This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on June 19, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
Anne Lamott spoke at my church, in Santa Barbara, a couple years ago. She was the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for a church collaborative effort my husband helps to coordinate, offering shelter for neighbors without homes. Among various topics that evening, she described some of what she experienced in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, CT. As a volunteer Sunday School teacher, she recalled instinctively wanting to be with her kids and to provide them with more opportunities to create, to feel safe, and to grow.
At ICTG, we often refer to that leadership activity as "adding good into the world." Over the years, we've noticed how easy it is to talk A LOT about the trouble in the world. But changing that trouble happens when we offer more goodness in response.
Listening to Anne speak, I wondered, what helps a person lean in with goodness – like that – immediately in response to heartache? What makes a person think, I should go be a caring presence with kids, help them feel safe, and, possibly, find a glimpse of pleasure again, after great loss?
It can seem too simple. Not nearly enough in the face of horrendous heartache.
Like how, recently, at a training I was leading for youth leaders, a participant whose youth predominantly have experienced traumatic experiences balked at this sentiment. "Sorry, but, calming myself down and building relationships hardly seems like it will make enough of a difference in the face of so much overwhelming tragedy."
It's certainly not a quick fix. In fact, many times, people who call us are hoping we might have a silver bullet or a magic pill – a miracle – that will instantly change the circumstances and forever relieve the pain and suffering. They would much rather not have to trod the Valley of the Shadow of Death. As one minister put it, "Can't I just scale up the rocky ledge, and skip this whole depressive Valley?"
Trauma, severe loss, moral injury, or ambiguous losses (like the loss of childhood, of innocence, of playfulness) can seem a lot like a hot potato. Most often we don't want to hold it, and we instinctively toss it away from us as soon as we can. Like when a group rashly removes a person who is making efforts to resolve what happened. Or when people refuse to talk about or acknowledge what happened in any way and instead encourage others to pretend like it didn't happen. Or when it seems like people are not responding at all, and rather just moving on and expecting "time" will heal the hurt.
These efforts have all been tried and failed. Instead, they result in the exact opposite of what was intended. They prolong and even increase symptoms, as survivors bodies continue to insist on accounting for what's happened. As we become more conscious of the far-reaching effects of trauma on persons, families, organizations, and communities, leaders can be more effective in response by recognizing how attending to the effects of trauma permeating our congregations and communities today takes patience, being present, having courage to be honest about what has happened, and being compassionately curious in listening to the surviving individual or collective body express what it needs next for care and restoration.
In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, traumatologist Bessel van der Kolk says he believes we are on the verge of becoming a "trauma conscious" country. In terms of the character and components of congregational care today, I believe we're on the verge of becoming a trauma conscious Church. As a Christian, I understand the Church to be the Body of Christ at work in the world today. We are becoming conscious of how wounded the Body is, has been, and also the ways the Body can become restored and respond more fully to wounds in the world – adding more good in response to profound sorrow.
That night, in Santa Barbara, Anne suggested, we allow our tears to wash us, cleanse us, and water the ground at our feet. Though a much slower act of response, nevertheless in my experience survivors find it miraculous when, in the presence of caring companions, they find their tears of lament leading everyone toward relief and refreshment. Through intentionally caring companionship, we witness over and over again how the path of the Valley of the Shadow of Death leads from a sense of feeling forsaken by God toward a sense of being led beside still waters.
To learn more and gain restorative strategies for responding to collective trauma among congregations and communities, visit the ICTG congregational resources page.
The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk
This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on May 23, 2017, on the ICTG Blog.
At 2:30pm, beginning descent into Los Angeles International Airport, my fellow passengers from London, England, and I were gathering our personal items and ensuring our tray tables were up and our seats were in full upright positions. Of course, none of us imagined the terror occurring in Manchester at that same time.
The first news I received, about 45min later, was when a colleagues simply posted "Manchester" on her Facebook feed. An ordinarily thoughtful and articulate woman, this one word signaled the truth: What words suffice in the aftermath of horror and devastation?
The fact that this latest terror attack targeting children and teenagers at the height of leisure and celebration only proves all the more gut-wrenching for people near and far.
Some of my own experience of disorientation came as I took in the fact this occurred as I was returning from a trip to England where fellow seminary professors and I studied and prepared to teach ordinands trauma-informed ministry in response to collective traumas. How painful to have to put into action so immediately some of the practices we diligently prepared only hours before.
Here you will find guides for pastoral response to local collective trauma, particularly involving children and teenagers, including basic principle and tips that have proved helpful in other communities stricken by terror. In the coming weeks, local clergy and ministers may also find the Phases of Collective Trauma Response a helpful conversation piece as they discern next steps together. You can also share best practices with one another in the comments below.
