To offer Christ to today's hurting world, our church must be trauma-informed.
Why should the church know about trauma? Because our church members, our neighbors have experienced and are experiencing trauma. Bullying, community violence, complex trauma, disasters, early childhood trauma, intimate partner violence, medical trauma, physical abuse, refugee trauma, racism, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, traumatic grief. To be human in this world today is to experience trauma and grief.
“As Christians, we must grow in knowledge of self and others. Trauma must be treated because the longer it is unresolved the longer it impacts us. Trauma concerns God,” (Stokes, 2023).
“The majority of people in our churches have experienced pain, and the people tasked with caring for them do not always have the tools to respond. Too often, this leads to unintended re-traumatization and before long the church is seen as an unsafe place for the hurting, precisely the people who need us most. If the church is to properly care for the hurting, it is important that we understand the impact of trauma and imitate the way God cares for the wounded,” according to the Justice Coalition. For many, entering into a faith community or a place of worship is traumatizing in itself. We must assume that everyone has experienced trauma.
Trauma-informed care is strengths-based. Becoming a trauma-informed congregation can guide responses externally and internally, individually and communal. “Communal trauma can work itself out in ways that dissolve the social and connective fabric of a group. Or it can work itself out in ways that actually reinforce the identity of the group. Experiences of trauma usually engender a need for explanations, most often taking the form of narratives. And the narrative is formulated, not by individuals or by all members of that group, but rather by people who have a platform, people who have the ear of the community. And how that narrative, that story, that explanation is crafted comes to define, at least in part, the identity of that group. It can, in fact, create a new identity, and perhaps even a stronger identity, because of the emotional energy released by the experience of trauma,” says Cho (2021).
When the clergy, ministry staff, lay ministry leaders and volunteers are trained to recognize individual and communal or congregational trauma, a good foundation is laid. In this way, leaders will know to be fully present in congregational trauma. Leaders will know to create rituals that allow congregations to begin to heal. Leaders will know to create circles where people can heal while still in their trauma experience. Leaders will know to promote the sharing of trauma stories from positions that promote health (Bell, 2022).
Trauma responsive congregations follow the five R’s:
Realize that trauma exists.
Recognize that trauma has an impact on how we live life together; recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma.
Respond in ways that is trauma-informed—by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices.
Resist re-traumatization by addressing trauma and toxic stress in the lives of both staff and people served (evaluating our group norms and procedures).
Repent – we have to talk honestly about ways our faith communities and traditions wound and hurt people.