Conference Addresses Pastoral Care for the Sexually Abused

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Adam Baker, Andrew Schmutzer, Elaine Heath, and Morven BakerA March 1 conference, “Sanctuary for the Sexually Abused: An Introduction to Pastoral Care,” at Duke Divinity School provided current and future pastors and other spiritual care providers with an introduction to the pastoral care of survivors of sexual abuse. Video of the sessions is available on iTunes U.

Organized by student Adam Baker, M.Div. ’14, a former child and adolescent therapist, the conference addressed the prevalence of sexual abuse, its effect on the mind and body, its impact on one’s relationship with God and others, and how to care and advocate for survivors of sexual assault.

“For current and future pastoral care providers, it’s not a question of if one will encounter a survivor of sexual abuse; rather, it’s a question of when,” said Baker. “This conference was intended to begin a conversation about the necessity of knowing how to support, walk with, and advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. Survivors are likely a part of every congregation, and frequently, they are also preaching in the pulpit. The church doesn’t talk about sex well, and we certainly don’t speak well concerning matters of sexual trauma. That needs to change. The church needs to be a safe place for survivors.”

The conference featured speakers Dr. Warren Kinghorn, assistant professor of psychiatry and pastoral and moral theology at the Divinity School; Elaine Heath, McCreless Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology and author of We Were the Least of These: Reading the Bible with Survivors of Sexual Abuse; Morven Baker, a clinical counselor who works with women who are victims of childhood sexual abuse or of domestic violence; and Andrew J. Schmutzer, professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute, editor of The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to Survivors of Sexual Abuse, and author of numerous articles about sexual abuse.

More than 200 people registered for the conference, which was filled to capacity. Each speaker led a session that was followed by a panel question and answer session.

“The conversations we had as part of the conference were the most honest I’ve heard at Duke Divinity School," said student Andrew Phillips, M.Div. ’15. "We were brought face-to-face with the reality of sexual abuse in our congregations and neighborhoods. My hope is that these conversations can create space to have other conversations, so that we can truthfully know our calling in ministry.”

Warren KinghornParticipants in the conference included current and former Duke Divinity and Duke University students, local clergy, Divinity School faculty, representatives of local ministries working to support survivors of sexual violence, and others.

The conference was sponsored by the Office of the Academic Dean, the Office of Student Life, the Office of Ministerial Formation, the Divinity Student Council, the Divinity Women's Center, Sacred Worth, the Asian Theology Club, Union Grove United Methodist Church  in Hillsborough, N.C., the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) of Duke University, and Duke Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). The Duke University Women's Center, the Office of the Chaplain at the Divinity School, and Duke Milites Christi also supported the event.