By Laura Camby McCaskill
COLUMBIA— What started as a way to help women who had been sexually assaulted find relief and solace within a church setting has now become something more.
By offering the use of their facility, St. Mark United Methodist Church has been helping the community by housing a Trauma Relief Clinic, run for the past two years by Pamila Lorentz. The clinic started as a a six-week course as a partnership with Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, but it has evolved into a monthly meeting for people experiencing all kinds of trauma. Open to the public, men and women who self-identify with trauma caused by sexual assault, as well as other issues such as chronic illness and cancer, meet at St. Mark once a month for massage therapy offered by a handful of trained volunteers.
When someone attends a group session, they’re welcomed by one of the staff and offered coffee, tea or water. There are two sessions, one at 3:30 p.m. and one at 5 p.m., and a light, hot vegetarian meal is provided between the sessions.
Once everyone has settled, they’re introduced to each other and then given options of which massage they’d like to try: stress relief or compression, both designed to aid in relaxation.
“It’s individual one-on-one massage,” said Lorentz, a bodywork therapist and peace minister who graduated from The Beloved Community Seminary in Portland, Oregon.
They also offer energy-healing such as Reiki, acupuncture, Qigong, yoga, aromatherapy and more. There is also a portable canvas labyrinth for walking meditation. Participating in the classes is not mandatory.
“If you choose to be alone, you have the opportunity to do that and be in the same space. And if you just want to just sit and have coffee with someone, you can do that to,” Lorentz said. “You don’t have to participate.”
Groups include no more than 15 people at a time. The clinic is all-volunteer—some cook, some do hands-on services, some do other things.
“When you come in you can’t tell the difference between the workers and the clients. … It’s very informal and very open,” Lorentz said. “We were surprised to find out that that was the element that made the biggest difference for everyone. It’s not like group therapy—you don’t have to participate.”
Sometimes getting involved in the massages isn’t easy.
“(There were) women who came in who were terrified at the door because all they knew was this was some kind of massage. They didn’t know how they would respond to being touched. It took coaxing to get them in the door,” Lorentz said, “They would (come in) and then observe, then they decided they’d try that. We explain what we’re going to do, and you tell us when to stop.”
Services are free, and a donation jar helps pay for food and to support their host church, St. Mark UMC, which lets them use the space and some storage for free.
When asked why she chose this field, Lorentz explained, “I am someone who experienced sexual trauma as a child. I had an opportunity as an adult to engage with multiple kinds of therapy, body work therapy, beyond traditional therapy most people think of.”
She said the response from attendees has been extraordinarily positive.
“It’s very humbling to me to see just what simple compassion can offer to help someone. When we started the project, what we found was that of all the services that we offered, the number one item that everyone mentioned was, in their words, a ‘nonjudgmental attitude.’”
One of the rules about the trauma relief clinic is that it’s not typical psychological therapy, Lorentz said, which has been ideal for many of the attendees.
“They didn’t have to come in and tell their story again. They didn’t want to have to be the victim or to be judged for any part of where they felt guilt remorse or shame. They recognized we were just there to give them service,” she said.
That, along with the hot meal, a community of support and companionship, has been a huge draw, Lorentz said.
Beth Barry, missions and outreach chair at St. Mark, said they appreciate having the trauma relief clinic at their church to help people in need, some of who may feel marginalized.
“Everyone is welcomed and everyone is cared for,” Barry said.
Lorentz said she and her team are incredibly grateful to St. Mark UMC for opening their doors to their ministry.
“The minister there, who is new, didn’t hesitate to say yes. Just knowing that we’re strangers to them, they said yes,” Lorentz tearfully said. “It means a lot. We respect that. It’s never a question to them—we’re in there once a month, and they just let us do that. They couldn’t be more accommodating. I think that’s extraordinary.”
The church also offers prayer support, which Lorentz said is extremely important.
Lorentz hopes one day to be able to offer this therapy through a mobile clinic so they can offer their classes and treatment anywhere. She also hopes to help with the migrant population and people recently released from prison.
Volunteers are always welcome, as are class attendees. To volunteer or attend a class, contact Lorentz at 803-749-1576 or [email protected].
By Laura Camby McCaskill