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Minister jumps into heart of domestic violence

Usually an interim ministry is shifting gears from one’s predecessor, preparing for the successor and engaging in healing wounds.

Chewelah UCC puppets

Bill and Sheri Comfort with puppets

The Rev. Bill Comfort finds little healing necessary and need for carrying on the work his predecessor the Rev. Nell Lindorff had begun at the Chewelah United Church of Christ.

So he picked up the community and church domestic violence education project Nell began with the Rev. Tammy Bell of First Congregational in Colville, the Family Support Center in Colville and Rural Resources

 The church is part of a two-year grant for the churches to provide education.

The church began by placing signs in its restrooms, alerting women about finding help if they experience abuse.  Organizers also want to place the signs in other churches and in businesses.

As part of Domestic Violence Month, they put information on domestic violence on a bulletin board that is used to promote justice and peace resources.

Through the month, Bill said he included content in each sermon and used little wooden people provided by the Family Support Center to create children’s stories to help children identify abuse and find support.

“We brought up themes of inclusion and safety, making it clear it’s not okay to hurt anyone in the family setting,” he said.

One Sunday, Bill introduced “Billy Bob,” a wooden child figure experiencing violence at home, but finding a good experience at church.  The next Sunday, he invited a friend, “Billy Joe Bob.”  Bill wove in scripture to say Jesus said to “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love each other as you love yourselves.”

“Does that ever mean you can hit someone?” he asked.

“No,” the children chorused.

Chewelah UCC

Sign in church restroom

The Chewelah and Colville UCC churches will have several members trained to help people experiencing domestic violence and will present community events to raise awareness.

“Traditionally, churches tended to encourage people to stay in abusive situations,” Bill said.

Chewelah UCC’s 10 youth helped with another education effort, the youth clothesline project.  They made T-shirts with slogans against domestic violence and put them on a clothesline for members of the church to see.

During worship one Sunday, a group presented “Janet’s Story,” a dramatization with a woman sitting on a chair and having people in the congregation place sheets over her, representing the cultural and church expectations that keep women in abusive situations.  Then the people took off the sheets, sharing factors that can help free people from abuse.

Just out of seminary at Seattle University—after 21-years as a systems analyst with Boeing—Bill was ordained in August 2003 and served a church in Hardin, Mont., before coming to Chewelah. 

Spiritual guidance led him to realize he had something to do beside building airplanes. 

“I’m still figuring it out, but I know I want to be in parish ministry,” he said, using the interim ministry to discern his next steps in ministry.

Unable to find work with a bachelor’s degree in English, Bill found the job at Boeing.

He was Unitarian and his wife, Sheri, was in Unity Church, when they married in 1992.  Neither church fit both, so they attended First Congregational United Church of Christ in Everett.

Coming from urban Western Washington, Bill has been surprised by life in the farming, logging, mining and recreation community of 2,500.

“Chewelah is almost self-contained,” he said, “with drama, a ski area, restaurant, coffee house, hospital, long-term care facility, golf courses, casinos, nearby lakes and flowers on light posts.”

Bill described the Chewelah UCC as “an oasis.”

Its 1993 decision to be an open and affirming church—the only one in Northeast Washington—means the church extends a welcome to people, no matter where they are in life’s journey.

In Chewelah, it has meant the church draws people suffering mental illnesses.  So members need to be prepared to provide the welcome and care needed.

Sheri is forming a Care Team, modeled on the Multifaith AIDS Care Teams she helped start when they were in Everett.  Team members are caregivers—meeting to share feelings or just go on a hike to prevent burnout.

While there for a few more months, the Comforts have found a niche and provide the support needed to carry on the congregation’s outreach ministries between full-time, permanent pastors.

For information, call 935-8046.

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © November 2006