a letter from Carla Grosch-Miller to a congregation

From the Minister

Dear Friends,

As I sit at my desk and write this, I am aware of a tumult of emotion: deep concern for you and for all, a sense of being unmoored and unsettled, fear, numbness, great love and a morsel of hope. I imagine that you too since the outbreak of Covid-19 have been unsettled, concerned, afraid, numb, loving, hopeful and had other surprising emotions. The first thing I want to say is that, whatever you are experiencing, it is completely normal. It is how you – your nervous system, with your life experience – strive to cope with an overwhelming and uncertain situation. Speak kindly to yourself; acknowledge the confusion and challenge of these times; breathe deeply.

We are the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and more of people who came through the Great War, the Spanish influenza, the Great Depression, the Blitz, and the deprivations of World War II and the Austerity. We are survivors. There is in us a reserve of strength and wisdom that will accompany us through this pandemic. Recall how you have survived other challenges; draw lessons from your own experience and that of others.

Our Bible was created by people who endured great traumas and rose to rebuild their lives and even sing praises to God who made us and whose love never lets us go. From slavery in Egypt and forty years wilderness wandering, to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the Exile, through to the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of early Followers of the Way, they knew that the only way through hard times is to cling to God and to their communities of faith and to move through the crisis. They accepted the harsh reality of life and leaned into it, doing what they had to do.

Dozens of times in the scriptures people are told “do not fear”. They are told it because fear is real and there are dangers. Fear is not a moral failing; it can be realistic, or a warning, or information about the need to tread carefully. We cannot eradicate fear – nor would we want to. But we can remind ourselves that fear must not have the last word. The empty tomb is a testament to the power of love over fear, and love never dies. So when fear arises, we breathe deep and draw on those reserves of strength and wisdom our forbears gave us. We rise and walk the way of faith, remembering as the writer of 2 Timothy 1:7 said, that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

My prayer for all of us in these difficult times is that we will connect with those deep reserves and that we will use our power, our love and our self-discipline to keep ourselves and each other as safe and healthy as possible. The best antidotes to fear are love and laughter – so stay connected to loved ones and enjoy the good things in life that are before you; breathe fresh air every day; move; phone a friend or someone who needs one. Pray the psalms – the ancients kept an open channel to God; the invitation stands for us also to speak the truth of our feelings to the One who holds the world in a wide embrace, and then to listen. Read a gospel through; deep springs of living water will refresh. We have what we need.

In Christian love,  Carla

Revd Dr. Carla A. Grosch-Miller, UK

guidance for ministers as the coronavirus crisis deepens

Thoughts for ministers during the first phase of the coronavirus crisis

 

We are offering these out of the work of a three-year project on trauma and tragedy in Christian congregations.

First thought: context is everything. You will know better than anyone else how your particular community is likely to react.

Second: this is a trauma to communities, the nation, the world. It’s not a shock-event like a fire or a terrorist attack, but slowly there has built, and is still worsening, a crisis that shatters people’s assumptions that the world is generally safe and reliable, and that all that we have worked for in businesses, churches and communities will be fruitful.  The loss of those assumptions, the breaking of connections between people, and the overwhelming of people’s ordinary resources – all of these are characteristic of trauma.

Some of the wisdom that has been gained about trauma recently can help us:

  1. People’s whole selves are affected – they may feel all sorts of strange symptoms because the body is reacting to the fact that they are not safe. Emotions will be all over the place in surprising ways. Concentration may be difficult. Sharing this information – that it is normal to be up, down, energetic, exhausted, afraid – will help people to cope with it.
  2. People react very differently depending on different backgrounds and experiences, including past traumas.
  3. People respond best when they have clear, reliable information; when they have something to do – ‘agency’ of some sort; and when they are cared for in warm and authentic ways. Even phone calls can be reassuring.
  4. We make sense of things by being able to integrate the experience into an overarching story. But it is much too soon to assemble a coherent narrative out of all this. Even the process of meaningfully gathering together to lament what has been lost is very hard. The trauma is unfolding and there are many losses yet unrevealed.

Community responses to disaster typically show a ‘heroic phase’, full of energy and self-sacrifice, which burns itself out and is followed by a ‘disillusionment phase’, which may contain much mutual blame and suspicion. Only as the disillusionment phase loses its force can realistic, hopeful re-making take place.

Many of the responses in communities can be celebrated and affirmed. It is worth ministers thinking about what, over and above the generous and heroic actions of many in the secular world, Christian story and practice can contribute. That is particularly true in this time approaching Holy Week and Easter. Public worship may be suspended, but these great transformative moments in the whole human story need some sort of marking.

Lastly and in a way most importantly, this is a very confusing and draining time, a time when ordinary healthy rhythms are lost. Trauma professionals are disoriented! You may be feeling in yourself and your body the impact of trauma – feeling low and anxious one day and hard to get your brain in gear, energetic the next, and all at a time when clergy are needing to be creative and adaptive in their approach. So self-care, attending to your own well-being, is vital. That includes the basics of good rest, eating, and exercise. It also includes having people you trust whom you can share with, and making sure you are in touch with them.

With warmest wishes for every blessing in this strange time,

Christopher Southgate, Carla Grosch-Miller and Hilary Ison

Tragedies and Christian Congregations Project

www.tragedyandcongregations.org.uk

Tragedies and Christian Congregations ed. Megan Warner et al is published by Routledge

and is available from c.c.b.southgate@ex.ac.uk for £20 plus postage.

 

 

BOOK LAUNCH!

The project book ‘Tragedies and Christian Congregations’ was launched at St Paul’s Cathedral on March 4 2020 in the presence of the editorial team, the Bishop of London, and many supporters of the work we’ve done. The Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke about the importance of the project as the Church seeks to improve its nurture of the mental health of communities.

We thank Dr Paula Gooder, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s, and all her team for their help in making this such a congenial event.

important new book in the area!!

It’s a pleasure to celebrate the publication of Feminist Trauma Theologies: Body, Scripture and Church in Critical Perspective (SCM) edited by Karen O’Donnell and Katie Cross.

Contributors include: Hilary Jerome Scarsella, Manon Ceridwen James, Alistair McFadyen, Kirsi Cobb, Rosie Andrious, Leah Robinson, Sonia Seans, Natalie Collins, Ally Moder, Santiago Pinon and Esther McIntosh.

It looks terrific and just the thing for those long cloistered virus evenings.

 

PROJECT ON BBC RADIO AGAIN

March 1 2020: The Revd Hilary Ison spoke about insights gained from the project when interviewed on the BBC R4 programme ‘Sunday’. This was in connection with the shocking disclosure of abuse by the late and much-revered leader of the L’Arche Community, Jean Vanier. 

The impact on L’Arche of this news is a reminder that traumatising events are not necessarily physical disasters, and that skilled and attentive listening is required as communities process news that shatters previous assumptions.