7 December 2022

Anti-violence activists aim for cultural change

Naomi Johnson and the Reverend Tracy Lauersen spoke at St Peter’s Eastern Hill’s Holding the Light service in 2021. Picture: supplied.

Jenan Taylor

17 November 2022

Several Melbourne churches hope to spark cultural change and challenge perceptions of gender-based violence during this year’s United Nations elimination of violence against women campaign, and beyond.

The effort encompasses 16 days of activism from 25 November to 10 December International Human Rights Day.

Organisers at St Peter’s Eastern Hill said this year their annual service to commemorate those who have died because of family and domestic violence aimed to raise awareness of people who are usually left out of public discussions about the issue.

The Reverend Faith Johnson said the church’s Holding the Light service would also consider men, not as perpetrators but as victim-survivors of violence.

Ms Johnson said their experiences were seldom a part of the global conversation, so they were often overlooked.

“It’s a bigger problem than most of us realise, so we wanted to pick that up,” she said.

Ms Johnson said St Peter’s service usually included presentations from people with lived experience and experts, and last year Melbourne diocese’s family violence working group convenor the Reverend Tracy Lauersen had been among the speakers.

Read more: Seven in 10 Australian clergy have supported people through family violence

She said this time the service would feature a teenager whose lived experiences, alongside that of his mother’s, was helping to illuminate the scale of the issue, and its oversight.

Another speaker would be Matt Taylor from the Jesuit Social Services Men’s Project.

Ms Johnson also said a bell would be tolled for all the women who were victims of family violence to date in 2022, and people would be encouraged to light a candle for them and place it on a path leading to the altar.

St James’ and St Peter’s Kilsyth-Montrose is reaching out to the local population by taking its memorial service to them.

Vicar the Reverend Janice O’Gorman said the church would have the service in the Garden of Contemplation, a Kilsyth reserve that was dedicated to victims of gender-based violence.

“We’ve run a Holding the Light service every year, but after the pandemic, we feel people need a place where they can connect,” Ms O’Gorman said.

“We feel that the Contemplation Garden is a sacred space for the entire community so we decided to invite them to go there rather than being in church where some of them may not feel so comfortable.”

Read more: Leaders enrol to understand family violence in a Christian context 

Ms O’Gorman said the church was also seeking to build a relationship and work with a local neighbourhood organisation that already had programs aimed at changing attitudes to domestic violence.

She also said before the pandemic the church had occasionally run public seminars where issues important to the community were debated.

Ms O’ Gorman hoped to initiate a seminar in the near future that focused on raising awareness of family violence as a further step.

St Mark’s Forest Hill is among churches in the Diocese of Melbourne that have been involved with a project that takes a whole of church approach to preventing rather than just responding to violence against women.

Organiser Ms Frances Pratt said as part of the project she had shared statistics about family violence with the congregation, and encouraged them to highlight that when they engaged with their friends and various networks in person as well as on social media about the matter.

Ms Pratt said that churches played an important function in helping to repair the community and that the project was a great opportunity for churches to learn how to do that.  

St Mark’s is also one of several Melbourne churches that are drawing further public attention to the issue through billboards at the front of their properties during the UN campaign.

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