The information based on coronavirus has been sent to parishes around the country and taken up by many Anglican dioceses.

Self-care for ministers and providing clear information for parishioners essential to help church communities experiencing trauma due to Coronavirus, new advice says

Ensuring ministers look after their physical and mental health and providing clear information for parishioners is key to helping church communities cope with the trauma of coronavirus, new advice says.

Information has been circulated to dioceses based on lessons learned by ministers and their congregations in the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the terrorist bomb in Manchester, and terrorist attacks in London.

The research team who put together the advice has trained ministers working around the UK to lead their congregations through disaster and trauma. The information based on coronavirus has been sent to parishes around the country and taken up by many Anglican dioceses.

Professor Christopher Southgate, from the University of Exeter, who is leading the project, said: “Our advice reminds ministers their parishioners may feel not be feeling safe at the moment, and this manifests itself in all kinds of symptoms. Ministers should show it is normal to be up, down, energetic, exhausted and afraid.

“The guidance also reminds ministers people will react very differently depending on different backgrounds and experiences, and congregations and members of the community will respond best when they have clear, reliable information; when they have something to do and when they are cared for in warm and authentic ways. Even phone calls can be reassuring.”

The guidance says ministers should think about how Christian stories could contribute to the many current “generous and heroic actions of many”.

Researchers on the project found the experience of those in London and Manchester shows the importance of self-care for ministers involved in traumatic experiences in their community. This includes being in touch with someone they trust, regular rest, meals and exercise. The research also showed the importance of churches having links with other faith groups, as they can provide key practical and emotional support for each other in the aftermath of disaster.

The research shows having background knowledge of how trauma works helps ministers to shepherd their energies and resources and to respond with compassion.

A toolkit produced as part of the project reminds churches of the importance of having up-to-date contact details for key members of the congregation and a system for people to communicate with each other.

The training, which has a focus on how to marshal and use resources and help the local community, also recommends having first aid facilities and trained responders, having some media understanding or a representative to delegate to, and becoming familiar with long-term sources of support such as emergency-response and trauma counsellors. Clergy should also be familiar with the biblical resources available and be aware of the importance of lament.

Following the events of 2017 clergy are now, for the first time, being admitted inside disaster cordons because of the pastoral care and local knowledge they can bring. Churches are also being placed at the centre in the disaster response plans of local authorities.

The research found community responses to disaster typically show a ‘heroic phase’, full of energy and self-sacrifice, which burns itself out and is followed by a ‘disillusionment phase’, which may contain much mutual blame and suspicion. Only as the disillusionment phase loses its force can realistic, hopeful re-making take place. The early days of the coronavirus already show both heroism and disillusionment at work.

The Tragedy and Congregations project was funded by the Templeton World Charities Foundation, Inc. Other members of the team include Revd Hilary Ison and the Revd Canon Dr Carla Grosch-Miller.

This study has been published in a book Tragedies and Christian Congregations: the practical theology of trauma (Routledge).

Date: 26 March 2020

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