SURVIVORS of abuse have informed a new guide to safeguarding liturgy, published by the Liturgical Commission today.
The document suggests Bible readings, prayers, hymns, and set liturgy for a “variety of pastoral circumstances” for survivors and safeguarding, including services of commissioning for safeguarding representatives.
Most of the texts are already in general use but have been supplemented by new material, including prayers suggested by survivors. (See below for extracts from the document.)
A survivor of clerical abuse said on Wednesday: “For excellent reasons, the overall emphasis here seems to be on lament rather than anger, a God of compassion rather than a God of justice. Obviously, this is a difficult balance to get right.
“On the one hand, there’s a problem with using the official prayers of the Church to respond to accusations that the institution and leadership of that Church has been complicit in not hearing [or] believing [or] responding to survivors with sufficient care; but, equally, I do think we’d be offering a hostage to fortune if we don’t.”
In a foreword to the guide, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, who chairs the Liturgical Commission, explains: “Many of these resources are already being used widely across our churches, but we thought it would be helpful to gather them into one place for ease of access.
“They range from a safeguarding prayer that could be posted on a church noticeboard, or be used to conclude a day of safeguarding training, to a litany of penitence for past failures. Collectively, they are neither the first word nor the last word on this subject, but they are offered in the hope that by God’s grace the Church may become a safer place where everyone is valued.”
The Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, who was member of the bishop’s delegation group which commended the resources, wrote in a blog post on Friday that the document was offered “with humility”.
“There are no quick-fixes for the Church in safeguarding: new policies, procedures, and resources will never take away the lifetime of pain that a survivor carries nor do they excuse or disguise the Church’s lack of action and inadequate response.
“But I know that for some prayer and worship can be part of their journey to healing. And for those of us striving to listen and respond better to the voices of those we have damaged acknowledging the failure of the Church, prayer is a necessary part of our repentance, reform, and renewal.”
A representative of a survivor charity said: “I have read through the liturgical-resources document several times and have not found anything that gives me cause for concern, or made me feel uncomfortable in any way.
“It is calm, reflective, and offers hope to all who will read it and share in its purpose, which I believe is to provide spiritual comfort, while offering practical guidance in dealing with the complex reality of the impact and harm caused by the abuse of power used against vulnerable people, be they children or adults.”
Bishop Atwell said: “The Church needs to be at the vanguard of fostering a change of culture across society. Safeguarding is at the forefront of public consciousness, and the Church needs to embody best practice in safeguarding in our network of parishes, schools, and chaplaincies as part of our commitment to excellence in pastoral care.”
A presentation on safeguarding, with questions, is due to be held on the first morning of the next General Synod sessions in York, next month. This is to be followed by a debate on a motion on safeguarding from the House of Bishops. Details have yet to be confirmed.
Read letters from General Synod members on the forthcoming debates on safeguarding
Extracts from Towards a Safer Church: Some Liturgical Resources:
One prayer for survivors reads:
hear our prayer for all in pain and vulnerability:
dispel their darkness and loneliness with your everlasting light,
so that they can recover their self-confidence
and through your grace and mercy find their true selves again,
healed and strengthened by your unconditional love
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
God our strength and our redeemer:
you do not leave us in this life
nor abandon us in death.
Hear our prayer for those in despair,
when days are full of darkness
and the future empty of hope.
Renew in them your sustaining strength
for we believe that there is nothing in all creation
that can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Other prayers include one dedicated to “one’s attacker (if the survivor is ready)”, and another, to “those falsely accused”. It reads:
Everlasting God, the source of all truth and justice,
who knows the secrets of our hearts:
hear our prayer for those falsely accused of abuse.
Relieve their misery,
send them trustworthy friends to comfort them,
and release them from the prison of despair;
for Jesus Christ’s sake.
The document also suggests responses to prayers of intercession, including:
Loving God, we lay before you the challenges that confront us at home, at work, in our communities and churches. May your Son, the Good Shepherd, guide and shape the life of your Church that all may find a welcome, secure in your presence. Jesus, Lord of the Church,
All in your mercy, hear us.
Renew your Church in the love of truth and in passion for justice. Take from us all hypocrisy and deceit, and teach us to serve with humility and honesty those whose lives are broken. Jesus, Lord of the Church,
All in your mercy, hear us.
Help us to cherish children and all in our community who are vulnerable, to protect them, and keep them safe. May this place rejoice to be a place where your love is celebrated with integrity. Jesus, Lord of the Church,
All in your mercy, hear us.
The following responses are included under “prayers of lament”:
Lord of our darkest place:
Let in your light.
Lord of our greatest fear:
Let in your peace.
Lord of our most bitter shame:
Let in your word of grace.
Lord of our deepest grudge:
Let in your forgiveness.
Lord of our bitter anger:
Let it out.
Lord of our truest selves, all that we are and all that we strive to be:
Let in your wholeness and salvation.
In the liturgy for the commissioning of safeguarding representatives, the candidate is asked: “Will you be watchful yet caring, trusting yet ready to question, and always available to those who may need support?”
The candidate and congregation are then invited to read an Act of Dedication:
All Gracious God,
pour upon all people in this place
your life-giving Spirit.
Guide us with your peaceable wisdom,
that our communities may be places of safety and joy
as we delight in your gift of life,
and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Other suggestions include adapting current liturgies from New Patterns for Worship, such as In Penitence and Faith: A Service in Lent; Facing Pain: A Service of Lament; and A Penitential Service; A Service of Healing.
Suggested psalms suited for pastoral situations with survivors include: Psalm 3, “Lord, how many are my adversaries?”; Psalm 13, “How long will you forget me, O Lord; for ever?”; Psalm 55, “Hear my prayer, O God”; Psalm 56, “Have mercy on me, O God, for they trample over me”; and Psalm 130, “Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord”.