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.
This post, written by Doug Ranck, originally was published on January 25, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
How is your congregation generating goodness in the world today?
A lot of people in the world, and particularly in the United States, feel distraught. They worry about having a job, having a home or shelter, getting a good education, having health care, and being safe – let alone being happy, feeling free, or having wealth to share.
We witnessed this weekend how millions of people voted for the current administration and how millions of people marched against the current administration. Interestingly, many congregations today have members from both of these groups. They are struggling to bring reconciliation within their own walls, as well as in their communities.
Loving a neighbor as yourself is a primary commandment. Perhaps what's most striking about the command to love one's neighbor is how it requires crossing so many arbitrary human-made lines . . . lines of faith, economic status, ethnicity, politics, and education. Learning how to love the person most different from you – to provide for them – stretches our capacities greatly. How is your congregation doing that now, in light of so much division? What's working best for you?
As a Christian pastor, I also see how the story of the Good Samaritan inherently is about responding to trauma as well. Being a good neighbor means responding to the wounds my neighbor has with effective care.
This weekend, as a country, we were presented with a lot of wounds in front of us. People who voted for the current administration, who have long felt forgotten and ignored. People who voted against the current administration, who have long felt forgotten and ignored and now fear it even more. And people who feel a wide range of other experiences, much of which is based on pain from the past.
There are many people hurting. Many who have been hurting for a long time. The State of the Union is beleaguered, at best, and there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to stabilize it.
And, through all the pain expressed this weekend, millions of people witnessed glimmers of hope. Hope in joining together with people of like-mindedness. Hope in hearing a neighbor's story and thinking about their perspective in new light. Hope in deciding to fight for the rights and benefits of a neighbor, more than just one's own. Story after story keeps emerging across the country of a people who seek out liberty and justice for all.
What is your congregation doing to participate in building up your community and the nation? It what ways are you making a difference for greater health and well-being?
At ICTG, we’ve found, in part, the work health and well-being gets done most often through individual or small group efforts that add up to great collective movements. They include:
When these things are developed, crises, trauma, and disasters are far less likely to occur. When they do occur, groups practicing these things are far more resilient.
In the days ahead, may we all work toward building more healthy, vibrant communities. We all know the world could use a lot more them.
This post originally was published on December 15, 2016, on the ICTG blog.
I remember the teenage years well. Though I did well in my academic endeavors, I basically “tolerated” school. I lived from holiday to holiday, from winter break to spring break to summer break. One of my favorite breaks was Christmas. This meant slower days, time to be with family, holiday celebrations, opening gifts and more. I loved the tradition, the warmth of relationships and the surprises of the season.
In my years of youth ministry, over the last three and a half decades, I have often stood in front of teenagers and been excited with them for the coming of school holidays and breaks. I have mourned with them when they came to a close.
Somewhere along the way one of our students mentioned they couldn’t wait for school to start again. He or she said being home was hard and life was unstable. School brought safety and structure. This had never occurred to me.
This past weekend I was at a large youth gathering where I prayed with a young guy whose father was likely headed to prison and whose mom had abandoned the kids. Imagine how he feels about all the time at home this Christmas season.
For others the holidays are grim reminders of past events or divorces or deaths. Others are just flat out stressed. Purchasing presents, expensive travel/hassles, shorter days and less sunshine can bring on depression or seasonal affective disorder.
In 2008, the American Psychological association did a poll revealing eight out of ten Americans anticipated stress during the holiday season.
For those who are already experiencing depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, feelings, memories and more the expectations connected with the Christmas holiday bring even more anxiety. The songs, the pictures, the movies and stories all paint idyllic scenes of warmth and love. One writer in the Washington Post said, “Norman Rockwell images of large, smiling families gathered around a Christmas tree are deeply ingrained into our holiday mythology, which holds that every Dec. 25, parents and grandparents and siblings put differences aside and band together like the closing scene of 'It’s a Wonderful Life.'" Living up to this in the midst of trauma can feel overwhelming.
What is the role of the youth leader in helping teenagers to safely navigate the “holiday ocean” which sometimes is calm and other times very turbulent?
Here is a short - and likely incomplete - synthesis of the best ideas I have seen or researched for how a youth leaders can create a climate of healthy response and safety:
1) Provide a space where the challenge of the holidays is acknowledged – Don’t solely talk about the excitement of the days off and the celebration of the holidays. Let your youth know you are aware for some this will be a difficult time. Invite them to let you know how to pray for them in their circumstance. Be available to pray with them and/or point them to leaders who could be available at different times during the holidays so students can reach out.
2) “Bring it down a notch” – Don’t be a part of the problem with over-programming during an already busy holiday season. Church communities sometimes contribute to the stress of youth and families in failing to consider the larger schedule going on around them. Show your youth community the importance of play and rest so they don’t barrel into the Christmas break sick and tired.
