Online Training Lesson #3: Brenda Steppe’s Story
Mending Broken Hearts Series
Over the last 15 years, our research team has interviewed hundreds of pastors on their knowledge of abuse and their experience in responding to victims and their families. Using the methods of the social sciences, our data has been collected and analyzed by highly trained personnel. E-learners interested in the mechanics of the research initiative should consult the refereed scholarly publications of the research team or other published work by Nancy Nason-Clark.
The stories chosen for the Mending Broken Heart series offer a rare glimpse into how pastors respond to families in crisis. Throughout the series, we offer both stories of hope and stories of missed opportunities. The names and other identifying characteristics of the women, the clergy and the community have been changed to protect confidentiality.
Twenty-three year old Brenda Steppe had recently graduated from university with an accounting degree. She was in the fifth month of pregnancy, feeling the weight of her growing baby and the responsibility that this unplanned event would mean for her future. She was living with her boyfriend, Carlson, someone who was younger than she both in age and maturity.
Ruth Cornwall, the pastor of the local community church, first saw Brenda when she was standing all alone on the side of the street, deeply distraught, and looking slightly unkempt.
Ruth recounts: “There was a pregnant lady standing on the side of the street in the rain, bawling her eyes out.” Ruth was drawn to her, she just couldn’t walk away.
“And the reason she was bawling her eyes out was because her common-law partner had just come home drunk and bonked her down on the floor and proceeded to kick her in the stomach.”
This is a story of two women who enter each other’s lives and are never quite the same as a result. Brenda—young and very vulnerable: Ruth—young and very inexperienced. As she is recounting the story, she smiles, “Okay. That’s how I got involved. That’s how I intervened. I chose them. They didn’t choose me.”
Ruth had been called by God to minister in a church that by most counts was in a state of decline. It was a rural charge, about 35 miles from a small city. Newly ordained, Rev. Cornwall was full of optimism and also full of fear. She wanted to make the world a better place. Her spirit was strong, her enthusiasm almost contagious.
Brenda was needy. She had a multitude of emotional and psychological problems. Even though she had received university training, Brenda was hampered in her ability to make wise decisions because an abusive relationship had pulled her into a downward vortex, sucking out every last bit of energy and confidence she could muster. Keeping the secret and protecting her unborn child took all her strength.
When Ruth first spoke to Brenda, asking her if something was wrong, Brenda did not reply. She looked away. Hid her black eye.
But Ruth persisted. She noticed the bruises. Then, she noticed the pregnancy. Ruth concluded that this young woman might need her help.
Brenda’s abusive boyfriend had chased her, out of the house, and down the street. As a result, she had lost one of her shoes running out the door as he threw a beer bottle attempting to hit her in the head.
During our interview with Ruth, she recounted how Brenda had wanted only to buy some sunglasses. Sunglasses—to block from view the pain, the shame and the evidence of her unraveling life.
Ruth went home with Brenda. The house was in shambles, with fragments of broken china and food covering the kitchen floor. Brenda’s initial response was to clean up the mess that Carlson had made when he hurled his supper at her. Carlson didn’t know how to clean up a mess—that was the explanation that Brenda offered Pastor Ruth as she surveyed the damage left by Carlson’s anger.
Pastor Ruth’s resolve to help Brenda intensified. She assessed that “she would have moved right back into that hellhole.” As she confided to the pastor, Brenda felt like she was abandoning him. Pastoral intervention would try to convince her otherwise.
Questions to Consider:
- What are Brenda’s greatest needs at this time in her life?
- How did Pastor Ruth begin to win Brenda’s confidence?
- What might a local congregation offer to a woman in Brenda’s situation?
- How would you assess Ruth’s intervention with Brenda? Would you have responded in a different or similar way?
- What would you see as the next step in pastoral care?