Healing Rite

Notes: This came out of a personal desire to return to the scenes of my abuse, and somehow reconcile what happened, my faith, and who I was and am. It was developed by me and a trusted minister and is expressed in words I feel comfortable with. Like most religious abuse victims, I have so many unpleasant associations with words and phrases that Christians take for granted and use without thinking. Even "God" is a difficult word. I'm far more comfortable with synonyms like Love, Truth, Justice, Compassion. I have difficulty opening a bible, so the couple of passages used were incorporated into the leaflet with the rest of the words. I light a candle rather than pray in words, plus there was huge symbolism in bringing light into the place where so much happened in darkness, so we used a candle. Nature matters a lot to me, since I grew up next to National Park, so I brought gumnuts with me. Including communion was important to me because since Vic continued to take communion throughout the abuse, I understood him to be saying it wasn't wrong in God's eyes. It may be that other victims need different words, different symbols, different ways of doing it, but I hope that this might help inspire ideas.

I'm not sure it would have helped as much as it did without the presence of church representatives. It was very important to me that the diocese was ready to participate, to speak the confession, to do more than just "allow it to happen and pretend not to notice". So my thanks to Peter Jensen (Archbishop of Sydney) for understanding that, to Philip Gerber (Professional Standards Office) for doing much of the negotiating of times and dates, and to Glenn Davies (Anglican Bishop of North Sydney) and Richard James (then-current minister at St David's Forestville) for their sympathetic participation. And special thanks to Rob Dummermuth (Uniting Church, Esperance/West Nullarbor) for all his compassionate support over decades. I don't trust ministers lightly, nor do I stop questioning and testing them, but Rob hasn't failed me yet.

The form and wording of this rite was developed in the period March-May 2003.  In April 2003 Dorothy McRae-McMahon's book Rituals for Life, Love and Loss, which includes a healing ritual for abuse victims, was published.  Rob and I did not have access to McRae-McMahon's ritual prior to completing the form of our own ritual, which makes the similarities between the two remarkable.  Any abuse victim (or church) considering such a ritual would be well-advised to bear in mind the significance of those similarities.

The Rite

Jesus went into the Temple and drove out all those who were selling and buying there, all those who had corrupted , abused and profiteered from the sacred rituals. "According to the Scripture", he said, "my house will be called a house of prayer, but you have corrupted it with all your abominations". (Matt. 21:12-13, Jer. 7:10-11)

Seeing a fig tree by the road, Jesus went up to it and found nothing on it but leaves. And he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again", and at that instant the fig tree withered. (Matt. 21:18-19)

You must not intercede for these people, nor raise either plea or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.
What is my beloved doing in my house?
She is playing the hypocrite!
Can vows and consecrated meat rid you of your guilt?
Am I to make you clean because of this?
A spreading olive tree, so fair, so sturdy, was Yahweh's name for you. With the roar of a great wind he sets its foliage on fire, its branches burn. (Jer. 11:14-17)

We read these passages to learn again that from the Prophets, from Jesus, and today, there is proclamation that certain acts have destructive effects on people and their relationship with God and with one another. These actions are even more destructive when they are performed or endorsed by "significant" people. Abuse and corruption have no place in God's way; even more so, institutionalised abuse and corruption, under the pretence of God's work, is an abomination in God's church.

Light candle
We light a candle as we begin to affirm that God's presence is everywhere, even here.

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
Every single creature is full of God, and is a book about God.
Every rock and tree of creation is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest bit of creation, I would need nothing else to see my God.

Description of abuse that took place there. Extinguish candle.
We extinguish the candle to symbolise the curse of Jesus on these acts because of their destructive nature.

Confession - read by bishop
God of love and truth, I stand here as a representative of ordained ministers, upholding the priestly function of restoring broken relationships and broken faith. In this place, Vic's actions contradicted the words he spoke. He broke the holy laws he preached from the pulpit. He followed his own desires, and served his own ends. Under the implied sanction of ordination he abused the truth, abused Clare's trust in us, and abused the presence of God in her.
I acknowledge that the wider church also contributed to Clare's hurt and loss of faith. Lack of acceptance of her truth and lack of right action shattered her and her family's belief in the integrity of your people. As a representative of the Diocese I confess that past ways of dealing with abuse by our clergy have caused further damage to victims. We maintained our righteous reputation at the expense of their healing.
Fire us with courage to change; bring into the Light the grievous wounds of oppression and injustice; inspire us to cherish brokenness; and bring healing in this place through just action.

In the suffering of those abused,
the arrogance of protecting perpetrators,
the indifference shown to victims,
the broken lives, broken community, broken images,
the depth of darkness which hides the presence of God,
God is also abused.

In the abuse of those who suffer,
the paradox of mixed messages and the confusion among God's people,
the betrayal of trust that corrupts the image of God,
the denial of human value to God's children,
the destruction of sacredness of place and ceremony,
God also suffers.

Light incense, place personal symbols and describe symbolism
Salt is used for healing, for preserving, for sterilising, for enhancing taste.
Water for washing, for cleansing, as symbol of life and spirit.
As we sprinkle salt water we draw on these symbols in the name of the God of Justice, Love and Truth.
Sprinkle (or pour, or splash, or whatever) salt water on abuse locations.

Relight candle
Your light in our lives, Eternal, Emmanuel,
becomes how we see the true reflection of ourselves -
children and images of God.

Life giving God,
for your good creation
for the beautiful working of our bodies
for your image deep within us
for your presence strong among us
we pray.

Jesus, Emmanuel,
for your sharing of our life
for your calling us your friends
for your cherishing us in our brokenness
for your invitation to follow you into the fullness and fragility of humanity
we seek you.

Spirit of grace and truth,
for the company of faithful people
for the work and witness that exposes oppression and abuse
for healing through the work of justice and mercy
for inspiration and courage to face challenge
we ask you.

As your daughters and sons, may we be brought nearer to the image and vision of your love.

Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us,
you sat down at table
with women who sold their bodies
men who sold their souls
and those whose lives were traded by strangers.
You ate with them,
and when you broke the bread, wine and laughter followed.

As we eat with you now
may your bread strengthen us
your wine warm us
and your love cheer us for the days to come.
Share bread and wine among those present.

As we go from this place we pray for Clare, and all victims of abuse; abuse of body, of power, of position, victims of the abuse of God. May they never again enter God's sacred places with fear of abuse, shame of discovery or fear of intimidation.
And as we go, may Emmanuel be our company,
Jesus walk beside us
and the Spirit surround us with love.


Clare Pascoe and Rob Dummermuth, May 2003. Bible passages taken from New Jerusalem Bible; some phrases inspired by Iona.

For more information, or discussion of ideas, please feel free to email me.

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