3) Challenge your youth, leaders and families to create different memories – Youth leaders can come alongside youth and families by encouraging them to create different experiences over the season. People love to have traditions but some of those traditions are tied to traumatic events or create undue stress. Diplomatically and strategically offer alternatives. One of the best gifts youth and families can give to each other is creating new memories together.
4) Give youth the opportunity to make a list of what they might like to do during a holiday season – Through this exercise you can see what they value and perhaps help them walk toward realizing some of their dreams and desires.
5) Work alongside youth to create an exit strategy – Give tools to youth who may need a “way out” of the stress or trauma they experience. Thinking through options in advance gives them hope and lessens the anxiety of what might be coming.
6) Encourage living in the present – Jesus reminds us “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 5:34b, NRSV). Your youth have legitimate worries about what may be coming given their history but you can be a “cheerleader” for helping them live one day at a time making it be the best it can be.
7) Direct people to www.psychcentral.com/holidays or the National Child Traumatic Stress Network for more resources – These links offer more thoughts and insights.
This post, written by Joseph Kim Paxton, originally was published on November 4, 2016, on our previous website.
Congregational care and ministry can be exhausting. In addition to the demands of care and ministry, faith leaders must also keep up with personal responsibilities. Caring for so many people at the same time requires a lot of emotional energy and attention. Quickly, individuals can become tired, stressed out, and exhausted. In a tired state, individuals may begin to cut corners, especially related to self-care. These shortcuts can become unhealthy habits that facilitate fatigue and emotional exhaustion that can compromise one’s ability to care.
Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” What Aristotle did not say is, “We are what we do once or twice. . .” Wishful thinking may lead some to hope that habits can be created overnight, or that doing something once or twice will be sufficient to achieve a goal or outcome, like rejuvenation and renewal. Unfortunately, self-care cannot be packaged into a pill to be taken once or twice bi-weekly. Instead, self-care is a habit that must be done repeatedly.
Self-care is like exercise. The more you do it the better you feel, and the more likely you are to keep doing it. However, it is easy to get out of shape. Taking one day off can turn into two; two to three; and then an entire week has lapsed. Self-care, like exercise, can also become a burden – something else to do on the checklist. Whether you’re struggling to get back into the swing of self-care habits or looking to begin self-care habits, here are a few points that can help get you started.
1. Discover what self-care activities help you to feel rejuvenated.
Create rules for your self-care activities that can help you be more intentional and focused
on the quality of your self-care. For example, watching TV may seem like a self-care
activity, but you may be unintentionally wasting this time by flipping through channels for
thirty minutes, never finding a show you really want to watch, and getting frustrated in the
process. A simple fix for this might be to only watch recorded TV shows during this time,
rather than spending your valuable self-care time channel surfing.
2. Mark it down in your calendar.
Intentionally plan for a self-care habit.
3. Say “no” to one thing this week.
The flip side to saying “no” to requests or activities may also require you to begin to ask for
help. Asking for help builds relationships and strengthens relational bonds – most people
want to help!
4. Determine if you are an introvert or an extrovert.
If you are an introvert, schedule alone time for personal enrichment. If you are an
extrovert, be intentional in surrounding yourself with people who will energize you.
5. Set realistic goals that can quickly become habits.
Do not set a goal too high too soon. This can quickly lead to discouragement and leave
you feeling more exhausted and depleted. Start small and remember that habits happen
one small step at a time.
This post, written by Laura Bratton, originally was published on September 21, 2016, on the ICTG blog.
Who are we? Where is our identity now? What kind of church are we? These questions are common after experiencing trauma. Before the difficult event, the identity of the church was easier for members of the congregation to define. Now, after the traumatic event, members and the church as a whole are left feeling fearful and uncertain. How easy it is to allow the present circumstances to prevent the church from fulfilling its mission. Some days it just seems easier to allow the trauma to define the church.
So, how does a church not become paralyzed by the difficult situation? How does the church not give up and close the doors? Let’s explore two different healing resources that can be used when recovering from traumatic events.
The first healing resource is gratitude. Webster’s dictionary defines gratitude as "a feeling of appreciation or thanks and the state of being grateful". Synonyms include grateful, thankful, and appreciative. Now, how can gratitude be a healing resource after a church has experienced trauma? How do I know and believe that gratitude is a healing resource that helps people regain their identity? I know that thankfulness is a healing resource all too well because as a nine year old my life was normal and good. Then, I was diagnosed with an eye disease. Over the next ten years I adjusted to life without sight. The traumatic event of adapting to my new normal caused me to question my identity. Who am I? Am I still the outgoing extroverted teenager? Am I now only defined by my disability? As I wrestled with these questions and doubted my identity, gratitude was extremely healing. In fact, a large part of my book, Harnessing Courage, focuses on the power of gratitude.
