however, perhaps I passed over other opportunities for prayer, not just for myself, but for the congregation. I think it was difficult for the congregation to pray that morning. I heard audible gasps from the church as I was being held. I'm told that some left the church for a time to talk but came back for most of the service. Perhaps I should have allowed time for the community to respond to what had just happened.
  3. You should sing because singing is a kind of prayer. It can be hard to sing through tears, but I've always believed that a community is meant to sustain those who loose their voice for a few beats, whether they cough, sneeze or sob. And pray for the offender.

    That day was the Second Sunday after Pentecost and the Epistle reading, Galatians 1:11-24, include's Paul's admission that "[he] was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it." Immediately after this lesson we sang Hymn 255, "We sing the glorious conquest", which include's John Ellerton's verses

    Your grace, by ways mysterious, our sinful wrath can bind,
    and in those least expected true servants you can find

    I have to believe it no accident that the hymn that I had chosen weeks earlier led for me to pray for my attacker, a child of God, in very short order. Again, in the words of Ellerton:

    . . . that we, in every hour,
    in all that may confront us, will trust your hidden power.
  4. Should you help each other? Yes. You need to talk about what happened. The service ended, and I needed many friends in the coming days and weeks. The community, especially one that witnessed the event so closely, needed conversation, prayer and fellowship.
  5. Pray for peace. The community also heard in no uncertain terms that violence is not God's way and is not appropriate in the Christian community that we strive to be.
    O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

This is difficult to write about. There is still a lot of pain surrounding this for me, even a year later. Because of this I worry that what I write may be muddled or misguided. If so, I ask your forgiveness.

I didn't choose to be a victim of workplace violence on that Sunday morning, but I do hope I can offer some insight or be helpful in some way on this topic.

I continue to pray for healing for all involved.

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