17 June 2024

Cultural diversity, whole-of-parish focus as Diocese steps up anti-violence plans

Preventing family violence needs a multi-faceted approach. Picture: iStock.

Jenan Taylor

19 March 2023

Culturally diverse congregations are among 10 new churches that have been invited to participate in anti-violence programs as the Melbourne diocese expands the initiative.

Prevention of Violence Against Women program manager Kerryn Lewis said the second phase of the project would build on the lessons of the 18-month pilot program and planned to take a deeper dive into addressing the problem.

Ms Lewis said practice communities for culturally and linguistically diverse congregations, and for the whole-of-church approach would form a large part of phase two.

She said the program had acquired a culturally and linguistically diverse project officer to help the program address the needs of associated groups in a culturally respectful manner.

Ms Lewis said the officer was conducting work with Chinese congregants and other diverse parishes, and would be bringing leaders of those communities together for regular meetings about the project.

The whole-of-parish approach would be multi-faceted in order to execute the program at the parish level, she said.

Read more: Anti-violence activists aim for cultural change

“It’s not about a one-off sermon or attending one-off training, it’s looking at what the children and youth are being taught, looking at Bible study groups, the money roster, the images around the building, looking at all the areas of the church that can play a role in the prevention of violence,” Ms Lewis said.

St Margaret’s Eltham is among the churches that have signed up for phase two.  

Training organiser Mandy Stevens said St Margaret’s had always had a strong women and children’s focus but wanted to increase parishioners’ knowledge about how to respond to domestic violence disclosures in a more thoughtful manner, and to grow the base of people who understood the issues.

She said the church hoped to coordinate upskilling of those parishioners it felt needed deeper understanding, put in place a family safety champion, and to borrow some of the simple actions taken by the five churches that had been involved in the pilot stage of the project.

“We’d heard about a member of the public who was facing family violence and who’d noticed the anti-violence posters in the hall of one of those participating churches when she was there for a social function. That signalled to her that that church was a safe place to be and [she] turned to it for help,” Ms Stevens said.

“So that is one action we will do because we feel our halls are used a lot by the community.”

Read more: ‘Hidden and invisible’ family violence victims remembered at Walk

St Mark’s Forest Hill, which was among the churches involved in the pilot project, said it planned to embed its awareness and bystander training more into its congregation.

Program organiser Frances Pratt said the parish had acquired more understanding about how it should go about addressing violence against women, since participating.

She said the program was not a shock to any one and that now everyone was aware that it was there in the church.

Ms Pratt said knowing the congregation very well and listening to what they have to say, then working out the small actions that could be taken to improve the larger situation, had made a difference to the culture of the church.

She said one of the small but significant things St Mark’s had done was change the morning tea roster.

Read more: Chance for churches to improve violence response, prevention

Ms Pratt said that had come about because her then six-year-old son had decided that because he only ever saw women in the church kitchen, it automatically meant it was a space where he didn’t belong.

“I used that example to raise awareness about this, because those sorts of social signals that can imprint themselves can be insidious. What is my five-year-old going to think and say when he’s 15, 20, or 30 years old?  It sounds ridiculous, but if we can put effort into addressing all those small things, then that’s when we have real impact and change.”

Ms Pratt said St Mark’s was now also considering sharing the lessons it had learned with the broader community.

Ms Lewis said even though 10 churches had been invited to join the second phase, there was still scope for churches who were interested in the process and wanted to do deeper work around anti-violence to get involved.

To find out more, or express interest in running training tailored to your parish, contact Kerryn Lewis at klewis@melbourneanglican.org.au.

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