The Diocese of Plymouth recently held a LOUDfence at Christ the King church in Plymouth between the 15th and 17th February. A LOUDfence is a visible display of support and solidarity with those who have been affected by abuse. We want to show survivors of abuse that we hear you, we believe you and that we are here to support you. Visitors to the fence were encouraged to tie a ribbon to the fence or church railings, which could also include a message of support. Those unable to attend the LOUDfence in person were encouraged to send a digital message of support via the website. Dozens of messages were received prior to the event which were added to the fence.
Our LOUDfence began on Wednesday 15th February at 2pm. The opening ceremony was led by our Clergy Lead for Safeguarding, Fr Mark Skelton. Fr Skelton welcomed those present and explained that the LOUDfence was to recognise the struggles, pain and sorrow of all those who have been affected by abuse, and to show the church’s support and solidarity with them. Fr Skelton blessed the LOUDfence and then read an opening statement:
“One of the most striking things about LOUDfence is the capital letters. It is an accepted thought now that capitals in a text message represent someone shouting. This can sometimes be aggression and anger, sometimes from a sense of frustration and sometimes just the desire to be heard. Today and for the next three days this fence will stand here as a public statement and witness to the many people who have been hurt, isolated, betrayed and silenced through the action of others who have actively abused and violated or who, by their silence, have enabled the abuse to remain unacknowledged, unrecognized and therefore unstopped. As we gather over the next few days in solidarity with those who have suffered, we hope that this small action on our part may enable those who have felt rejected and abused to know that they are heard, that we are truly sorry and that we vow to do all in our power to insure this is never again hidden or disguised, ignored or enabled. Our prayer, our hope is that every institution whether it be the Church and Schools, Care Homes and Police will be safe spaces, joyful spaces, hope filled spaces.”
Antonia Sobocki, the Project Manager for LOUDfence then also addressed those present:
“I am a survivor of familial childhood sexual abuse from the age of 7. Growing up I was lucky enough to be raised in church and the church became my sanctuary, my haven, the replacement parent I have loved all my life. It devastated me when I found out that other children had been harmed by the church, my church. It ruptured my trust in the church which has loved, valued, and supported me my whole life. It is right we are outraged by abuse, it is a hallmark of our Christian principles, but broken relationships can be mended, trust can gradually and gently be restored and trauma, little by little, can be healed. The important thing is we have the courage to earnestly care for survivors, the wounded part of the body of Christ, with love, generosity, and compassion.
I am tying my ribbon in support of all survivors to tell them I believe them, I hear them and I support them. I am tying my ribbon in response to Pope Francis’ request that there is a “Revolution of Compassion”. This ribbon is my way of starting to participate in this revolution. I invite all of you to take part in this with us.”
Following the opening ceremony people tied ribbons and added messages of support. There was also a lot of conversations. The church was open so that anyone who wished to could sit quietly to pause and reflect.
On the second day of the LOUDfence members of the Diocesan Safeguarding Team were present outside the church throughout the day. They had a number of conversations with both visitors and people passing by who saw the many ribbons adorning the church’s railings. Some people added messages of their own. Others took some time to read the messages left by others. Digital messages of support also continued to be sent in via the website.
Friday was the final day of the LOUDfence. The Diocesan Safeguarding Team was present again from 9am.
At 12 noon, a Survivors Mass was celebrated at Christ the King church by Fr Mark Skelton. The Mass was both intimate and emotive. Fr Skelton wrote prayers specifically for the occasion. The reading at Mass was from Isaiah 32:15-18, and the Gospel was the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12. This was then followed by a short homily from Fr Skelton that acknowledged the pain and hurt caused to those who have been abused. He thanked the survivors present for coming to the Mass, and for their willingness to give the church another chance. At the bidding prayers, Fr Skelton invited anyone present that wanted to, to come to the altar to share a thought or a prayer. Several people took up this invitation and bravely spoke to the whole congregation. At the end of the Mass Fr Skelton invited everyone present to say the concluding prayer together.
After the Mass there was further opportunity for discussion before people headed home. Some people had travelled from other parts of the country to attend the LOUDfence.
The Safeguarding Team remained outside of the church until early evening and had further conversations with members of the public.
At the conclusion of the LOUDfence, all the messages and ribbons were carefully taken down. A permanent portable display will be created with these, so that the words written can be shared further.
We are grateful to everyone who visited the LOUDfence to tie a ribbon or write a message, and also to everyone who sent in a message of support for this. The LOUDfence has received a very positive response. Everyone involved expressed that it was a very healing experience that has left them with a sense of hope about the future. Important conversations have begun which will continue over the coming weeks and months.
If anyone has been affected by abuse and would like some help or support you can contact the Safeguarding Office on 01364 645430 (Monday – Friday from 9am to 5pm) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org You can also find the contact details for local and national support organisations on our website: https://www.plymouth-diocese.org.uk/the-diocese/how-we-work/vicariate-for-safeguarding-and-pastoral-care/help-and-support-for-victims-and-survivors/
We are also very interested in speaking to survivors so that we can involve them in the work we are doing in safeguarding. We would like to form a survivor’s advisory group to seek survivor’s guidance and help. Members of the group would have the opportunity to provide input and feedback on safeguarding policies and initiatives, and would work together with the diocese to help create support and services to meet the needs of survivors. If you would be interested in participating in this, or you would like to find out more about the work we are doing, please contact Sophie Scagell (Survivor Support Caseworker) on 01364 645436 or email@example.com