Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar was one of two people honored with the 2017 IMPACT Award presented by Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse.
The Rev. Dr. Anne Marie Hunter, Safe Havens founder and executive director, presented the award at a ceremony on Oct. 26, 2017 in Boston.
“You can’t be in Bishop Suda’s presence for very long before you recognize that you are in the presence of a powerful
force of love and compassion,” Dr. Hunter said. “He has a heart for those who are oppressed or marginalized and left behind, and he embodies social justice.”
Dr. Hunter said she’d first spoken to the bishop about Safe Havens about a year ago, and, unlike many faith leaders, he did not respond by denying the problem.
“He understood immediately,” she said, “and thought about how he could help. He moved with ‘sizzling speed’ from compassion to action.”
The bishop arranged for Dr. Hunter and Barbara Burnside, acting president of the Safe Havens Board, to speak with the Extended Cabinet. Dr. Hunter was then invited to be the speaker at the three 2017 Pre-Lenten Gatherings for clergy. (Read about her talk here).
“So, from a quiet conversation in the bishop’s office, we moved to several hundred clergy learning more about abuse, and local congregations breaking generations – generations – of silence and supporting victims. This is a huge impact …” Dr. Hunter said as she presented the award.
“My faith and baptism challenge me that everyone is created in the image of God, and when someone’s freedom is taken away because of abuse, we deny the creation of God,” Bishop Devadhar said. “Because of abuse, our children suffer emotionally – we also spoil their leadership abilities. It is very important for us to be involved in this ministry of advocacy.”
He called on members of all faiths and no faith to work together to combat “this evil destroying God’s creation.” The bishop also called for all clergy training to include a course on domestic violence.
In her opening remarks Dr. Hunter said, “We want this to become a movement of people of faith who stand up against abuse …”
She then highlighted two examples where that is happening in the New England Conference.
First, Stephane Campbell, a member of Parkway UMC in Milton, MA, spoke about the church’s efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence and elder abuse. The church is part of Safe Havens’ Safe with Faith program.
Campbell, who described Milton as affluent, said at first there was a feeling that domestic violence did not affect their community. (The congregation learned later that domestic violence is the number one issue faced by Milton’s police force.)
The raising of awareness was the first step, Campbell said, and the United Methodist Women invited Dr. Hunter to speak at the church “immediately following the Sunday service in the fellowship hall – where there’s always food.”
It was important for men and women to hear the message, Campbell said, and pointed out that this is a cooperative ministry of the UMW, the United Methodist Men and the church’s health ministry.
Safe Havens helped the congregation in three important ways, Campbell said:
Heightening their awareness about the red flags of abuse
Helping them develop a faith-based action plan
and seeing greater collaboration among the church’s ministries and outreach
Campbell thanked Safe Havens for “taking the lead and shining a spotlight on this issue from a faith-based perspective,” and added that she was “happy and proud” that her pastor and 10 members of the church were there for the awards ceremony.
“We all need to become soldiers in this camp,” Campbell said.
Dr. Hunter also showed the photos below from Community UMC in Wayland, MA, where Rev. Ted Crass, pastor, organized a vigil during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, that included lighting the church purple and sharing the domestic abuse hotline number.
IMPACT stands for Individuals Making Progress Against Abuse and Communities Together. The award honors “individuals and organizations whose partnerships and commitment strengthens Safe Havens and contributes to justice and hope for victims and survivors of domestic violence and elder abuse.”
The other 2017 IMPACT honoree was Emily F. Rothman, associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.