Service for survivors of sexual trauma

YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO USE OR ADAPT ANY OF THESE LITURGIES.  Attribution is appreciated: “Written by Beth Merrill Neel on her blog, ‘Hold Fast to What Is Good’.  Used with permission.

Our congregation hosted “Bearing Witness: A Services of Healing and Wholeness for Survivors of Sexual Trauma”.  Unless otherwise noted, I wrote the liturgy, and a group of us planned the order of service.


Gathering Words:  Litany “For the Darkness of Waiting” in Janet Morley’s All Desires Known: Inclusive Prayers for Worship and Meditation.  Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1992.

Within Judaism, it is the custom of mourners to leave a stone at the graveside of their loved one. At this service for healing and wholeness, we will invite those who wish, to select a stone to signify their grief, and to place it in the baptismal font. The waters in the font will bathe the stone–perhaps in tears, perhaps in cleansing, perhaps to sanctify and make holy that grief. As people are leaving at the end of the service, as many as wish to may take a stone from the font to carry with them–perhaps to carry someone else’s grief, perhaps to remember on behalf of someone else, perhaps as a token that healing has been invited.

We confess.
We confess, as leaders in the church, that the church has not always lived up to its responsibility as the Body of Christ.
We confess that church leaders have turned a blind eye to abuses within.
We confess that we have not listened to the voices of lament and protest.
We confess that the church has hidden in the shadows, covering up the abuse of power, protecting leaders, and denying victims.
We confess that the church sometimes takes the easy way out, and chooses cover-up over truth-telling.
We confess that the institution of the church has sinned before God. We confess that leaders of the church have broken trust with their congregations and with the children of God.
And so, with a spirit of humility, we ask not only for forgiveness, but also for repentance.
We call on the church to repent of its sin.
We call on the church to bear witness to the truth of abuse within and beyond its walls.
We call on the church to turn once again to the healing power of Christ, who alone makes all things new, even the church.
(Silent prayer)

Congregation: We say to the church: of those to whom much is given, much will be expected. Be the Body of Christ. Do the hard things when they are the right things. Listen to the marginalized voices. Rely not on your own power, but on the power of God made known through the love of Christ.

Psalm 130
Matthew 5:1-14 (Beatitudes)

Around the sanctuary you will see several different “station” – places where you may go to bear witness to your suffering or to the suffering of others who have experienced sexual trauma. You are welcome to visit any or all of these stations, or none of them.

You may light a candle, or many candles.
You may come forward for healing prayer.
You may write something that you may keep, or that you may burn.
You may meditate on the stories of Biblical women who were themselves survivors of sexual trauma.





I also wrote this choral reading which we’re not using but which may find another purpose.

ALL: Sister, why do you weep?

VOICE 1/EVE: I am Eve, the first, the first to know shame, the first to know punishment, the first to weep at violence, the first to grieve. I had no one to teach me the ways of our bodies, no midwife to help me give birth. Alone, I bore my pain in silence, condemned forever to being the guilty party who lost Paradise.

ALL: Sister, why do you weep?

VOICE 2/SARAH: I am Sarah, the matriarch whose husband gave me to Pharaoh. Both men got their way; I did not. I lay with pharaoh; I lay with Abraham, but when no child came, my fury and grief rested on Hagar, and I banished her and her child to the desert where I hoped they would die.

ALL: Sister, why do you weep?

VOICE 3/DINAH: I am Dinah, the granddaughter of the matriarch, daughter of Jacob, sister to Levi and Simeon. I was raped by a man who then wanted to marry me; in retaliation my brothers killed him and all of his kinsmen. But there was no healing for me – my brothers would always see me as a whore.

ALL: Sister, why do you weep?

VOICE 4/TAMAR: I am Tamar, the daughter of King David. But my status could not protect me from the lust and violence of my own brother, Amnon, who tricked me and raped me. In grief and mourning, I tore my robe and put ashes on my head and hid in the house of my other brother, Absalom. The grief multiplied when my father learned of what happened and did nothing. Vengeance fell to my brother Absalom, who killed Amnon. But vengeance is not justice.

ALL: Sister, why do you weep?

VOICE 5/MARY MAGDALENE: I am Magdalene, the name I am called by those who do not know me. Our Teacher called me Mary, and named me his disciple, and shared first with me the miracle of his resurrection. But others would not believe me. The men thought I told nothing more than an idle tale. Others discredit me still, saying I was a prostitute, saying I was the teacher’s girlfriend. So many doubt the truth I tell, and the truth of who I am.

ALL: Brother, why do you weep?

VOICE 6/JESUS: I am Jesus. My body was ripped, pierced by a spear, my flesh torn by nails. As I suffered, I was taunted and mocked, disbelieved, and abandoned. I was without guilt, and made to bear the pain of the world.

ALL: Sisters, brother, friends:

VOICE 2: We lament your suffering.

VOICE 4: We lament the violence done to you.

VOICE 6: We lament the vengeance that leads to more violence.

VOICE 5: We lament that justice was not served.

VOICE 3: We lament that you were not believed.

VOICE 1: We lament that so little has changed in these thousands of years.

(time of silence)

VOICES 1 & 6: We cannot erase these stories, and we cannot undo the suffering.

VOICES 2&5: We can hear each other. We can believe one another.

VOICES 3&4: We can fight for justice. We can pray for healing.

ALL: We are not powerless, and we are not silent.