COLUMBIA — Several Columbia churches are offering weekly support for people who have been through a divorce or spousal separation. In many congregations, the pain wrought by divorce is evident in the community, pastors say, and they’re opening the church doors in an endeavor of good will.
Statistics show that 10,496 Boone County residents divorced in 2000. More than 1,400 separated, according to the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis. According to these numbers, the divorce rate has increased in Boone County by 1.4 percent between 1990 and 2000. Nationally, 38 percent of men and 41 percent of women born between 1945 and 1954 had been divorced by 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.
Local Mid-Missouri churches that use the DivorceCare program:
- Parkade Baptist Church, 2102 N. Garth Ave.; 6 p.m. Wednesdays
- The Crossing, 3615 Southland Drive; $25 per person; 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays
- Rocky Fork Fellowship, 545 N. Route B, Hallsville
- Woodcrest Chapel, 2201 W. Nifong Blvd.
Helping people through a divorce or separation is no different than helping them through any other problem they might have, said Mark Butrum, senior minister at Rocky Fork Fellowship in Hallsville.
“The church, at least in the way our perspective is, we’d help people just like they were injured in many other ways. How do we help put them back together?" he said. "That would be Jesus’ plea to us, is to help those who are sick, those who are hurting."
Rocky Fork Fellowship, Parkade Baptist Church, The Crossing and Woodcrest Chapel each hold weekly group sessions in the DivorceCare program. The sessions are facilitated by a leader or leaders who follow a curriculum.
DivorceCare's curriculum includes 13 video sessions on DVD — one for each weekly session — participant workbooks and guided discussions designed to meliorate particular symptoms of divorce such as anger, depression, loneliness, financial pressures, parenting and the struggle of forgiveness, DivorceCare founder Steve Grissom said.
“They’re grieving, they’re grieving this huge set of losses in their life,” Grissom said. “They’re grieving the loss of the spouse, they may be grieving the loss of their children, at least the kind of contact they had with them when they were married."
Grissom also said that because some couples end up selling the home they once shared, there is a grieving process for that loss, too.
"The loss of the lifestyle, the loss of friends — just this whole set of things that changed," Grissom said.
The program is used by about 12,000 divorce recovery support groups worldwide, according to Grissom, who also said he designed the program after his own personal experience with divorce in the 1980s.
"It was a very terrible experience, personally," Grissom said. "And I turned to my church for help and quite frankly received some very good help. But as time went on I realized that there were things that churches could do to even do a better job of helping people going through divorce."
Grissom, an MU graduate who founded DivorceCare in 1994, said that being around those with similar sufferings is one of the ways to effectively cope with divorce.
"It's a common miunderstanding that nobody understands what I'm going through when I'm going through a divorce, and you feel isolated," Grissom said. "But when you get around people who do understand what you're going through, then you're able to communicate, you're able to relate an experience you had and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I understand. I went through that. Here is how I handled that.' There's just a positive resonance there."
Shirley Peach, who leads a DivorceCare group at Parkade Baptist Church, said it's the feeling of understanding and caring that makes the program successful.
"There have been some people who have said, 'I hurt all the time, but when I come into DivorceCare, into the group, I know everybody there understands, everybody there cares. They've felt what I feel. And I feel that I have someplace that I'm safe and that I can let it all lay out and nobody condemns me,'" she said.
Although the 13-week DivorceCare program can cost upwards of $540 for the churches that sponsor it, the patrons who attend the meetings at Parkade Baptist Church pay nothing. Some churches accept nominal donations to cover costs of the materials.
Even though most faiths would rather not see a married couple divorce, it is a reality. So, the groups who use DivorceCare see this program as a means of ministry. Peach said there was no conflict or concern at Parkade Baptist when she suggested starting DivorceCare.
“We feel that everybody has fallen short in one way or another," she said. "We want to help people."
Peach also said patrons of the group typically come from a variety of churches, and find out about the program through word of mouth, the Internet or private counselors.
Mary Lynch, a co-facilitator and former patron of the DivorceCare program, said she found the group sessions to be extremely helpful.
"I was still feeling a lot of upheaval in my life. I felt lost, is the word for it," she said, about her life before joining the DivorceCare program in fall 2003. "So I attended, and I was very impressed with the curriculum."
Lynch said the group sessions helped her through a difficult time in her life. "I would say that I have a peace and contentment at this point. I have been able to accept what has occurred in my life. I just think I'm in a good place."
Lynch also spoke of the nature of the group sessions. "One of the things that we want to reflect is that this is a ministry," she said. "We're considered lay people. We're not counselors, we're not experts by any means. I'm not an ordained minister that can work through some of the major issues. What our goal is to share with people, to love people, to hopefully present a program that they know that they're cared about."