LEWISTOWN - The process of separation and divorce can leave broken individuals feeling hopeless and alone. But two local Bible studies are combatting those feelings with small group support and encouragement.
"God put this on my heart," Patti Hutton, group facilitator of Restoration Women's Ministries, said.
After becoming aware of the deep, raw emotions experienced by separated women, Hutton said she felt led to help, though she initially tried to talk herself out of it.
"There were many reasons why I was not qualified," she said, explaining that she is not divorced and wasn't a certified counselor.
Despite her hesitation, Hutton began a Bible study about 15 years ago to help encourage women who were facing dissolution in their relationships. After a five-year hiatus, Hutton rekindled the group this fall with the help of Carole Heckman-Shingler, of Reedsville.
Over the next nine weeks, Hutton and Heckman-Shingler will lead a faith-based support group strictly for separated or divorced women on Thursdays at Evangel Baptist Church in Lewistown. The group is interdenominational and meets weekly for video seminars and small group discussion provided through DivorceCare workbooks and resources.
On the other side of the county, Glen and Yvonne Peachey, of Belleville, also offer a Bible study using the DivorceCare program. Like Hutton, the Peacheys have not experienced divorce, but want to help encourage friends who face separation. The Peacheys' study is open to both men and women and meets weekly in their home.
Throughout the course of the program, each group focuses on topics including anger, depression, loneliness, new relationships, finances, forgiveness and reconciliation. Every topic is discussed by industry professionals in a 30-40 minute video and the group is encouraged to share personal experiences and thoughts at the end of the meeting.
"The videos really represent where our ladies are. The first night, I had a level of sharing that I never had before," Hutton said.
For her, that connection within the group is what the ministry is all about. Hutton said that when they begin, many participants are struggling with their identity and compare the process of separation and divorce to a dark tunnel with with no light at the end.
"People describe (separation) as worse than death because the people are still in their life," she said.
After working through the program once, sometimes twice, participants begin to see change in their lives and regain hope in their future. Hutton shared the story of one participant who arrived at the group after moving all of her belongings out of the house, leaving only a note for her husband to return to. The woman attended every weekly meeting but didn't share a word the whole time.
"I thought, 'She's not getting it,' " Hutton admitted.
But at the end of the program, she received a surprising letter in the mail. The participant wrote to thank Hutton for her efforts and outlined every lesson with what she had learned.
"You see a lot of those little moments that just stick," Hutton said.
Glen Peachey had similar success stories to share.
"There was a lady who... I will never forget her coming. She came in stooped over, looked like she was carrying the weight of the world. You would think that she lost all hope," Peachey recalled. "By the time we were through, she had done a 180. She was working in a Burger King in Lewistown. She just had a new lease on life."
Another fellow, he said, had been divorced for quite awhile before attending the Bible study.
"At the Grange Fair, he bumped into his ex and they were able to talk. He was able to share forgiveness and how it affected him," Glen said.
For Heckman-Shingler, the experience is even more personal. She attended the program twice herself after separating from her husband.
"Focusing not on the spouse's issues but yourself and getting your life on track was a big one for me," she said.
With an outstretched hand and an open heart, the women at Evangel Baptist Church and the Peachey family in Belleville hope to make a difference in the lives of many more community members.
"I'm always wanting to help people achieve," Hutton, who is now a professional counselor, said. "When you see that, it's such a blessing to you."
"Forgive and forget. You can't forget," Peachey admitted, "but the impact of the pain that you experience just seems to kind of go away. When you're able to extend forgiveness to your ex, it helps you keep on going."
Restoration Women's Ministries meets at 7 p.m. each Thursday at Evangel Baptist Church in Lewistown. To register, call Patti Hutton at 437-0106 or Carole Heckman-Shingler at 250-1466 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DivorceCare just concluded a 13-week session but plans to meet on Sunday evenings next spring in Belleville. For more information, call Locust Grove United Methodist Church at 935-2164 or Glen and Yvonne Peachey at 935-7496.