Day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Abuse 2024
Part of our parish’s developing approach to liturgy

Thirty five years ago our parish embarked on a path which we are still exploring.

The catalyst in April 1989 came when our Parish Priest was asked by a local youth football team whether he would be organising a memorial service for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy.  He gathered together a small group of parishioners, we devised a service at which both Newcastle and Sunderland football clubs were represented and we stepped out into the relatively unknown.  In this we were helped by the Society of St Gregory.  Our Parish Priest decided to subsidise ten of us to attend the Society’s Diamond Jubilee Conference in Oxford.  Three of us are still active in the parish and we have been lucky enough to add like-minded people to our group as time has progressed!

Over the years, we have organised liturgies where we have focussed on local and national needs.  Some, such as our annual bereavement service, have become fixed points in out parish’s liturgical year.  Others have met a specific need and have then been stored in our memories.  Last year, at the prompting of one of our parishioners, we gathered together for a time of prayer for victims and survivors of abuse.

There is no doubt that last year’s service was greatly influenced by the pain, bewilderment and anger which were still raw in our Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.  The situation surrounding the resignation of our bishop and the safeguarding issues which had been highlighted in the national press left many people feeling vulnerable and lost.  By gathering together to pray, we hope that we were able to provide a safe haven for parishioners to confront their pain and fears.

In considering the venue for our service we felt that the main church building was too large and lacked the flexibility to gather together in proximity to each other.  To emphasise our sense of solidarity, we gathered in our church’s day chapel where flexible seating allowed us feel part of a supportive group.

At the end of the service, following the example of LOUDFence, we tied ribbons to the cross in our church grounds as a visible act of solidarity to those in need of care and support.  These ribbons could be seen from the road which runs past the church and have been the source of some conversations with the local community.

This year the mood in the diocese has lightened following the installation of Bishop Stephen Wright.  We gathered once more to mark the day of Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Abuse.  Our prayers again focussed on material taken from the Isaiah Journey interspersed with music led by three cantors.  The choice to have unaccompanied singing was deliberate.  The cantor sang verses of hymns which were familiar to parishioners (As the Deer Longs For Running Streams : Bob Hurd, God Beyond All Dreams : Bernadette Farrell and A Touching Place : John Bell and Graham Maule).  The congregation joined in with the refrains.  We felt that this allowed space for people to pray quietly in a safe environment using words with which they were familiar.

During the service there were seven intercessions.  Following each prayer we lit candles as a sign of hope.  As the service moved to its conclusion, we each lit an individual candle and joined together in praying a litany of hope and trust.  The service ended with our commitment to bring healing and reconciliation wherever it was needed.  As a visible sign of this commitment, we then tied ribbons to the railings outside the church rather than the cross in the grounds.  This is a clear sign to the wider community – there is a bus stop next to our church railings!  We also added a sheet explaining the purpose of the ribbons and providing contact details for anyone who might need help or advice.

Those who attended acknowledged that a year has made a great deal of difference to our perspective.  We can only hazard a guess as to our position next year.  However, I do feel certain that we will gather again.  I suspect that we will use the same framework but with a focus which responds to circumstances.  As ever, we will be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Useful Links
The Isaiah Journey


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