Diocese of New York provides toolkit to help parishes observe Break the Silence Sunday on Nov. 26

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Nov 21, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] Parishes across The Episcopal Church are invited to observe Nov. 26 as Break the Silence Sunday to increase awareness of the victims of domestic and sexual violence in the United States and around the world, and the Diocese of New York has offered resources to assist parishes in their commemorations.

The 80th General Convention in 2022 adopted a resolution designating the Sunday closest to Nov. 25 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – as Break the Silence Sunday across The Episcopal Church. The Diocese of New York followed by adopting its own resolution at its convention in November 2022 that encouraged observance of the day among its parishes.

To assist, the diocese’s Task Force on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault created a tool kit that offers a variety of liturgical resources that churches can use in Sunday worship, including two collects written by the Rev. Jeanne Person, a priest in the diocese. The toolkit goes further, providing information about the problem of domestic and sexual violence, noting that one in four women in the United States, and one in three women worldwide, have been victims of domestic violence.

Other statistics show how prevalent domestic and sexual violence is in the U.S.:

  • Every 68 seconds, an American is assaulted.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  • From 2009 to 2013, about 63,000 children a year were victims of sexual abuse.

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The Diocese of New York will hold a webinar at 7 p.m. Eastern Nov. 30 on Gender-Based Violence Spotlight: The Race to End Child Marriage by 2030. [/perfectpullquote]

The diocese’s bishop coadjutor, the Rt. Rev. Matthew Heyd, engaged in a video conversation about Break the Silence Sunday with Yvonne O’Neal, a member of the diocese’s task force.

O’Neal said that this observance is part of the “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence,” an annual campaign proposed by the United Nations, that begins on Nov. 25 and runs to Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day. She encouraged all New York parishes to make use of the Break the Silence Sunday toolkit and to include some of its prayers this Sunday, and she also hopes that some clergy will preach on the day’s observance.

Doing those things will acknowledge the victims of domestic violence, O’Neal said, which overwhelmingly are women but do include some men. “They are sitting in the pews,” she added, given the sheer number of victims in the United States.

Heyd said it’s important to be able to talk about the issue of domestic violence “and talk about it openly in a place that is safe – church.”

The toolkit notes that the goal of observing Break the Silence Sunday is three-fold:

  • Help congregations learn about the reality and scope of the problem of sexual violence.
  • Establish congregations as communities where survivors can share their stories and be received with hope and love.
  • Provide congregations with ways to advocate for change in their communities and around the world.

Looking ahead to next year, O’Neal said she’d like to invite some victims of violence to share their experience. “Stories are very important,” she said. “If we can hear people’s stories, it would be great.”

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.