Like many people, Gayle Lyles has a personal connection with bullying. Her granddaughter was a recent victim of this social epidemic, ostracized at school and made to feel less worthy than the other kids.
"It was scary because she would go in her room and just obsess over it," said Lyles, chairman of the mission and social concerns committee of the UCC’s Missouri Mid-South Conference Eastern Association.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and UCC conferences and churches are finding ways to create awareness and start conversations about bullying. Lyles’ committee coordinated an anti-bullying panel to take place Sept. 30 at St. Peter’s UCC in Washington, Mo. The idea came to fruition after the association conducted listening circles and identified multiple topics prevalent among the congregation that members just didn’t seem comfortable discussing. The panel will feature writers, educators and activists who will offer varying viewpoints on the topic of bullying.
"We are trying to show both sides a little," said Lyles. "There are no pro-bullying people, but there are some people that believe a little of the blame lies with the person who is bullied. With the overall panel, we are trying to get people to see each other’s point of view without being judgmental or angry."
The Congregational Church of Needham (Mass.) is also supporting National Bullying Prevention Month with a four-part panel series beginning in October. Kathie Carpenter, co-chair of the church’s Open and Affirming Ministry Team, said several things inspired the series, particularly the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate’s webcam recorded him kissing a man.
"This was a wakeup call as a nation," Carpenter said of the 2010 incident. "We started thinking about it then, and had to define how we wanted to address it."
Unlike other types of anti-bullying education, the series is geared toward adults, not teens, and the curriculum is intended to make parents better equipped to talk to their kids. There will be guest speakers, including a Boston University student and bullying survivor, and films geared toward kids of different age groups so parents can see how to address the issue at different stages of their children’s development.
"We hope to have the congregation as a whole come away equipped with strategies and an understanding of what causes bullying, how to prevent it or how to combat it when we see it," Carpenter said. "We also want our members to learn how to be there for each other when someone is threatened or feels unsafe."
Carpenter hopes the anti-bullying panels will be a good lead into the church’s next scheduled panel series discussing gender identity and expression. The UCC of Needham became open and affirming in 2000 and, while they offered education during the transition, it has been a while since the church has openly discussed this topic.
"Much of bullying comes from people’s misunderstanding of gender roles s and expression," said Carpenter. "It’s been a long time since we did a real educational series because the open and affirming process was so long ago. It’s exciting to open this up again and acquaint people who came [to our church] after about what it means to be an O&A congregation."
The United Church of Christ offers many types of resources about bullying and what we can do to stop it. Visit the UCC’s anti-bullying webpage for videos, worship resources, educational literature and more to help get the conversation started.
National Bullying Prevention Month was started by PACER's National Center for Bullying Prevention, an organization that engages and educates communities nationwide to address bullying through creative, relevant and interactive resources, as a week-long event in 2006. It has sense grown into a month-long initiative recognized in communities across the United States and recognized by partners like Facebook, CNN and Yahoo! Kids.