Training for ministers experiencing trauma due to coronavirus

Ministers struggling with trauma caused by coronavirus will get special training to help them cope with the challenges of the pandemic thanks to a project led by Sarum College Visiting Scholar Professor Christopher Southgate, which has re

The new training, with funding from the Garfield Weston Trust, is being held online for small groups for the first time this month. It is intended to support clergy’s physical and mental health by helping participants understand and reflect on the feelings and issues triggered by the pandemic.

The training was originally developed as part of a University of Exeter research project examining trauma in church congregations. It is informed by lessons learned in the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the terrorist bomb in Manchester, and terrorist attacks in London which reveal the importance of self-care for ministers looking after communities who have experienced trauma.

Helping clergy come to terms with their own challenges will help them attend to, and recognise, the same issues in their congregations.

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.

“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 this crisis,’ Professor Southgate explains.

“Ministers are experiencing profound challenges having to cope with their own, and other people’s anxiety and distress. 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. 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. 

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.”

Visit the tragedy and congregation project’s website for further advice for those in ministry roles. Training materials produced as part of the project have been sent to church organisations around the country and taken up by many Anglican dioceses.

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