My name is Courtney Armento, I graduated from the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont California, with my Master of Divinity in the spring of this year. Last summer I earned a 40-hour certificate in Domestic Violence Crisis Intervention in Illinois. I am a survivor of Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence. I have been crafted for the ministry that God has called me to, by experience, passion and education.
Before seminary, I worked in the corporate world, as many have who are now in ministry. Unbeknown to me, I had been moving towards this Domestic Violence Advocacy life in every step of my journey. Very early on in my career as a Hospitality Manager for Hyatt Hotels in California, my staff sought me out for spiritual care and direction. I wasn’t exactly sure what people saw or felt in my presence but it was constant throughout my 20+ years in corporate leadership roles.
In my early 20’s I heard very clearly, “your life story is going to help others.” I did not know exactly how that would play out. I thought it had to do with moving to Europe and backpacking around while writing a screen play about my life. Already at 22 years old, I felt I had experienced enough to warrant an autobiographical film. Turns out, there was way more ahead of me that would be impact and ministry worthy.
Remembering the message I heard early on, with decorum, I would share, in my circles, some of what I was going through in my life. Every single time, those around me who were dealing with similar experiences, would feel safe enough to share their stories. It was as if God knew people needed permission to speak their truth and was setting divine appointments. My voice gave others space and freedom. It was like watching popcorn pop. These spaces were liberating for those around me, no longer did they have to feel they were the only ones experiencing these life events. No longer did they feel isolated and alone. Community was instantly created.
The same experience is happening now, as I share in public spaces that my call to ministry is around Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence, it never fails, individuals who hear that are set free. Space is created for individuals that have experienced toxic love or “predatory romance” to speak their truth, sometimes for the first time. It is an honor to hold this sacred space with people.
It is my hope that we, as the wider church can create and be the space to allow for sharing, education, advocacy, empowerment, and healing around Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence in my life time! That is why I co-authored the newly adopted Resolution GA-1928, A Call to See and Respond to the Crisis of Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence, (DV/IPV) for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The CDC deems Domestic Violence a public health crisis. We as church leaders, must do our part to reduce the statistics and create new generations of Christians who are impervious to toxic love.
Due to shame, stigma and silence, people are pressed deeply into the margins, suffering in plain sight and invisibilized in their pain.
Tell us a bit about your journey to this ministry.
One Thanksgiving Day, when my children were young, around 2005, I was driving from one side of town to the other, to get to family, and food. The street I that always took to get across town was blocked off. Police cars were everywhere and I had to drive around. It was a major scene. I found out later that on that Thanksgiving Day, a man held his partner captive and threatened her life. That was her last thanksgiving.
I will never forget the helplessness I felt and the ache in my soul when I learned of her last torturous day where all the king’s horses and all the king’s men who were just on the street bellow, couldn’t save her.
Shortly after her death, I remember thinking to myself. I am called to make a difference. I asked myself what can I do right now with what I have, it was 2 years after my divorce, so what I had was only a desire and my imagination.
That desire became an annual gift drive that I started by asking friends and businesses to donate new or gently used items for me to wrap as beautiful gifts that children could give their mothers on Mother Day. Mothers who were in shelters with their children, due to domestic violence or addiction. I wanted mothers to know that someone cared that they were in transition. I facilitated that gift drive for 8 years, and then I received a bigger call.
I knew in 2005 that I had to do something about abuse. At that time, I had no idea that I had no idea that I would fall for toxic love again or that I was going to seminary.
What inspired you to write the resolution?
Before seminary there were many social justice causes tugging at my soul. I co-authored resolution GA1928, because while I was in seminary my call was crystalizing. I looked up and discovered that 70% of my seminal work was centered around Domestic Violence. I also brushed up against the reality, that individuals were dealing with abuse, moral injury and isolation. I looked on the General Church’s website for DV resources and found a resolution on DV passed 34 years prior in Des Moines, Iowa. I cited resolution 8520, on a few points. I did not know, I when decided to craft a new resolution, that the 2019 General Assembly would also be held in Des Moines Iowa.
