With millions of people attending a church service at least once a week, it is integral that pastors and congregational leaders know how to best address trauma to avoid re-traumatization in their services, activities, and interactions. When leaders are knowledgeable of trauma and its effects, they are better able to serve their congregants and create a safe community for them to thrive.
Trauma is the "long-term psychological distress caused by specific events or incidents." Traumatic events can be acute such as a car wreck or they can be chronic such as systemic poverty or racism. Collective Trauma is when a whole community experiences a traumatic event together such as a natural disaster, war, or public health crisis. Given the national prevalence of trauma, and the exacerbated effects of the pandemic conditions we find ourselves in, most congregants have experienced trauma and the mental health effects and stigma that often come with it. Something as simple as dim lights or a well intended touch could result in an individual feeling unsafe in the congregation.
According to SAMHSA (2020), the key principles for best addressing trauma within a system are safety, support, and cultural sensitivity incorporated into the tasks of trauma training, screening and assessment, and avoiding re-traumatization. If a congregation is to implement these best practices, then they must seek out this knowledge and practice from mental health and social work professionals.
Because C3I strives to believe the best of local congregations, we assert that the majority of congregations and congregational leaders want to serve their members well but simply have not been trained on the importance of being trauma-sensitive in their ministry. Based on the key principles and practices set forth by SAMHSA (2020), the services offered by C3I can address the need to offer safe, supportive, and culturally sensitive environments within congregations to decrease re-traumatization due to language and practices of congregational leaders from the pulpit and beyond.
Over the course of three years, C3I has created and sustained a training series for church leaders focused on providing education specific to various types of trauma such as interpersonal violence, immigration, and spiritual trauma. We believe that if clergy have training in trauma-sensitive practices then it will lead to higher instances of emotional safety for congregants and also positive outcomes for the larger congregation.
Research on the intersection of trauma and local congregations is lacking overall -- few evidenced-based models exist that address how churches can integrate trauma-sensitivity into their overall congregational life. C3I is currently conducting research on the prevelance of trauma in congregations, collective trauma within congregations, and also preparedness of church leaders in providing pastoral care to those who have experienced trauma. This research will influence C3I trainings and our work with church leaders as well as academic research and seminary education. As we cultivate knowledge through research and translate it into practical resources and training development, we hope to strengthen congregations’ capacity to positively impact their communities.
For more resources on trauma, click here.