Since the beginning of the summer, more than a dozen people have gathered each week to understand and overcome the pain of divorce. They sit in a half-circle of chairs in a place that has historically stigmatized people in their situation: a church.
The group at Valleybrook Evangelical Presbyterian Church is midway through DivorceCare, a 13-week, faith-based class on helping people who are divorced. Each week, prompted by an explanatory video, they discuss various topics and how to understand their emotions, such as depression, anger and loneliness.
The main goal of the class is to help people who are divorced not feel alone, said Ben Brychta, a church elder who helps lead the group. There are people available to listen. There are people who have gone through a similar experience, he said.
"A lot of times these people are ostracized by their family and by society," Brychta said. "They feel less than and we want them to know that God loves them."
Over the years, class sizes have ranged from five people to more than a dozen, Brychta said. This year's group of 11 people meets for a potluck dinner and the hour-long class every Wednesday night. The church also offers a DivorceCare class for children, single-parenting education and a grief sharing group.
The church is focused on healing the wounds many people in today's society face, said the Rev. Tracy Edwards, Valleybrook senior pastor.
"God seems to be pulling us toward helping and equipping families," he said. " Divorce rips apart families. We want to be there."
Participants in the group are hurting and are drawn to someone who is neutral to their situation and willing to listen in a safe space, said Diane Wooten, who helps lead the course.
Brychta leads the church's effort to attract participants. He searches through court records for divorce proceedings to send people information about the course, Brychta said. Since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 700 divorces in Hamilton County, Brychta said.
Valleybrook has offered the course for free to anyone in the community for six years and helped around 75 community members, Brychta said.
"The goal is not to get people to come to our church," he said. "The goal is to minister to the community."
Scott Anderson is taking the Valleybrook class for the third time. He was married for more than a decade. He learns something new about his situation each session, he said. Like going to the gym once does not make someone healthy, with understanding his emotions and experiences there is always something to work on, Anderson said.
"You never completely heal over until you completely let go," he said. "And that's where I'm at, about ready to forgive."