Prayers continue for everyone impacted and responding to the bombing in Manchester, England. And much gratitude for all the family, friends, colleagues, and first responders offering much needed help and support in yet another time of great need.
This post, written by AHyun Lee, originally was published on February 6, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
Life is full of stories.
There are many stories created by various people on the same day at the same time. Each story reveals our interconnectedness and these stories reflect our true self. Also, God always relates to, and influences, our stories. My teaching experience in Haiti happened because of the interconnectedness of important people in my ministry.
The connection of the story of Mayville United Methodist Church’s mission and Haiti
In October 2016, I got a phone call from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, where I studied for my Master’s degree. They have a global program to teach theology courses for students around the world. During this phone call, I was asked to teach on pastoral care and counseling in Haiti. At that time, Mayville UMC had already made special offerings to several organizations for Haitians who struggled with hurricanes and earthquake. The congregation sent 300 dollars to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for Haiti from our rummage sale along with donating 700 dollars to Food Pantry in Mayville. I was so moved and inspired by their love and care for people in the community and the world. Mayville UMC’s mission story strongly influenced me to answer, “Yes” during the phone call from the Vice President, Kyung Lim Shin Lee of Wesley Theological Seminary. God’s call was delivered by my congregation’s mission story.
The connection of the story in a place, Cite Soleil in Haiti
On January 24 2016, I arrived in a place in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, called Cite Soleil. It means Sun City, and it is the poorest, most dangerous place to live in this hemisphere. It is hard for me to describe this place to anyone who has never been there. All you can see is the poverty. I can show pictures, but there are stories that I would need to tell to explain the trash, the dust, the smell, etc. It is a place where people experience death every day. It is a place where people don’t have any clean systems in place and where people have long burned garbage indiscriminately. It is a place where people seek food all the time. It is a place where you hardly see flowers. It seems the situation in Haiti is not good and for many it may be getting worse. It seems absolutely impossible to restore Haitians’ lives in several weeks, several months, or even several years because of the level of poverty and the reality of death.
I met a missionary, Simon Kim, at the airport of Port-au-Prince. He has been in Haiti since 2010 when 200,000 people died from an earthquake. He built the Love and Hope church, elementary, middle, and high school, a theological seminary, as well as 20 local churches. Jesus Medical Clinic has been recently opened under his leadership. He supplies 4500 loaves of bread to local orphanages each week at daily bible study times. On January 24, I met with 150 pastors and seminarian who have struggled to minister amidst the trauma in this place, in Love and Hope Theological School.
The connection of the story of pastors and seminarians at Love and Hope Theological School
From January 25th to January 27th, I offered six lectures, from 9am to noon and from 1pm to 4pm. “What can I teach in three days?” “What can I offer them?” “What can they achieve in only three days of learning?” These questions were in my mind as I prepared to lecture about pastoral care and counseling for healing trauma and recovering the community. The main goal of this course was to provide an introductory overview of the historical, practical, and theological foundations of pastoral care for pastors and seminarians in Haiti. I hoped to strengthen their identification as pastoral caregivers addressing people’s trauma and working toward healing the community. I designed experiences to develop each student’s capacity for empathic relationships with others. I focused on helping student’s ability to take the primary pastoral role for their congregations, to listen empathically to people’s suffering, to provide the space where people can express their emotions including anger, fear, despair, even joy and hope, and to share and receive God’s love and grace in their ministry.
I heard many stories about death, loss, and trauma from students. We talked about immediate financial needs due to poverty. We talked about their burdens of being a pastoral caregiver for the urgent needs of congregations. We also shared the powerful stories about how they have overcome their own trauma and found healing in their life. There were lots of stories of how they kept their lives together and of how God works through them. It was a very powerful time not only to connect with their pain and suffering, but also to engage with their hopes and dreams for their ministry.
The connection with the general resource of Institute of Congregational Trauma and Growth
While researching healing trauma and recovering the community, I contacted Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe who had studied with me at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in the Doctoral program. She is a pastoral psychotherapist, congregational care consultant, and serves as the Executive Director of ICTG. I asked for some helpful resources. She recommended the General Ministry Guide. This guide book introduces three core relational components for healing trauma and congregational growth; calming, community, and communication. For each of these core relational components, there was discussion about how to practice being calm in the middle of the storm and hunger. We demonstrated how to listen to and communicate with each other. Also, we built up personal lists of supportive community in their ministry and in their life. We explored how to form the ritual of healing and lament. It was a very meaningful and spiritual journey as we built our relationship with each other and God. We learned how to listen to and grow with people and the community and to seek their hope, values, and dreams for the future. Then, we all gathered the stories together and connected with each story. Their collective story was one that will lead toward healing the trauma and recovering their community in God.
