By Andrew Humphries
At 2.30pm last Sunday, the bell at St Peter’s Eastern Hill Anglican Church tolled 39 times to remember the women lost to domestic violence so far this year.
Moderator Denise Liersch joined St Peter’s Vicar Rev Dr Hugh Kempster, Victorian Council of Churches executive officer Rev Ian Smith and Sr Nicole Rotaru from Catholic Social Services Victoria as the bell tolled to begin the annual Holding the Light ecumenical service.
Those present at St Peter’s gathered to remember the women killed, their families and other victims of domestic and family violence.
The stark statistics tell us of a 13 per cent increase in family and domestic violence-related sexual assaults last year and that nearly two in every five instances of sexual assault happened as part of family and domestic violence.
While those statistics tell part of the story, the full impact of domestic violence was outlined at Sunday’s service in harrowing detail by social worker, chorister, writer and abuse survivor Naomi Johnson.
“Where was God when I was lying bleeding on the kitchen floor, when I was cowering beneath (my husband’s) words and fists?” Naomi asked.
“Where was God when my loving husband held a knife to my throat and told me I wasn’t worth the jail time he would get (for harming me)?
“And where was God for all those women who the bell tolled for at the start of this service … and for all who carry the scars of violence?”
The answer, Naomi said, could be found when we looked at Jesus on the cross.
“Take a moment, though, to look at that figure on the cross and there is your answer,” she said.
“God is bleeding on the floor, God is feeling the sharp edge of the kitchen knife and God is in every loving and brave attempt of survivors to break that cycle of abuse.
“And God is in that man holding the knife, desperately trying to love him into peace and wholeness, but as helpless as I was.
“God is in every place of suffering … trying and trying to break through a heart of stone, weeping (but) always loving and always trying.
“We know that love can’t be contained by the darkness of violence and death.
“The darkness may have a damn good try, but it can’t overcome the light, because that is where we find God.”
During the service, congregation members lit individual candles to remember the victims of domestic and family violence.
In closing, Ian Smith said it was his hope that one day such a service would no longer be required.