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As a pastor, would you be prepared if…

Summer is a busy time at Mayfield Central Presbyterian Church. We always have a summer intern from Princeton Theological Seminary and a large part of that student’s internship involves leading Vacation Bible School. It was the first day of VBS and it was a sunny, hot day. The church was buzzing- with staff persons, parents, grandparents, and children of all ages- registering children and getting everything set.

Suddenly a woman appeared, sweating, out of breath, and extremely upset, looking to talk to the pastor. She was hysterical. I took her into my office, closed the door, and her story began to pour out in the midst of her hysteria. She has been living in an abusive relationship for the past fifteen years and surviving day by day.

She said that today, at breakfast, her husband told her that he was going to kill her. He kept guns in the house and she knew this was a very real possibility. It was not the first time that he had threatened this. But somehow, she knew that, today, he really meant it and that she needed help.

She said that she had heard about the pastor that “works with domestic violence” and she decided to come to the church to find her. Because of an underlying medical condition requiring her to take medication, she does not drive. And so she left her home, when her husband left for work, and began the six mile walk to find the church where she believed she would find help.

As she was walking along the way on a busy highway, her husband found her, pulled up in his work truck and tried to get her into the truck. He had a gun with him and threatened her again. She ran into the bushes to hide. When she felt it was safe she returned to walking, only to be stopped by her husband again. She managed to get away a second time.

She flagged down a woman who brought her the remaining half mile to the church.

After four bottles of water and the snack of the day for VBS, she had finally calmed down enough to listen. After agreeing that she could trust me, we called the local domestic violence agency and together we talked about her options.

Her husband knew where the agency was and she was terrified to go there. An advocate came to the church. We arranged for her to go to the local shelter and to, hopefully, be transferred to another shelter in another county when a bed opened up. She agreed to press charges and soon we had the local sheriff’s department and the state police in my office, because her husband was armed.

She was finally taken to the shelter about the time that Vacation Bible School was ending. The children noticed the police cars, the staff knew that something was happening. What is the point of this story? We all have people in our congregations and in our community who live in, experience, or witness domestic violence. At any time they may come to your church looking for help. Are you prepared to help them? Would you know what to do?

Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence (PADVN), a network of the Presbyterian Health, Education & Welfare Association (PHEWA), offers resources for pastors, congregations, and worshiping communities to equip you to effectively handle situations like these.

The Rev. Bonnie Orth, serves as Pastor of the Mayfield Central Presbyterian Church in Mayfield, NY and as Pastoral Care Coordinator of Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home in Gloversville, New York. She is a founding member of Presbyterians Against Domestic Violence Network and serves as PADVN Representative to the PHEWA Board of Directors.  Bonnie also serves on the Board of Directors of CEDEPCA (Centro Evangelico de Estudios Pastorales en Centro America), an international nonprofit organization located in Guatemala City, Guatemala, that offers educational programs that allow people to improve their lives and change their communities. The Rev. Orth has training in clergy misconduct, ethics, elder abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault and violence. Her annual domestic violence prevention and awareness trainings in the local junior high schools, high schools, hospitals, police force, and ambulance services established Bonnie’s reputation in the area for her expertise and enabled this woman to seek her out for knowledgeable assistance in a life and death situation.

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