This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on May 25, 2016, on our previous website.
A community leader recently asked me this question: "How often does an average pastor encounter trauma? Or throughout their career, how many traumas might they come close to?"
How would you answer that question?
Of course, there are several ways to answer it.
First, personally. Chances of a faith leader having encountered trauma personally are high. Thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's ACE Study, we know that nearly 60% of people in the US encounter adverse childhood experiences related to sudden deaths of loved ones, all forms of abuse, or a parent living outside the child's permanent home due to divorce or incarceration, before they turn 18 years old. This, of course, includes faith leaders.
Second, among their congregation. The ACE study holds true for the faith leader's congregation, too.
Third, their congregation may experience a collective trauma within the congregation. This may involve the sudden death of a staff member, the revelation of cases of sexual abuse of adults or children, the revelation of spiritual abuse, the revelation of severe leadership betrayal including financial embezzlement, an act of arson or violent terror, or the destruction of their facility or members' homes due to a natural storm, wildfire, or earthquake.
Fourth, their congregation may experience a collective trauma within the community due to widely spread destruction from natural storms, a series of physical or sexual abuse, hate crimes or acts of terror, or violent outbreaks. In 2015, FEMA declared over 40 major disasters in nearly as many states.
Then, there are the incidents not "big" or wide spread enough to make national headlines, but nevertheless terrorize and leave lasting impacts on individuals and families in the congregation and local community. In 2016, so far, 20,440 incidents related to gun violence have been reported. And we now know, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime.
All of these forms of trauma impact the collective spirit of the congregation and strain faith leaders' compassion abilities. In many cases, when in distress, individuals and families turn to their faith communities for help and guidance. With so much trouble in the world – permeating every aspect of congregational life – how can faith leaders remain resilient?
Thankfully, not all is lost. Traumatologists have found three keys to healing trauma.
When congregations practice these three behaviors – when they focus on creating safe spaces in communities to heal – their members are less likely to experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and are more likely to be healing agents in the world. These practices counter traumatic stress symptoms, and generate restoration for individuals, families, and communities.
To learn more about how congregations incorporate these practices into their ministries, browse this website for an abundance of online training.
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From 2012-2020, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.