GA1928 is for the woman who died on Thanksgiving in 2005 and for myself and for all who suffer in silence in plain sight. It asks that church leaders become educated around abuse so that they may provide sensitized pastoral care. It is far too easy to re-traumatize someone in a pastoral care space. It asks that Domestic/ Intimate Partner Violence education via healthy relationship and age appropriate red flag awareness, become common place in youth camp and youth and young adult ministries so as to give youth a head start towards rejecting harmful relationship contracts.
As I do this work, many tell me they experienced this abuse at a young age and had no idea what was happening and had nowhere to turn. I believe the church should be a place to turn.
Share with us one of the surprises you have discovered while developing this ministry?
I was really surprised by the fact that several states including Illinois, require hair stylists to complete 40-hour Domestic Violence Crisis intervention certification to qualify for their cosmetology licenses. It makes sense and I am overjoyed that more space is being created for awareness and response in the community. Resolution GA 1928 asks why not pastors and churches.
What do you feel is important for individuals to know as they consider birthing space in their context for this ministry?
The most important concept is the understanding that leadership and communal education is paramount. I have curated and created resources to support leadership in aligning with the asks of the resolution and they are available for free on my website, Tethered1.org. Through DSF Discover, I have facilitated a webinar and will host an online class on Domestic Violence which is scheduled for October 7-11. Registration for the on-line class can be accessed on my website. The class will aid church leadership in understanding the complexities of abuse to aid in cultivating a compassionate and sensitized response as church communities move into to this conversation. The dynamics at play in an abusive relationship are not logical and therefore cannot be processed through a straightforward pragmatic lens.
Leadership should not be afraid to speak and preach on this topic. As we stay silent, we are complicit in the cultural landscape that supports invisibilizing victims/survivors. There are 100 free sermons on abuse available in the resources on my website.
Many do not know that shelters have a plethora of resources available to anyone who needs them. Survivors do not need to be residents of shelters to partake in the resources. Resources include: counseling, safety planning, medical and dental assistance, legal assistance, relocation assistance, and a hotline to talk to someone who can help.
Shelters will give you DV specific pamphlets for your church restrooms. Shelters have community advocates that can come and speak about their resources at your church for free.
Every state has a domestic violence coalition with printed masterials that churches can get for free, often in multiple languages. Some, like Illinois have DV swag, free swag bags, chap stick, and hand sanitizers. If you create a community event to benefit survivors, do not invite survivors only to the event. It is best to invite the community to learn about or pray for the pandemic health crisis known as Domestic/ Intimate Partner Violence. We should never single out survivors to come to events.
Grief and depression are major experiences in an abusive dynamic. I advocate for churches to create space for public lament. The dominant message in public spaces has been that we cannot cry or feel in public. The Bible bears witness to the importance of feeling, grieving and processing with others for our very sanity. It is simple to create contemplative space for lament, a pot of tea, contemplative music, Kleenex, pillows, and someone to hold the space.
I am happy to support church leadership in making space in their context for this ministry, please look at all of the resources on my website. I add new resources often, currently there are book lists, and survivor hacks. Soon I will add a bible study template and community contemplative template and more, all available for free.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working with my resolution co-author Rev. Yvonne McCoy and the National Benevolent Association (NBA), to develop a Domestic Violence Affinity Group that will hopefully become a Peer Group in 2020 to support church leaders across the General Church. This would be the first Peer Group under the NBA, devoted to Domestic Violence Awareness.
We are also reaching out to all of the Regional Ministers to keep the resolution in the forefront and ask them to consider offering DV training in their regions to all clergy.
I am also educating clergy in person and via online platforms around the nuances and prevalence of abuse. I am grateful for the support of the CCIW Region, Rev. Teresa Dulyea- Parker and the staff who see value in this work and make space for my ministry. CCIW is the first region to list the DV resources on their webpage as the resolution asks. Please take a look! I am so excited about the work that God is doing through us!