Ministers struggling with trauma caused by coronavirus will get special training to help them cope with the challenges of the pandemic.
The new training, held online for small groups from next month, will support clergy’s physical and mental health and help them to understand their current feelings as well as reflect on the issues they currently face.
The training, developed as part of a University of Exeter research project examining trauma in church congregations, is informed by lessons learned in the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the terrorist bomb in Manchester, and terrorist attacks in London. This has shown the importance of self-care for ministers looking after communities who have experienced trauma.
The one-off sessions will help people understand the physical effects of trauma on the body’s nervous system. The project has shown that having background knowledge of how trauma works helps ministers to shepherd their energies and resources and to respond with compassion. The training will help people understand any physical issues they are experiencing may be a normal reaction to anxiety and trauma rather than any sign of weakness or inadequacy.
Professor Christopher Southgate, who is leading the project, said: “Ministers have had to cope with conducting funerals in unusual and difficult circumstances and help communities through periods of loss, illness and financial issues during the crisis. They also face other challenges such as using technology to stream services and reopening churches.
“Ministers are experiencing profound challenges having to cope with their own, and other people’s anxiety and distress. Their understanding of God and the world may also be challenged. This has been a period of huge loss, of life, health and opportunities. The training helps people to understand everyone is coping with this in different ways. Helping clergy come to terms with their own challenges will help them attend to, and recognise, the same issues in their congregations.
“A lot has been asked of ministers during this time and many haven’t had much respite so we think it is essential for them to have support like this. We’ll adapt the training to their individual needs. At the end clergy will be better able to understand their own reactions and those of others. Having a trauma-informed ministry will enable them to work creatively with challenges they are now facing.”
Hilary Dawson, Archdeacon of Gloucester, said the work of the Tragedy and Congregations project has been a “life-line” in recent weeks. She said: “The blogs, meditations and reflections have been invaluable as I have sought to live well and exercise ministry with care in this time of pandemic. They have also informed the way I have tried to support those for whom I have care and responsibility. We have posted updates on the Diocesan website and colleagues have found these a great help and encouragement. As we move one step at a time through this difficult time the wisdom of the project team has been hugely beneficial: noticing what is happening around us, recognising the early activity and busyness, supporting one another in tiredness and even disillusionment, and drawing on our reserves of prayer and faith to be creative as we serve others. I am confident that these resources will continue to help us to be gentle with ourselves and others as we move with hope into an unknown future.”
The project’s website tragedyandcongregations.org.uk has further advice for clergy and other ministers. Training materials produced as part of the project has been sent to parishes around the country and taken up by many Anglican dioceses.
The work is funded by the Grant Templeton World Challenges Foundation and the Garfield Western Foundation (in association with Sarum College).