The experience of joy can be especially challenging in times of adversity. As we experience loss and grief, we may struggle to see or even be willing to accept moments of joy as they appear.
For example, how often have you felt a twinge of guilt after finding yourself spontaneously laughing when recalling a happier time with a loved one who has died? And yet, you may have also found that laughter, too, reminded you of what meant the most to you.
These glimpses of joy – and, of course, joy does not only involve laughter – invite us into the complexities of life. How even in our most tragic moments, we can experience goodness and warmth, too.
In recalling multiple disaster events, the Revs. Kime, Crebbin, Swain, and Gardner speak of these complexities and nuanced interfaces here at the 46:33 mark.
You may also find this book on Joy, edited by Christian Wiman, meaningful in this season of conducting “safer at home” practices. In the introduction, Wiman speaks eloquently to how experiences of loss and elusiveness interplay with perceptions of joy. As much as we might prefer them to be distinct from one another, nevertheless, they often call one another to mind and heart.
How are you finding yourself surprised by joy, or missing joy, in these days?
Are you finding joy appearing throughout your experiences of the phases of disaster, or are you finding its absence complicating your experience? What is sustaining you as you move through these days?
As a leader of your organization, your ability to find moments of refreshment along the way will help you manage the multiple ups and downs and lead your community well. Share below what you are doing to maintain your health and encourage those around you.
In this series we acknowledge that "disasters do not wait until we are fully prepared", that many leaders are learning as they go, and we extend our hope that though sharing perspectives you may find some easier ways to create a new rhythm at this time. Read What’s Working For Me Right Now - Part 1 here.
When I was younger in ministry, many years ago now, I remember talking to another pastor who had just returned from a sabbatical. I had never had a sabbatical so I was curious to hear what he learned. Without hesitating, he said, “I found out what kind of a Christian I was outside of my identity as a pastor.”
Those words were a game-changer for me in how I assessed my own identity. I am a professional Bible studier, prayer, leader, teacher, shepherd and a whole lot more but without the role of pastor who would I be as a person, a child of God?
The role of a pastor is to shepherd, guide and be with one’s people, in the same physical space. What happens when that is taken away? In the middle of this unprecedented pandemic, we are finding out.
California was the first state to adopt “shelter-in-home” standards. When the order was given my home became my “permanent” office. Previously, working from home, was a nice little change in the weekly routine. Now, it is the routine.
Presently I feel I am asking the question again, but for a very different reason, “Without the role of pastor, with one’s people, who would I be?”
To get at this I want to share a shortlist of what is working for me, at the moment (Check back with me in a few days or weeks!):
In the midst of all the turbulence and unprecedented circumstances may you find what works for you. May it bring you strength, wisdom and peace to walk forward as you care for yourself, your family and your people.
On Sleep: Mukherjee, S., Patel, S. R., Kales, S. N., Ayas, N. T., Strohl, K. P., Gozal, D., & Malhotra, A. (2015). American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 191(12), 1450–1458. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201504-0767st https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.201504-0767ST
On Positive Consequences: Updegraff, J. (2008). Searching for and finding meaning in collective trauma: results from a national longitudinal study of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 709–722.
Following 9/11, and many other types of disasters since, I've heard a lot of stories about new relationships. Stories about the marriages that occurred or the babies that were conceived. Stories about how, for the people telling the stories, tragedy helped them to clarify what they wanted in life, what mattered to them, what joy they had right in front of them, or how love helped them feel more grounded amid incredibly destabilizing loss.
Of course, I've also heard the stories of how, for others, tragedy wreaks more tragedy. How the overwhelming stress of disaster can lead others to act in abusive ways, ways they thought they had settled in the past, or ways they never before imagined enacting. I've listened to the shame and guilt, and, most of all in these cases, the difficulty in finding the words to acknowledge what unfolded. The way they may have sexually, physically, emotionally, or spiritually harmed people in thier circles of home and work.
People react differently to stress, to grief, and to loss.