Was I thankful for becoming blind? Absolutely not. Are you as a church thankful for the traumatic events? No! So how then have I received healing from thankfulness? How can your church also receive healing through thankfulness? Gratitude is a healing resource because being thankful gives us the opportunity to be aware of God’s love that is holding us, supporting us, and empowering us as we move forward. Being grateful helps us to become aware of the countless ways that we are receiving support during such a difficult time and of the many ways that we are held and empowered.
There are many ways that we can practice gratitude. As a church that is recovering from traumatic events, you can make a list each day of the people and situations that you are thankful for as well as people and situations that are helping your church move forward. The leaders can come together and each share their list. Small groups can also share their lists of gratitude. Sharing gratitude lists can help the whole congregation as each person shares how he or she has experienced gratitude. Constantly being mindful of appreciation can provide strength and hope as a congregation struggles to regain their identity. Gratitude is not meant to minimize, dismiss, or ignore the huge magnitude of traumatic events. Rather gratitude is meant to provide a healing source of strength, courage, and peace in the midst of the difficult events. Being grateful is a powerful healing resource as churches regain their identity.
Another healing resource is the power of positive statements. What do I mean by positive statements? How can a church use positive statements as a form of healing? Throughout scripture we are reminded of God’s love for us and with us. We are reminded that we are beloved children of God. So, we can use scripture as our positive statements. For example, a church recovering from a difficulty can have positive statements such as: "As a church, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength," or "As a church we will trust in the Lord." These two examples show how a church can take scripture and create positive statements to provide empowerment and courage as they remember their lasting identity. The positive statements can be used each day to remind each leader and congregation member that they are not powerless or hopeless. Again, like gratitude, the positive statements are not meant to minimize the severity of the difficulty. Instead the positive statements provide a healing perspective of a church’s foundation and source of life.
As a congregation experiences traumatic events their identity can be lost or doubted. The healing resources of gratitude and positive statements are two practices that can restore a church’s true and everlasting identity. May each church never forget their powerful presence regardless of the difficult circumstances.
This post, written by Kate Wiebe, originally was published on August 8, 2016, on the ICTG blog.
Start by building relationships. Whether it's a local family's emergency, a community-wide disaster, or another terror attack – there are things you and your congregation leaders can be doing now to prepare well to respond to a wide range of trauma or disasters.
Your insurance company, and denomination leaders (if applicable), will encourage you to have emergency plans, protocols, and flip-charts in place. Those are important and helpful measures to take to get prepared.
But the communities that really thrive after trauma are the ones who have built strong, caring relationships before the tragedy strikes. While they may utilize emergency plans and flipcharts, more than those, they rely on what leadership guru Steven Covey famously called the speed of trust. Trust occurs within established relationships. Relationships where people have met and taken time to learn about one another's circumstances and value.
Communities that thrive after disaster, for example, already have up-to-date phone practices to check each member is out of harm's way. Leaders of these types of communities know their peers – restaurant owners, police and firefighters, local social workers, counselors, lawyers, and accountants. When they need to call someone in an emergency, the leaders in communities that thrive after disaster have already shaken hands with the people they must now call. They might not be best friends, but they at least are familiar acquaintances.
While preparation in part involves designing and practicing new protocols, even more so it involves building reliable, trustworthy relationships.
To learn more about creating trauma-informed ministries and resilient congregations, visiting our services menu or contact us for a consultation.
This post, written by Doug Ranck, originally was published on August 3, 2016, on the ICTG blog.
“The American Psychological Association’s (APA) study on stress found that nearly half of America’s kids are stressed. This is bad news because it means unhealthy amounts of stress hormones are coursing through the developing brains of these children and that causes learning and behavior problems.”
How is that for an opening few lines in a blog I recently read?
According to this blog, the human brain does not fully develop until about age 25 so there is plenty of room for vulnerability in the adolescent years. The area of the brain most vulnerable to stress hormones is the prefrontal cortex. Here is where intelligence, learning and impulse control are located. When stress hormones enter the picture, struggle ensues.
Further, the same blog cited a study that found “91 percent of kids say what stresses them most is how stressed their parents have become, and 69 percent of parents were oblivious to the impact their level of stress is having on the kids.” Ouch!
This lines up with the findings from a study by the Families and Work Institute which found that what kids want most is “stress-free parents”. Kids are quite adept at picking up on a parent’s stress level. Kids look for non-verbal cues, like sad expressions, heavy footsteps and/or consistent fatigue.
What shall we do then? I submit a few ideas as logical solutions, flowing from the findings above:
For more information on caring for children and youth after trauma, visit our services menu or browse training manuals.
From 2012-2020, this blog space explored expanding understanding and best practices for leadership and congregational care.