This post is part of a series called The Cure of Souls: A Spirituality of Care and Compassion
written by Kate Wiebe. Click for a list of them here.
One thing that I have learned in doing this series, so far, is that I definitely prefer writing when I have something to write about. Goodness! It hasn’t become the twice-monthly series it was intended to be. To be fair, when we first discussed this series, I thought, “Surely there’s enough on the topic of care to write about twice a month!” And, I still feel that way. But, in this season of my life, my days are FULL of great projects and limited time to write. So, when I do write, I hope it is worthwhile – a piece that I would actually seek out to read. I think the one that follows is one of those.
Over the past year or so, ICTG leaders and volunteers have been pondering fundraising ideas that go beyond the traditional snail mail and email appeals and speaking events (check the link below to learn more about ICTG). What are some group activities or individual fund-raisers in which people can participate? We have a couple good ones coming down the pike that we are enthusiastic about, ones that compliment the mission of ICTG well, which is important to us.
One of the first ideas out of the gate, though, was a sport event. Out of experience with the vast array of sport-raisers out there, several friends of ICTG suggested this as a great option. We leaders/volunteers struggled at first, though, to figure out how it fit with ICTG. It’s a lot easier for crowds to hang on to the idea of raising money for breast cancer research, for example, than it is to say, “Hey, I’m running for congregational trauma.” (wahoo!) More than half the time when one even mentions that phrase people are scratching their heads, going “eh, what?”
Interesting how something so pervasive can be consistently held at such a distance from common modes of awareness. Congregational trauma – the experience of a group that is intended to be a sanctuary being traumatized. It’s like a massive oxymoron that, sadly, happens all the time. History has demonstrated that very few people appear to know what to do with corporate trauma, especially when it happens in and around a faith community. More often than not, congregants and leaders have tried either to pretend an event never happened or to act as if and even believe that it won’t have much impact on the overall character and practices of the group. But trauma always does. No matter our reactions, trauma impacts the identity of persons and groups.
What are examples of congregational trauma? Here are just a few:
– experiences of betrayal by a congregational leader because of acts of abuse, adultery, significant lacks of integrity or transparency (such as lying or inability to model healthy vulnerability), and other forms of misconduct (like financial embezzlement)
– acts of abuse or relational crises within the body of the congregation (especially poignant when it involves persons deemed “pillars of the church” or long-term established families of the community)
– sudden loss of leadership due to suicide, death, family crisis, loss of employment, moving, or other reasons for sudden departure
– community crises which affect a congregation’s sense of response-ability within the congregation or within the community, including acts of violence or abuse, destruction caused by natural storms, wildfires, earthquakes or flooding, community-wide employment and/or housing crises, industrial accidents, etc.
So, we wondered, how do we help people gather around these themes to raise awareness and funds through a sporting event? Of course, physically moving is such a big part of trauma healing, so that symbolically worked well. We also knew that we would have participants from around the country and that people who were already passionate about being involved in this event all had different sports of interest and challenge. So, we landed on a Run Walk Hike Bike Challenge, where you could choose your own sport and distance in your own location. You were welcome to gather a group together in your area, and our “gathering point” was a specific time of the day instead of a certain geographic spot. It also was the internet – participants were encouraged to register and participate in a blog during the preparation time and throughout the weekend of the event to encourage senses of community. You can view the blog here (www.ictg.org/ictg-run-walk-hike-bike-blog.html).
To give participants something to hang on to and motivate them during their challenge and awareness/fundraising, we asked them to dedicate their challenge to ministers, congregations, or volunteers who stood out to them in faithful response to disaster. And here’s where the impressive part came – something unplanned for and what brought tremendous character to the event.
That day, participants wrote in about how they spent the morning in prayer. Each one, in their own way, found themselves praying for the ministers, congregations, and volunteers to whom they dedicated their challenge. Participants even thanked me for helping them to set aside a morning and their sport that day to being mindful and prayerful in this way.
If nothing else, to me, that is what made the first 2013 ICTG Run Walk Hike Bike Challenge a success. That together, across the country, the ICTG community gathered in prayer for ministers and congregations who respond to disaster and practice long-term emotional, psychological, and spiritual care. I am honored to be a part of such a ministry, and was so deeply blessed by the group that actively prayed this past weekend. May there be many more events like this one to come!
Kate Wiebe is the Executive Director of the Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth (ICTG). She is an ecumenical clergy and congregational care consultant and trauma specialist. She lives with her family in Santa Barbara, CA.