People react differently to stress, to grief, and to loss. For some, proceeding through their emotions and reactions becomes a pilgrimage in discovering more about what is most meaningful to them. For others, experiences of loss, grief, or immense stress feel so alien, they struggle to recognize themselves and, rather than moving toward healing and restoration, their suffering becomes the preoccupation.
Faith leaders hold a quintessential role in shepherding, or hosting spaces for, the wide range of responses to tragedy that may unfold within their congregation.
Faith leaders, especially in the aftermath of great community loss, hold a quintessential role in shepherding, or hosting space(s) for, the wide range of responses to tragedy that may unfold within their congregation. They help the congregation to bear witness, together, to the scope of what has happened – not only the catalyst(s) of heartache, but the range of responses as well. They honor each person's perspective, while helping one another to participate in co-creating senses of belonging.
Here are some of the ways that happens:
Overall, faith leaders guide the congregation in discovering, living out, and recalling the story of who they are before, during, and after tremendous upheaval.
This video outlines 4 simple embodied coping practices, which may be useful to manage anxiety and panic during social isolation, lockdown, quarantine, and response to the COVID-19 disaster. You can watch the whole video or forward to a particular practice.
The presenter is the Rev. Dr. Storm Swain, the Frederick Houk Borsch Associate Professor of Anglican Studies, Pastoral Care, and Theology at the United Lutheran Seminary, and author of 'Trauma and Transformation at Ground Zero: A Pastoral Theology,' Fortress, 2011.
Watch the whole video above, or use these timestamps to skip to a particular practice.
Instinctual Response in a time of Crisis or Disaster- Skip to this section 0:25
Embodied Coping Practices- Skip to this section 2:49
Read more from Rev. Dr. Storm Swain here.
In the coming weeks, pastoral care needs will escalate exponentially as COVID-19 impacts continue to increase. Here are some ways your ministry team can prepare:
Creating a Trajectory Map
Use the Phases of Disaster as a starting place, and begin to draft a trajectory map for your organization or community. You can share your maps on twitter, facebook, instagram, or linked in, using hashtag #carerestores.
As you're creating your map, consider the differences your organization or community are experiencing compared with traditional understandings of episodic or singular incident disasters. For example, many groups are finding their sense of the initial "hero" stage has been a far sharper incline or spike, as leaders and volunteers have rushed in this last week to solve as much as they can and now, even within just a week or two, are experiencing significant senses of fatigue. The fatigue appears to be related to a combination of the strong push to help along with the remarkable speed at which new information is released, often changing and becoming out-dated even hour by hour.
Continue to use your map as a draft or living document with your team, a template that you can update over the coming weeks and months.
Recognize the Range of Impact
Over the next several weeks and months, your congregants, ministry recipients, or community members, will experience a range of impacts. Some of these will be directly COVID-19 related. For example:
Some of the impacts will be indirectly related to COVID-19. For example:
Pacing Care for Sustainability
As you consider what needs already are present and what may be coming, in what ways can you and your staff pace and nourish yourselves now so that you can avoid burnout and provide sustainable care through the long-term?
Here are some helpful resources for understanding trauma, pacing, and sustaining long-term care:
In-depth Training Manuals:
General Ministry Training Manual
Youth Ministry Training Manual
Spiritual Direction Training Manual
Download Free Network Inventories:
Spiritual Care Network Inventory - Congregational
Spiritual Care Network Inventory - Personal
Youth Leaders' Care Network Inventory - Congregational
Youth Leaders' Spiritual Care Network Inventory - Personal
Congregational Care During COVID-19
Ministry in the Time of Public Health Crisis COVID19
Becoming a Companion along the Valley of the Shadow of Death
How Long Term Response to Pandemic Differs from Other Types of Disaster Response
At the Institute, we have a phrase we use in times of collective trauma response: disaster is your business now. It's a mantra that helps us and our service recipients bring to mind the new reality that now is not business as usual.
Even so, all of that is easier said that done. It's difficult to fully take in all that any disaster means, let alone what the ramifications will be of a global pandemic.
In terms of congregational care, here are some important things to consider is you focus on the primary business of response to COVID-19.
Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Health
The longer quarantines last, the less people are infected or die, but the more behavioral health challenges may arise related to people being cooped up in their homes, having limited touch, and having lost significant income or jobs. The shorter quarantines last, the more people are infected or die. This presents additional behavioral health challenges related to grief and bereavement, especially if people are unable to visit their loved ones in times of distress or death, as well as challenges related to conducting memorial services under these circumstances.
What you can do to prepare: Continue to keep your staff and self informed about the trajectory of the virus in your community. Maintain an up-to-date referral list of behavioral health providers in your community to refer your congregants to as needed.
Worship and Care
Depending on the trajectory of the virus in your community, your congregation may need to provide worship and pastoral and peer care services remotely for many weeks or months. Your staff and volunteers also may need to provide ongoing volunteer services to assist more persons in your congregation or community who are unable to access basic necessities, including groceries, assistance with utilities maintained online, banking, and so forth.
What you can do to prepare: Continue to keep your staff and self informed about the trajectory of the virus in your community. Also stay informed about what services your greater community is providing that your congregants can access as needed, or how your congregation can assist your greater community in meeting needs. Consider ways you can help your healthy volunteer base pace themselves for the long term. Encourage volunteers and staff to take regular breaks and not over-function, in order to be available for the duration and avoid inadvertent burnout. If you are part of a smaller congregation, consider partnering with a larger congregation in your area that can assist with remote worship and care services.
Your congregants, your community, and your congregation likely will experience financial challenges in the weeks and months ahead. These may include loss of jobs, loss of businesses, significantly reduced investments, reduced donations, and so forth.
What you can do to prepare: Continue to keep your staff and self informed about the trajectory of the virus in your community. Consider whether there are important, and frank, conversations that may need to be had with your governing body about the reality of your congregation's financial state before the virus and what it may experience with loss of income. Recognize the fact that you may have to pace not only yourselves but what you focus on in the weeks ahead to ensure stability, if you are able. If your congregation is not facing significant financial risk, consider the ways you may prepare to assist or even lead your community in providing financial assistance for persons in the community that may endure great financial challenges in the weeks ahead.
Remember that you may not have the size organization to address all types of needs, and that you personally cannot be all things to all people. Anticipate now the kind of person you want to be, and the kind of people you want to encourage your congregants to be, in light of long term challenges and what is feasible. Take time now to prepare for how best to practice those traits amid remarkable adversity.
Additionally, you may find these posts helpful as well:
On March 13, 2020, Desta Goehner, Director of Congregational Relations at California Lutheran University convened an online forum for over 200 clergy, pastors, and faith-based leaders to consider together what ministry may look like in the days, weeks and months to come around the public health crisis related to the coronavirus COVID-19.
The conversation included the stories, wisdom and experiences of these four:
1. Mike Anderson, a pastor in the epicenter of Kirkland, WA who shifted ministry, worship and pastoral care due to COVID-19.
2. Priscilla Austin, a Seattle area pastor, who describes how ministry is changing and also how she is caring for herself in the midst of it all.
3. Kate Wiebe, MDiv, PhD, trauma expert and Executive Director of the Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth, who shares about what ministry looks like in times of crisis and trauma.
4. Rozella White, coach and disaster chaplain, who talks about spiritual care and emotional support for leaders in times of crisis.
Together, along with a vibrant chat room conversation with many participants, Desta and the speakers fostered a powerful time.
Below you can find the resources related to the talk:
1. Recorded web gathering: http://bit.ly/MITCCLU
2. Open Google Drive: http://bit.ly/MinistryintimesofCrisis
In this folder you'll find the chat box notes with resources and questions, the recorded web gathering and the slides with the guest speaker information.
3. Webpage with all the details: http://bit.ly/CLUcongregationalrelations
This gathering also developed into a weekly series, which you can find more details about on the CLU Congregational Relations webpage listed above.
Help sustain online education by making a financial contribution today or becoming a monthly donor. Thank you for your generosity!
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.
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Expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.