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Next Church World Service Trainings Are Set for November 16 and 17

NEW YORK CITY -- Dozens of New York-area clergy and caregivers seeking to meet the long- and short-term challenges posed by the World Trade Center tragedy attended the first in a series of Church World Service Interfaith Trauma Response Team training events.

The sessions, held in mid-town Manhattan, were part of a major effort by Church World Service and its member denominations in responding to the events of Sept. 11 by providing immediate and long-term emotional and spiritual counseling and pastoral care. CWS is the global service and witness ministry of the National Council of Churches.

The two four-hour sessions, held Friday, Oct. 26, and Saturday, Oct. 27, were coordinated by William Sage, a Church World Service Consultant who is coordinating the Interfaith Trauma Response Team, and were led by Oklahoma City residents Dr. Katrina Bright, Rev. Denise Glavan, and Rev. Tim Pool.

With a background in both theology and counseling psychology, the team of professionals had played prominent roles in the response and recovery efforts in Oklahoma City, Okla., following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and the devastating tornados in the spring of 1999.

Participants were eager to share their concerns and discussed the many challenges they now face on the long road to recovery following the events of Sept. 11. Rev. June Stitzinger-Clark, a United Methodist pastor from Atlanta Highlands, N.J., who attended the Oct. 26 event, said her community now has 80 widows from the tragedy; people are grieving and "remain in a state of shock;" they are seeking answers but are angry and depressed.

Dr. Sezelle Haddon of the Wellness Center of New York’s Riverside Church, an international church with ties to the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ, said she and other staff had expected large numbers of people seeking counseling after the event; but that has not materialized, leaving her and other mental health staff to wonder if there will be "something of delayed reaction" before or during the upcoming November-December holidays.

And Raymond Rodriguez of the New York City Administration for Children, asked: "There seems to be no end to this," he said of the continuing threats of terrorism. "So how do we now negotiate our day-to-day lives with this reality?"

Rev. Glavan said she understood all of the concerns, and that clergy and other caregivers need support now: "You represent God in your faith communities and people are coming to you for your help." She also said while clergy are trained in pastoral care for individual crises, "public trauma" stemming from a catastrophic disaster is far different, as it leaves large numbers of people paralyzed, "trying to make sense out of a senseless act."

"If you’re looking for the ‘why,’ there isn’t a ‘why,’ she said. "God did not drive those planes into the (World Trade Center) buildings. What happened was horrible and it’s all right for you and those in your communities to be angry."

A disaster like Sept. 11 is also different than a natural disaster, said Dr. Bright, because while anger is an expected response to, say, a tornado, a terrorist act prompts a reaction of "rage – where violence meets powerlessness."

Both Dr. Bright and Rev. Glavan were able to address concerns with practical ways to help equip caregivers, both mentally and emotionally to embrace the many challenges ahead.

Among their suggestions to pastors and other caregivers:

  • Don’t preach forgiveness, at least initially; it is too soon to do that, Rev. Glavan said. Less than a week after the Oklahoma City bombing, some pastors were already preaching the need for forgiveness, and that was inappropriate, given the community-wide suffering.
  • Don’t try to do too much: "A bleeding heart that bleeds to death is of no good to anyone," Dr. Bright said.
  • Take time off: "If you don’t take a day of rest, your people will feel they can’t take a day of rest," Rev. Glavan said.
  • Use the fear and anxiety as emotions that can channeled to build stronger congregations and faith communities – say for community service work: "Use this energy to be a building block, a bridge, and not for destructive uses," Dr. Bright said. "This isn’t about forgiveness; it is the opposite of destruction."
  • It is better to say you don’t know when you don’t know than trying to answer all questions. "If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything," said Rev. Glavan. "Sometimes we try to fill in too much of our silence."
  • Don’t push a pre-arranged agenda on congregations: "In this tragedy, you let them set the pace," said Dr. Bright.
  • Use the moment to try to unite congregations: "Ask the question, ‘How do we get through this together?" said Rev. Glavan. "How do we face this together?’ You have to acknowledge people’s fears but also stress that people have to ‘get through this experience together.’ "

The trainers also cautioned against the phenomenon of "competitive guilt" – something they saw in Oklahoma City and are now witnessing in New York. This takes the form of people believing that they can only be of service if they are at Ground Zero, or that they are working harder than another aid agency or church or have suffered more. Even some who received phone calls from loved ones prior to the collapse of the World Trade Center are comparing phone calls.

"It’s a defense against powerlessness," Dr. Bright said. But Rev. Pool warned strongly against "competitive guilt" in any form. "Suffering is absolute. Pain is pain," he said. "It can’t be compared or quantified."

Rev. Glavan said the positive response to these initial training events proves "how much a need there is for this, how much hurt there is." Now being planned are a more intensive, six-hour training event (Friday, Nov. 16) for recognized faith leaders providing direct counseling or pastoral care to their communities, and another four-hour, interactive workshop orientation (Saturday, Nov. 17) for any faith leader in any capacity providing direct or indirect caregiving stemming from the Sept. 11 tragedy.

"You can’t make sense out of a senseless situation," she said. "But working within the faith community, these clergy can begin the work they need for their communities to cope.

"What we do is encourage them and give them some tools," she said, "because you can never be prepared for something like this."

As part of a broad response to the events of Sept. 11, Church World Service will continue to sponsor the training events for local clergy, caregivers and spiritual leaders.

A total of 70 participants – two sets of 35 each – enrolled in the trainings events. Enrollment in the sessions were quickly filled up and numerous caregivers had to be turned away, Sage said.

For more information, contact William Sage at (212) 288-6857 or email:


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