By Rev. Joan Kessler
Psalm 139: 1-18
On Tuesday, one of you came to me to tell me of a story found in the pages of the current issue of Broadview. It details a painful time in the history of Winfield United and one woman’s traumatic story of abuse at the hands of her minister. I want to affirm my support of Deana and the courage she found to tell her story publicly and we extend our whole-hearted compassion to her and her family as she continues down the road to healing and restoration. There is support for all who wish to tell their story. Truth is life.
The Broadview story which details the events that took place here in 1985 is a difficult one for those of you who were here at that time and remember the confusion over your minister’s disappearance and the lack of closure you were provided. Now there are some answers. Perhaps there is now an opportunity to make some semblance of sense to what happened during the time Bruce Griffin served here. As I shared in my letter of Friday, the Church is here to support us. I want to share with you all a letter our Executive Minister, Treena Duncan (read Treena’s letter):
“May 13, 2022
Winfield United Church
3751 Woodsdale Rd
Lake Country, BC V4V 1X2
As I write this letter to you, as the community of Winfield United Church, I am reflecting on Paul’s words in the book of Romans: Nothing can separate us from the love of God. When something like the Broadview Magazine June 2022 article, Betrayed, is published and circulated without informing some of those named in the piece – your community of faith - it can be easy to doubt how we are connected, and where trust can be found as a church.
These are challenging times to be people of faith and in ministry. Our world has experienced wildfires, the discovery of children’s graves, earthquakes, hurricane, floods, pandemic, war, and economic downturn. Yet, as an Easter people we are called to remember that even in the midst of the darkest times, we are not alone, God is with us. It’s with this deeply held belief, embedded in our United Church of Canada Creed, and Paul’s words of assurance, we can know and trust God’s love for us abounds - even when we fail to be the church we are called to be. Betrayed highlights one time when the church was an instrument of harm, and it is very hard when find out or know that it happened in an earlier generation of your community of faith. Some of you may have been members of Winfield United in the 80s, may have been friends with or known Deana Hills, and may have known Bruce Griffiths as your minister. Some of you will have joined more recently, and this may be the first you’re hearing of this part of your community’s history. I know that all of you are impacted by Ms. Hills’ story being published.
I feel compassionate concern for your community of faith and am very sorry that we were not made aware of the planned publication. Advance notice could have allowed us to anticipate the story’s potential impact on you and your ministry and be ready to respond to your community’s needs.
The United Church of Canada has a sexual abuse prevention policy that states: The United Church of Canada will not tolerate, and will seek to eradicate, any behaviour by its members, lay and order of ministry, adherents, or employees that constitutes sexual misconduct, sexual abuse or child abuse. The United Church of Canada is committed to providing a safe environment for worship, work and study in all pastoral charges, congregations, institutions, agencies, organizations, or other bodies that operate under its name. Complaints of sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, or child abuse will be taken seriously and will be dealt with in a spirit of compassion and justice.
An overview of our policy can be found here:
This policy was in its infancy in the 1980s but had in place mechanisms to act and discipline abusive clergy in our church. Mr. Griffith was removed from ministry and his ordination as a United Church minister was revoked. Since that time our policy has grown to intentionally offer more support to all who are involved in the complaint that is being responded to, including the community of faith. Communication in these matters is sensitive, and every effort is made to share the steps and process of a complaint, so that people know that all aspects of the complaint are being addressed.
Since its initial development, many learnings have happened and improvements have been made in our Sexual Abuse Prevention Policy, but we recognize that we need to continue to grow and evolve and adjust our processes accordingly. #MeToo and #ThursdaysInBlack have taught us sexual abuse is an ongoing reality for too many and needs to be addressed with intentionality.
I felt sadness reading Ms. Hills’ words. I am deeply sorry that she was not supported at the time, and that Ms. Hills has had to endure the impacts of such abuse, alone for so many years. It took courage for Ms. Hills to speak openly. Many victims are silenced, and Ms. Hills’ story is a reminder to us of the relief and healing that can come when victims are listened to and cared for. I’m grateful she was finally able to speak her truth and receive compassionate care from the church. And if this situation has impacted you personally, please be in contact with a consultant for support: https://united-church.ca/sites/default/files/2021-01/consultants_workplace-discrimination-sexual-misconduct-policies.pdf
Please know that the Region is here to walk with you through this journey of listening and healing. In the coming days and weeks, we will be in conversation with the leadership at Winfield United Church to determine how best to support you.
May you know deep within your heart that “We are not alone”. Thanks be to God.
Pacific Mountain Region
Cc – Kathy Davies”
Where do we go from here? As your minister I encourage us to invite the Region to lead a listening circle with us. Telling our story helps us to make sense of what has happened in a healthy and supported way. There is no statute of limitations; there is no once and for all window of opportunity to share your story. If you have painful memories, you will not be compelled to share them at the listening circle unless you want to. A listening circle will be an opportunity for us to process this part of Winfield United’s history and lay it to rest… like holding a funeral service, it will provide to us as a whole community the opportunity to find closure. It won’t erase the past, but it will help us make sense of it in healthy ways. I am asking for some indication from you all as to what needs we have and how they can best be addressed. I would ask you to let me or Sandy Bogardis know your interest in having a listening circle or any other ideas you have that would be helpful to us in this time.
I chose Psalm 139 as our reading this morning… it is my go-to when I am in need of comfort and peace within myself. I believe this psalm resonates with each one of us regardless of our theology and belief. It reminds me of all the ways my life is intertwined with the Divine Goodness; a God who never tires of my complaints, my laments; a God who celebrates my successes and best made and carried out plans. There is nowhere I can go that this Spirit is not already there – when I rise up and when I lie down. I am known and loved just as I am and there, I find great comfort. I am never alone. We are never alone. God is with us in this place.
I know this is not a typical reflection, but it is far from a typical Sunday morning. I want us to hold space for those who were part of that time and suffered and were confused by what happened and assure that support is available. This is the work that is to be done and I hope we do it in the spirit of Psalm 139 knowing we are cared for, and our concerns will be heard. Copies of Treena’s letter will be left at the back of the church with details on how you can access a consultant to our sexual abuse policy should you need to do so. I am open and available to support and to listen whenever you need to talk.
These coming weeks, as we heal from this, I encourage us to be gentle with ourselves and with one another. What does a good ending to this story look like? What can we do to help us move forward? We will do this together, with discretion and with compassion and loving kindness. I leave you with the words of Julian of Norwich:
“All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”
Peace be with you all. Amen.