When I was in Washington, D.C. at the recent Childhood Trauma Hearing by the House Oversight and Reform Committee several House Representatives suggested that we should be turning to churches to help trauma-impacted individuals. There were some professionals on the panel that talked about that bridge in their communities. They cited some very good examples of how churches have helped children and families with some of their practical needs.
There were some other ideas that were suggested that churches might consider taking on a child who had been trauma-impacted and care for them and their family. In churches today there are so many caring congregants who have provided food, money, advice and support for the poor and those who have faced life adversities.
I am therefore an advocate for churches and faith-based communities to be involved in the trauma-informed movement. However, this work is difficult, complex and sometimes very confounding. One commonly conceived misnomer is that church congregants are healthy in their own lives. However, we know that whether we are talking about addictions, abuse, neglect, violence or any other related issues they are present in the lives of those who attend our churches. They may have been living with these issues for years and often are embarrassed or feeling the stigma of these problems and hide them from their pastors or other congregants. I have been active in several churches and found that there are individuals who have had long-standing trauma histories and dysfunction just like I find in other segments of our community. If our own church members are unwilling to admit that there are significant issues in their family, then it will be extremely difficult for them to deal effectively with these issues.
Another point regarding churches becoming involved in trauma care is a deeper understanding of what trauma truly is and how it effects all of us. I believe that churches largely want to love their neighbor well. However loving someone who is hypervigilant, drug addicted, bipolar, sexually abused, dissociated and who may have high ACES scores is not easy. The process is long-suffering, tedious, volatile and may not achieve some of the desired outcomes. It is rather perplexing to understand that someone’s neuroscience has been altered so severely and that they may not be processing cognitively in the way you believe they should. At that point it is easy to judge them. That has the possibility of sending them into an emotional tailspin that would be unsafe for them.
This kind of persevering love and ministry can be draining and traumatizing to the caregivers. However, I believe that with proper perspectives, adequate training of staff and congregants and a level of self-care, churches can have a huge impact in the lives of trauma-impacted individuals. It can be a true reflection of God’s love for us and ours for each other. If we are aware, knowledgeable and intentional in how we approach trauma-impacted children and families, our ministry and support can bless and bring hope to those in our care who have a trauma history.