When a church has experience in handling a complicated issue like domestic abuse, other ministries can learn from the pioneering church’s experiences. Joan Stratton McConnell hopes church leaders will be encouraged and challenged when she shares from her experience at the 2018 General Assembly. 

McConnell will lead a seminar called “Domestic Abuse: (Re-) Defining our Response,” in which she will discuss what she has learned as the director of women’s ministry at Westminster Presbyterian church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and help attendees put policies in place to respond with compassion and clarity when domestic abuse situations arise. 

A trained counselor, McConnell knows abuse lurks in the church. She has worked with Westminster’s pastoral and ministry staff in abuse situations and helped the session understand and embrace a recognize-respond-rescue approach to abuse.  

In today’s cultural climate, the church with a proper understanding of domestic abuse has a huge opportunity to speak winsomely to the world. “The culture has presented us with a huge vacuum into which we should speak with biblical answers,” McConnell said. “In a real sense, the culture is currently an ally, and we must take the opportunity to be salt and light.”

The word “abuse” makes no appearances in the Bible, but the themes of abuse and caring for the vulnerable are everywhere. Scripture makes it clear that God hates injustice and expects his people to care for the oppressed. Christ himself is the believer’s model, and believers should long to see redemption in the lives of the oppressed and the oppressor.

McConnell will help attendees consider the who, why, how, and what-ifs of ministry in abuse situations and offer practical tips for how to get started. She will also highlight additional resources for leaders that want to learn more. 

She also hopes that the lessons of her seminar will inspire others to develop personal knowledge of and compassion for the issue of domestic abuse.

“I hope that our church’s experience and example will encourage other churches to initiate biblical responses, to do what it takes to grow into churches that have the reputation for being honest about the problems, and to become churches that offer effective (though perhaps imperfect) answers to hard questions and situations,” she said.

Churches have so much to lose by failing to take seriously the trauma of domestic abuse. But this avenue of ministry is hard and messy, and the stakes can feel incredibly high. After all, physical safety, wellbeing and reputations are on the line. Still, if ministry leaders are willing to enter the fray, they can have a powerful impact before a watching world.

The seminar will take place on Wednesday, June 13, at 10:30 a.m.