Domestic Violence Awareness Month Encourages Churches to Tackle Issue

October is the 22nd Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and candlelight vigils are being held throughout the month to remember victims of domestic abuse.

For the last two decades, October has marked a time when people in the nation come together in the fight to end a tragedy that spans every culture, race and ethnicity and is happening daily whether in the form of sexual, emotional or physical abuse.

And one of the greatest tools in combating violence is education, says Fred Zuker, chancellor and former president of Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn.

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"[W]e need to teach respect and ways to prevent violence," he told attendees of the 13th annual candlelight ceremony for victims and survivors of domestic violence sponsored by the Wo/Men's Resource & Rape Assistance Program on Wednesday.

Sharon Karamoko, pastor of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, meanwhile, told the group that violence was not acceptable in any religion.

The important thing for women to remember is that they are a gift from God, she said, according to the Jackson Sun, which reported on the event.

"We are here to celebrate, honor and remember life," Karamoko added. "By partnering together, the community can do a better job of reaching out."

Many churches across the nation have been making more efforts to identify and reach out to victims of domestic violence who may not think to go to a local church for help.

The Prayer House of Deliverance Church in Muncie, Ind., for example, has opened a 24-hour crisis hotline, provided area youth and community organizations with violence prevention presentations and has recently received funding from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration for more services.

"To me, this is a ministry because we're reaching out to help someone who needs help," Pastor John L. Smith told The Star Press. "That's what the church is all about ... helping people who need spiritual, mental and physical assistance."

On Saturday, the church will hold a candlelight vigil to remember those who have lost their lives as a result of abuse in the home as well as to acknowledge the abuse that might be happening with their own members.

"We just wanted to get the word out and to minimize the recurrence of domestic violence in our community and state as well," WaTasha Griffin, an organizer for the vigil, told The Star Press. "Our mission is to spread the word, to get awareness out there, that these things exist."

According to a 2006 Harris Poll quoted on the National Domestic Violence Hotline Statistics in June 2008, approximately 33 million or 15 percent of all U.S. adults admit that they were a victim of domestic violence.

In addition to local churches, whole denominations, such as The Episcopal Church, have been responding to the issue of domestic violence by providing materials for education and awareness.

In 1985, The Episcopal Church passed a resolution that instructed "each diocese to 'provide and promote programs at each internal level that will raise Episcopalians' consciousness of violence in their lives and in the institutions of church and society...'"

The resolution was specifically designed to direct each diocese to (1) establish and conduct training workshops for clergy and laity to identify the signs of battering and sexual abuse of women and children; (2) produce a register for the clergy and laity of available resources within their communities, such as support services, shelters, and entitlement programs; and (3) encourage clergy and laity to consult with and refer victims to professionally trained counselors and support groups.

In addition to the resolution, the national church body has also published a book designed to be a resource for congregations, clergy and others who assist victims of domestic violence.

Published through the Morehouse Division of Episcopal Church Publishing, Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence is a handbook about domestic violence from a spiritual perspective, says author and Episcopal priest Anne O. Weatherholt.

The 124-page book has been described as The Episcopal Church's response to domestic violence.

"I try to undo misconceptions," Weatherholt told The Herald-Mail, stressing that unless the church gets more involved, it can be perceived as part of the cycle.

Through Breaking the Silence, Weatherholt hopes to teach clergy, church leaders, parish nurses, volunteers, and others how to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and offer ways that church communities can offer help to those who are caught in abusive relationships.

The "action-oriented" handbook includes a checklist to determine if a relationship is potentially violent; clergy resources for counseling, worship, and congregational outreach; information for youth; and pages that can be customized with local and national contact numbers.

In addition to her position as a priest, Weatherholt has served on the boards of Heartly House Shelter in Frederick, Md., and Citizens Assisting to Shelter the Abused (CASA) in Hagerstown, Md., and has done staff training on the spiritual side of recovery from domestic violence.

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