I learned about further resources when I recently attended a Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care orientation with some other chaplains in the Association of Professional Chaplains. The Red Cross is currently expanding its Disaster Spiritual Care program, so there will soon be more opportunities for chaplains and local clergy to receive training in order to provide care at the community and regional level when natural or human-caused disasters occur. Spiritual care will be an integral component to disaster response, working in cooperation with physical and mental health care. This is a promising step, one that affirms the importance of responding to the needs of the whole person when trauma and disaster strike. Immediate physical needs for food and shelter are often accompanied by spiritual distress, especially when there is loss of life, livelihood, housing, or loss of a sense of personal and community safety.
As with any organization, the Red Cross has its own reporting structures, policies, and, of course, plentiful acronyms. I marveled as the trainers described the logistical feats of coordination that get put into action when the Red Cross works with a myriad of other organizations to meet the short and long-term needs of an affected population. I also learned more about the National Voluntary Organizations Assisting in Disaster, which contains many faith-based and denominational groups. ICTG has partnered with NVOAD representatives in the past, and you can see films from their presentations here. I also recommend to you a resource that can be downloaded at the VOAD website, called “Light Our Way: A Guide for Spiritual Care in Times of Disaster.”
When I think about the related work of ICTG, I am reminded of the additional ways in which congregations themselves can be equipped to be places of supportive response and healing. After the initial trauma or disaster response wanes, congregations can provide a grounded, consistent presence in the long and often slow-going recovery process.
There was a phrase that stood out to me in the correspondence leading up to the Red Cross training. The trainers explained in an email that the Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care programs “help create a safe place for survivors to feel the depth of their pain without embarrassment or alienation.” Without embarrassment or alienation. What a beautiful glimpse of what sanctuary can mean in times when it is needed most. What would it look like to continually cultivate congregations that offer a space where pain can be expressed and addressed effectively?
Part of that work, it seems to me, lies in honoring the sacred trust that we as spiritual caregivers and communities are expected to uphold. Particularly when disaster victims are in shock or disoriented, our responsibility to reflect a deeper source of love and compassion can be both a daunting burden and a holy privilege. When we can withstand the temptation to search too quickly for pat theological answers, and when we can instead truly be present to the pain and the questions as they arise from those in our care, we demonstrate our willingness to enter into vulnerable and confusing situations without having to direct them toward our own ends. This is what it means to be responsive and to pace ourselves according to the needs of others rather than the solutions we hope will one day materialize. The pain of trauma runs deep, and the process of healing and growth may come with many setbacks along the way, but to those of us—both individuals and communities—who have been entrusted with the call of spiritual caregiving, the process can become a deeply meaningful, challenging, and sacred journey.
* Discover more spiritual formation training resources on the ICTG Training menu, including the Spiritual Formation Resource Guide and Spiritual Formation Assessment.