By Chris Shearer
29 November 2021
LONG-TERM Kerryn Lewis dreams of a “family safety champion” in every Anglican church in Melbourne and Geelong.
The diocese’s new Prevention of Violence Against Women program manager can see both challenges and opportunities ahead for the still-new initiative.
She’s looking forward to taking on both.
Ms Lewis comes to the program after 15 years working in the prevention of violence against women space via the community and public health industries. After starting in November, she is now gearing up to lead the program into 2022 and beyond.
In the recent past Ms Lewis was one of the co-leads at St Mark’s Forest Hill’s whole-of-church approach to preventing violence against women. This was one of the five whole-of-church pilot programs operated by the PVAW and funded by the state government.
Ms Lewis has also volunteered in other areas of the PVAW with former program manager Robyn Andreo-Boosey.
Ms Lewis said she was drawn to the position because she was interested in the program’s intersection with faith.
“I see so much potential for the church to make change in this area,” she said.
“Preventing violence against women in a faith-based community brings a bit more depth and another layer that is unique in this setting compared to some other environments.
“You really get to the heart of what people believe and when people understand the importance of the issue and what they can do about it, they not only practice that in their church environment but in all aspects of their life because they embody it. It’s part of who they are.”
Ms Lewis added that the program also allowed space not only for preventing but responding to violence against women, and that the church environment could offer healing to those who had experienced violence.
“When you can do all those three things in one there’s some great opportunities there,” she said.
Ms Lewis said great work had been done by organisations and government in the prevention of violence field in areas like sporting codes, the arts, and business, but faith-based communities hadn’t received as much attention.
“The diocese doing this work is really amazing and really providing leadership more broadly in this area,” she said.
“We can sort of innovate and learn and explore, so that really excites me as well.”
Ms Lewis said the work started by Ms Andreo-Boosey left her with big shoes to fill, but she planned to expand from where Ms Andreo-Boosey left off.
She said she brought sector knowledge and experience, so hoped to share and connect the work that the diocese was doing with other people in the field.
Ms Lewis also hoped to get more churches engaging with the PVAW program in the coming months, whether they were ones already working with the program or ones that have yet to sign up.
She said she looked forward to working with a wider range of churches because they were great environments for fostering respectful relationships.
“I love the intergenerational nature of churches. When you’re working on this issue you’re working with men and women and children and elderly people and everyone in-between,” Ms Lewis said.
“That cross section is a real strength of the church that you don’t get in all settings.”
But Ms Lewis said there were some challenges the program needed to face in the months and years ahead.
Among these is the need to adapt the approach to culturally and linguistically diverse communities. This year’s program evaluation by the University of Melbourne found that while these communities didn’t show any evidence of having higher rates of violence against women, they weren’t being reached as effectively by the program as primarily English-speaking communities.
One of Ms Lewis’ first tasks will be looking for someone to fill a project officer role to meet this need, which now has funding for the next three years.
Long-term, Ms Lewis hopes to have a “family safety champion” in every church in the diocese, who would be trained in preventing and responding to family violence and be able to offer some support or direct people to the appropriate services or resources.
But in the meantime, Ms Lewis is eager to hear from churches around the diocese.
“I’m keen for people to approach me if they want to discuss the issue further, or if they have ideas that they want support for in their church, or they want to find out more about the diocese’s range of tools and resources,” she said.