By Revd Chantal Noppen, Parish of North Wearside and Durham Diocese Women’s Advocate
On Sunday November 21st I attended a White Ribbon service held at Sunderland Minster, taking with me members of the Beacon Project SR5, our Families Chaplain and our two Ministry Experience Volunteers. We found the service a challenging and powerful opportunity to reflect on the severity of the issue of domestic violence, abuse and silence.
Those who spoke were passionate and clear in their rallying cry that this is not a ‘women's issue’ but a societal one, and that while things are better than they used to be, we still have so very far to go. It was especially sobering to see, not just hear, 108 names being read out and realise their ages ranged from as young as 2 years old to 88 years old.
Kim McGuinness, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, opened the event, imploring us all to push on for change. She reminded us that it was only in 1992 that domestic violence became classified as a crime, before that the abuse and degradation of women and girls had been condoned and almost obtusely protected by the law, a fact that seems beyond understanding when taken in the abstract. But we must acknowledge that the problem is far from dealt with and that our silence on the matter helps no one. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a better awareness and acknowledgement in the public arena of the danger that many women live in and with, every day, at home, by the hands of others.
We know too that the church is not blameless and it was an interesting dichotomy having this subject being presented in the context of a Choral Evensong, a service that has historically been dominated by men; but men’s voices are the ones we need to hear speaking up on this issue. This combination was particularly remarked on by our Families Chaplain who sang at Newcastle Cathedral for over a decade so was by far the most familiar with the style of service in our group!
The music picked for the occasion was well chosen, from the first hymn that included the intention and desire to affirm ‘all God’s people in dignity and worth’ and a beautiful song ‘God of Hope and Lord of Healing’ (Idle/Rizza) used as an anthem. Arresting, direct poetry by Andrea Scott sat alongside stunning stained glass by Rosemary Butler.
The Revd Jacqui Tyson preached passionately on the need for change, stepping in for Bishop Paul who was unable to attend due to illness. She pointed out that Jesus was clear in his respect for women and willingness to challenge the status quo, and also to respond to the voices and challenges presented by women. Yet our tradition and history too often ignore them - this must change.
White Ribbon are running a campaign called #AllMenCan that outlines the importance of men’s voices and contribution to this. While not all men are responsible for the problem, all men can, and should, help to improve the situation and end violence against women. There are some excellent resources available for download from their website.
To finish with the sentiment of the service, named and unnamed we remember them, but we hope and pray that more naming will lead to fewer names to read and we commit to try and protect those whose names are not yet being said. This is not for women to change, it is for all of us to address.
Let’s stop allowing, ignoring and condoning the belittling of women, disbelieving of their truth and struggles. Too often the blame is placed on women and their lives depend on us changing this.
White Ribbon Sunday falls just before Advent, as we prepare to wait and clear space for Jesus and the change that God may bring to our lives, we prepare with expectation, hope and joy but also pray for the courage and determination we need to do this.
Maybe next year your church might host a White Ribbon Service and help the message be heard louder in your community?