Jane McClain has been a member of the Fairfax Church of Christ for 40 years and has led its Divorce Recovery Support Group since 1988. And as far as its outreach minister, the Rev. Neal Milligan is concerned, she's just the right person for the job.
"Divorce recovery is so hard, and she has a caring and compassionate heart for people who are hurting," he said. "For her to do this for so long reveals what a remarkable woman she is."
Mary Oliver-Anderson of Fair Oaks, a group leader in the program since 2000, said McClain is "extremely conscious of the fact that this is a very sensitive situation for people. She meets them at the door and makes them feel comfortable right away. She disarms their fears and encourages the confidentiality."
Oliver-Anderson noted, as well, that McClain is tireless in promoting group interaction and "exhibits those survivor qualities that make people feel that, if she can do it, they can, too."
Born in Alexandria and raised in the City of Fairfax, McClain graduated from Fairfax High and got married — her husband was in the Air Force — in 1961. For two years, she worked for Fairfax County as a clerk in the tax department. Then, while raising her two sons (both grown now), she worked part-time for Sears for 11 years.
After her divorce in 1988, she returned to work for the county as an accounts clerk in the finance department and, later, in the Office of Children. She now lives in the Englewood Mews community and works in administration for the Department of Human Services. And she loves to cook, entertain and spend time with her five grandchildren.
Oliver-Anderson got to know McClain in her Bible Study classes and says McClain's been a great friend to her and someone she can "bounce ideas off of." And when Oliver-Anderson asked her if she could somehow contribute to and serve the divorce-recovery program, McClain found a way.
"Some people can talk to strangers better than to their family," explained Oliver-Anderson. "They open up a lot more honestly because of that, and [the group leaders] didn't know them as a couple. And when people heal, one indication is when they become a little more forgiving and less pained — and they revise, a bit, their original version of what happened. That's an important sign that they're learning to heal and let go."
IN ADDITION, said McClain, while that person is speaking, another group leader observes the people listening and sees if something the speaker has brought up needs to be discussed further with the group, or if someone in it, in particular, needs help with certain issues.
"The group leaders have been divorced, themselves, so that puts you 'in' with the group," said Oliver-Anderson. "You're exchanging hurt and pain so that, when you tell your story, they truly know you as well as you know them. That way, you're on an equal confidential keel — equally exposed — and that's important."
Group leader Darrel Smith, 48, said one of the things he most admires about McClain is that she was able to identify, very early on, the need within this community for a divorce-recovery program. "Many of us didn't grow up here in the Fairfax area, with its high-paced lifestyle," he explained. "So there wasn't the support structure that there was in our home communities — which exacerbates the loneliness and feelings of isolation and despair. You don't know where to turn."
Initially, said Smith, the religious community didn't look favorably upon divorce, and there were very few churches that offered this type of program. But, he said, "There's a sense of peace that comes from going through this type of program in a church setting. Jane saw and understood this, 15 years ago and was the cause of this program being developed, nurtured and continued."
At the end of the program, said McClain, the participants get a certificate of graduation. Then, she said, "We hold hands and recite the 'Serenity Prayer' so they know they have support and they're not alone."
"Jane is a truly caring person who wants only the best for the folks who come through the door in pain," said Smith. "And she's committed to helping them get back on their feet. She's a great lady, and this program is a direct reflection of her hard work."