Reverend’s pledge to victims of domestic violence

Campbelltown Anglican churches Senior Minister, Reverend Nigel Fortescue.

Campbelltown Anglican churches Senior Minister, Reverend Nigel Fortescue.

The prevalence of domestic violence in Campbelltown has been evident in the eight years since Campbelltown Anglican churches Senior Minister Reverend Nigel Fortescue moved to the area.

For the last few years Rev Fortescue has been supporting an Anglican Church group working on ways to tackle and deal with domestic violence.

He said in previous years there were instances where the church prioritised the “good of marriage” over the “evil of violence”.

“The issue is sometimes we (the church) have had of eyes so fixed on avoiding divorce and marriage breakdown that we have not had our eyes clearly fixed on victims of domestic violence,” he said.

“From time to time churches have been slow to respond – or in some cases ever respond.

“I came here eight years ago from the north shore – where domestic violence was hidden behind high walls, thick make up and societal politeness.

“Here, marriage breakdown is much more on display.”

Rev Fortescue said the prevelance of domestic violence in Campbelltown was the reason he jumped at the chance to support a motion from a colleague at the Standing Committee of the Synod Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney recently.

The motion apologised to victims of domestic violence who had not received the appropriate support from the church in the past.

“At least once a month I hear couples fighting in the park just outside my office window,” he said at the meeting.

“And if they are not finished fighting in the park they walk up the street past the church yelling and crying and screaming.

“Sometimes alcohol is a factor but often its just broken people in broken relationships trying to make sense of this broken world.

“That’s the reality I regularly have before me and – sadly – I admit that sometimes I have been too busy or too preoccupied or too slow to go out into that park or to walk down to that road and speak words of hope into the hopelessness that is not hidden in Campbelltown.

“But of course it’s not just in the park in Campbelltown. It’s in homes.

“Domestic abuse is in the homes of our church members. Members of our church are caring for people right now because their Christian spouses are aggressive and violent towards them and their family.

“It’s a fact, it's unacceptable, it's ungodly and I need to do better at helping people.”

Rev Fortescue said the church’s doors were always open to victims of domestic violence and the church worked with other agencies to provide support, counselling and housing for those victims.

Revered Nigel Fortescue’s full address to the Synod of the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney.

Friends, moving to Campbelltown was an eye-opening experience for my family and me. For the things that were hidden on the north side behind closed doors, high walls, thick make up, and societal politeness are on display in our streets.

At least once a month I hear couples fighting in the park just outside my office window. And If they are not finished fighting in the park they walk up the street past the church yelling and crying and screaming. Sometimes alcohol is a factor but often its just broken people in broken relationships trying to make sense of this broken world.

The sight of a woman following a man down the road who looks as though he couldn’t care less breaks my heart. Both of those people there, out the front of my church are someone’s children and I can guarantee neither they nor their parents ever thought they would end up like that.

That’s the reality I regularly have before me - and sadly - I admit, that sometimes I have been too busy or too preoccupied or too slow to go out into that park or to walk down to that road and speak words of hope into the hopelessness that is not hidden in Campbelltown.

It is for this reason and more that I am so thankful to second this motion - not just because I feel personally that i need to make it, but because we Christians are the people who know from the Scriptures what family and community should look like and we have not always pursued what is best for others, protected the vulnerable and helped the oppressed.

But of course it’s not just in the park in Campbelltown. It’s in homes. Domestic abuse is in the homes of our church members. Members of our church are caring for people right now because their Christian spouses are aggressive and violent towards them and their family. It’s a fact, it's unacceptable, it's ungodly and I need to do better at helping people. I am still learning how and I encourage you to encourage all your staff and growth group leaders to learn with me.

By God’s grace, some people who i have ministered to still trust and cling to Jesus more than ever. One person said to me that they know Jesus walks with them everyday for there is no way that, reflecting on what she has been through, any human could have done that alone.

I’m thankful that my faltering, blundering prayerful care has resulted in good for them and my prayer is that they and their spouse may in time come to some reconciliation. But for now, I give thanks that they are thankful for Jesus and for life itself.

As I reflect on her situation and others, one of the many things I have learned is the need for constant and caring but not overbearing follow up. In the busy-ness of parish life we clergy can forget to freshly enquire about how things are going for someone, we can forget to ask what we can do to help and we can forget to pray for and with the people involved.

I have forgotten to do these things and I am deeply sorry to those who I have failed. In domestic abuse scenarios the whole situation can change in a moment and having an effective system for care and follow up of survivors and perpetrators that involves more than just you is critical.

And as I pray for those who find themselves in abusive situations, I look to Jesus who managed to both condemn sin and eat with sinners. That is the ideal I aspire to; and aspire we must to patiently, carefully, lovingly correct and rebuke those around us who engage in domestic abuse.

One friend wrote to me last year saying, marriage is “one of the first things and most hurtful things gossiped about in churches. At the moment the last place I would go for marriage help is the church”.

I’d love to hear church members all over our diocese saying the exact opposite. And if that is to happen, we need to be the ones to drive that cultural change in our churches.

I hope this motion might go some way towards all of us lifting our eyes, increasing our care, taking responsibility for failure and signaling that we will pursue what is best for the people in our midst in the future for the Glory of God.

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