The connection of the story of God’s ministry
It was about our relation to God. It was about our connection with the story of God’s ministry in our daily life. On the first day all I could see was the poverty. It didn’t take long to realize it was a place where we loved and cared for one another. Over and over again, students and pastors told me how much it meant that they were able to learn about theology, to spend time with me, to get support in their ongoing ministry, and for the future of their communities. Over and over again, my friends, colleagues, ICTG, Mayville UMC church members, and my family sent emails with prayers and support. The love and gratitude was, and is, overwhelming and humbling. Although it was only for a few days, I was with the people of Haiti who were eager to work for God. I see the incredible bravery and patience of the people, and the countless ways God is at work. I pray it becomes a small step to connect the story of God’s ministry in all our lives toward healing and reconciliation.
To access the resource guide and other online training materials, visit the ICTG training manuals menu or browse our services.
On behalf of the ICTG Board of Directors and Staff, thank you to financial contributors who provide funding for the creation of the ICTG resource guides and advisory support our staff offers to ministers like AHyun and the students she teaches with our materials. To provide resourcing for more ministers, make a contribution today.
This post, written by Sophia Park, originally was published on February 14, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
As a nation of immigrants, our lives in the U.S. are increasingly becoming interconnected with people who are different than us. It now is commonplace to encounter in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools people of diverse ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Many family members dress in traditional outfits and speak in their own dialects as they live “at home away from home.” In addition, we get to enjoy sampling a variety of traditional cuisines and use globally-made products. This is what living in multicultural society looks like.
According to the Pew Research Center, by 2055 the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority, much of this change driven by immigration. Furthermore, at a time when traditional white protestant Christianity is on the decline, a number of immigrant churches continue to show growth. And while many a small immigrant congregation shares worship space with larger white mainline church, there often is little meaningful interactions between the two. Although these diverse congregations share communities, worship and congregational life remain separate.
With global neighbors at our door step, congregations can become the “cultural bridge” to connect diverse communities. However, rather than focusing on what we can do for them, why not ask what can they do for us? What is it that they bring to inter-cultural relationships?
Having worked in immigrant churches for two decades, I would highlight several strengths immigrant congregations and families bring to intercultural relationships:
Awareness of pain, suffering, discrimination, and alienation can escape those who live in the dominant cultures, where common values and privilege are often taken for granted.
Multicultural persons have the internal resources to live among many cultures and can bring those skills to connecting and building relationships. Here are some suggestions of what your church community can do, individually and collectively, to form relationships and build cultural bridges.
Multicultural society displays the creative and diverse nature of God. As a country founded on immigration, God is here in our midst. We encounter God as we engage in relationships with our global neighbors. Through our familial and congregational intercultural relationships, we become skilled in creating a “new cultural space” where all people are welcomed to interact with one another.
Together we can transcend the binary tensions of majority-minority positions—and instead co-create mutual relationships.
This post, written by Doug Ranck, originally was published on August 28, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
School was supposed to start today in Texas.
Of course, for many students, it's not. If they are not huddled with their families on the second floors of their house, some had to spend last night on the roof, praying for a rescue. Those who have been rescued are transported to one of the shelters available through the Red Cross, various churches and houses of worship throughout the area, and other facilities.
No one can say for sure how long people will need to stay in shelters. Many must now make plans to connect with family, friends, or find a place to live for the next few months, if not years.
Today is devastatingly far from what they planned.
Among the many challenges facing Texas and Louisiana communities today, care of children and youth is vital. The experiences children and youth have during this storm and its aftermath will greatly impact the rest of their lives. Caring adults and youth leaders can enhance that impact for the better.
Below are tips for youth workers to help care for their volunteer leaders and youth in the wake of a massive storm. The role of a youth leader can be very rewarding and challenging even in the most ordinary of circumstances. A traumatic event in the magnitude of a hurricane forces us beyond the usual and into un-charted ministry (even if we have experienced a natural disaster before). The majority of youth leaders never signed up for "post hurricane ministry". Yet, here you are. Be the leader you are called to be, right now.
Calm – Once everyone is out of harm’s way, use a regular group meeting time to debrief with volunteer leaders and youth or setup a special time
Connect – The role of the leaders is to love and care for the youth. The role of the youth is to look after each other. In this or other settings remind youth and leaders the value of your church family, their own nuclear families, their friendships, and other caring adults in their lives including teachers or neighbors. A healthy community looks out for each other and one another’s well-being.
Communicate – Here is a short “game plan” to ensure an efficient communication flow during this long-term recovery season.
ICTG's Resource Guide for Youth Ministry can be a helpful support for you and your leaders over the next year or two.
Remember, long-term recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re one of your water stations along the way. Stop in when you need some support to keep going.
From 2012-2020, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.