United Methodists gathered virtually on Wednesday for a Zoom webinar service to recognize the sin of sexual abuse, exploitation, and harassment of children and adults around our world.

The Service of Healing and Wholeness was held in a pensive and prayerful tone. Rev. Jill Buckler, Senior Pastor at Milledgeville UMC and mental health counselor, began the service by inviting United Methodists to recognize the pain of those who’ve experienced sexual abuse and to grieve with them. And because sexual abuse may leave scars that are often undetected, Jill took time to address those victims directly and to offer empathy.

“For those of you — way too many of you — who know firsthand the pain and the reality of sexual violence and harassment, we offer this service to you. We offer this service on behalf of the whole Church — to say that we see you, we hear your pain, and it matters to us. And above all, you are loved.”

Jill acknowledged that the Church has also played a role in the suffering of children and adults. “Sexual violence most often occurs in places we should feel safe with people we should be able to trust. We gather to repent that some have even been harmed in or by the Church.”

She shared that in the United States one in four little girls and one is six little boys will experience some form of sexual assault before they are 18 years old.

The service was organized with the intention of shedding light on a pervasive issue that has destroyed lives for generations – in almost every sector of society; it was designed to also shed light on the fact that many in our society, even those in positions of power, have been complicit in the perpetuation of this crime.

“We repent for treating people as objects for our own personal satisfaction instead of the artwork that you have created,” prayed Rev. Tony Alstott. “We repent for not believing the stories of the broken when they have made themselves vulnerable by sharing their painful experiences. “

He continued, “We repent that we have tried to hide the truth in order to protect perpetrators instead of speaking the truth in order to defend victims.”

During her sermon, Rev. Mary Ann Moman, shared a collection of inspirational quotes from various biblical figures, as well as famed authors and activists about finding light in moments of darkness, and having the strength to move beyond tragedies. “When we are in the midst of pain and suffering it is difficult to see that we might be able to find new life.”

But some of have found new life. Mary Ann shared about individuals who have defied expectations following traumatic experiences. Like Malala Yousafzai, a young woman from Pakistan, who has never shied away from speaking out about the oppression of women in her native country and has been a stronghold in the fight to allow young girls to have access to education.

Mary Ann also shared about Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Duckworth, who was the first woman to experience a double amputation. She fought to continue to serve the U.S. on the battlefield and in the statehouse. She went on to serve as a Senator for the state of Illinois.

But healing requires community. Mary Ann added, “We need our family and our friends so that we can move beyond our healing to a new wholeness—a wholeness shaped by our suffering, not defined by our suffering.”

Bishop Trimble and Rev. Jenifer Gibbs, Senior Pastor at Castleton UMC, shared in the Litany of Repentance.

“You are the God who suffers with the afflicted. You hear the voices of the silenced. You march into the halls of power, and you demand justice for the oppressed. Yet, we have failed to march with you. We have not listened. In fact, we have often spoken over and against. We have stood by as sexual violence ravages our communities, families, and our churches. And, at times, we have actively perpetuated it. So tonight, we name our sin. We repent of our complicity.”

When asked about the significance of hosting this service at this time, Jill, who helped to organize the event, shared, “It is important for the Church to publicly proclaim these acts of abuse as sin; to name our unwavering support for victims and repent of our complacency. The Church refuses to remain silent on issues that cause harm to any of God’s children. This service is one step on behalf of the Indiana Conference to do better.”