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Faith Communities Gather in Wheeling To Pray for Abuse Survivors

photo by: Photo by Alan Olson

The Rev. Darrell Cummings of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple speaks before those attending an interfaith prayer service for survivors of abuse Tuesday at Wheeling Park.

WHEELING – Several clerical and secular members of Wheeling’s community came together Tuesday evening in support of those who have suffered from abuse.

The ecumenical prayer service was held at Wheeling Park’s auditorium, with leaders from the numerous faith communities praying for abuse victims, while featured speakers from charitable organizations spoke on the resources available and on the lived reality of the victims. The event was organized by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, and was attended by a small audience.

The Most Rev. Mark Brennan, Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese, emphasized that the community must band together to provide support for victims, as part of a larger calling for all members of society to support one another.

“Those who are victims of, and survivors of abuse, sexual abuse in particular, are part of our community,” Brennan said. “Reaching out in any way we can to assist them is the right thing to do. They become models of how the wounds of this kind of abuse can be overcome, and you can live a meaningful life.

“Our whole society needs to live in peace and harmony with one another, though we’ve got a lot of work to do there,” Brennan added.

photo by: Photo by Alan Olson

Laurie Jones, executive director of YWCA Wheeling, speaks before those attending an interfaith prayer service for survivors of abuse Tuesday at Wheeling Park.

Rabbi Joshua Lief, representing Temple Shalom, added that members of the community should be keeping an eye out, and a hand outstretched, for victims, and that a person doesn’t need to be professionally qualified to offer help.

“All of us can do a better job of being aware of the prevalence of abuse in our community, so that we could help,” Lief said. “Even those of us who aren’t a trained counselor, for example, can still recognize the signs and help a person find the guidance and healing that they so desperately need.”

Also speaking Tuesday evening were the Rev. Darrell Cummings of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple, the Rev. Jacob Steele of Christ United Methodist Church, the Rev. Erica Harley of Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Ken Hardaway of First Christian Church, Father Joshua Saxe of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, and Adam Marquart of the Confraternity of St. Nicholas.

Laurie Jones, who serves as executive director for the Wheeling chapter of the YWCA, said the organization sees the constant need faced by the survivors of abuse, a need which has only increased in recent years, particularly under the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the last calendar year, Jones said, the Wheeling YWCA served more than 664 women, an additional 226 children, and provided over 4,000 nights of shelter for those seeking to escape.

Jones said 39% of victims had suffered sexual assault, and that human trafficking is closely linked with the drug epidemic, compounding the matter further for victims.

photo by: Photo by Alan Olson

Tim Bishop, spokesman for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, welcomes those in attendance to an interfaith prayer service for survivors of abuse Tuesday at Wheeling Park.

“As the YWCA, we do have that safe shelter space, and we try to meet every single victim where they’re at, and every single victim (is) different,” Jones said. “Every single victim has experienced something completely different and to their own. Their trauma is their own. … Most of the women who come to us come with nothing. They’re abused, they’re scared, and they have to rebuild their lives.”

Jones also emphasized the impact of the COVID epidemic on younger victims. She said teen dating advocates worked with 192 youths suffering from sexual assault or dating violence in middle or high schools.

“Especially after the epidemic, our children have lost that social connection and what it means to be socially connected, and have to rebuild that again. We’re scared that the epidemic will just continue to grow,” she said.

Jones emphasized to victims that resources are available for those in need, and that several advocacy centers are available to help.

Ashley Carpenter, representing the Upper Ohio Valley Sexual Assault Help Center, echoed those sentiments.

“The services are here, and they’re free of charge, for survivors who’ve been affected by sexual violence in any way, shape or form,” Carpenter said.

The YWCA’s crisis line is 1-800-698-1247, and the Sexual Assault Help Center’s crisis line is 1-800-884-7242.

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