Ending 2022

The project that produced this website has ended. We had the privilege of learning from and working with some remarkable people, and were able to contribute to the understanding and resilience of a significant number of people in ministry. I was delighted to have the chance to introduce themes from the project both to the National Methodist Conference and the Strategic Leadership Development Programme of the Church of England.

A number of other organisations are taking forward this work of trauma-informed ministry, especially The Guild of Health and St Raphael – check out their website at gohealth.org.uk.

Wishing you every blessing for 2023

Chris Southgate

Here we go again….give us a break

The theme song for Jaws has been playing in my head, with the strap line for Jaws 2: just when you thought it was safe to go into the water. The newest manifestation of Covid-19, Omicron, may or may not be as menacing as the first and I am unsettled. My American daughter has cancelled her Christmas visit (a US news outlet calls the UK ‘Plague Island’ – with world high Covid death rates and raw sewage discharged into rivers and seas). I am constantly trying to assess how dangerous my social activities may be, just when I had become accustomed to living life pretty much as I did before Covid but with a mask on in crowded places. I can do a lateral flow test in record time.

My desire to not have my equilibrium disturbed is strong, but I notice certain stress behaviours increasing. Most of these have to do with the consumption of chocolate or other ‘treats’. Jiminy Christmas, haven’t we all had enough?

But my greatest concern is for key workers, particularly health care workers, and for clergy. We have required good hearted, compassionate people to operate at peak levels for over 21 months. It simply isn’t physically, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually sustainable.  Meet the human function curve, also known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law (1908):

(This version of the curve is derived from the National Health Service, Scotland Deanery, attributed to Dr Peter Nixon.)

As Covid uncertainty increases, stress hormones like cortisol increase arousal. We seek to continue to do what needs to be done but it is impossible to sustain our performance. Mistakes will be made. We become exhausted and negative. Ill health and burnout threaten. This is a simple physical reality. We cannot wish it away. There is no moral judgement to be made when a person can no longer give and give and give. They need to STOP to save their lives.

The Tragedy and Congregations team has continued to offer Trauma-informed ministry for these times sessions, in person and virtually. What we notice is that clergy are shattered. They have become tech wizards and Covid safety officers, trying to hold congregations and communities together in trying times, handling people’s pain and frustration, and attempting to rationalise diminishing resources. They may look like they are fine, but under the surface they have been paddling as fast as they can for a long time now. Many have increased workloads. And even if they aren’t working more hours, the hours they work are taking a greater toll.

So give ‘em a break. Tell your vicar or minister how much you appreciate them. Send your local hospital or surgery a gift basket. Every little bit of affirmation and appreciation may offset a wee bit of demoralisation. And think about writing to your MP…. The NHS needs us more than ever.

Carla A. Grosch-Miller

May 2021 blog Rebuilding after lockdown: Rest, recovery and reflection

Rebuilding after lockdown: Rest, recovery and reflection
May 2021

A blog from the Tragedies and Congregations team                                  
by Revd Dr. Carla A. Grosch-Miller

Nearly three-quarters of adults in the UK have had at least one vaccine jab and soon half will have had both. Lockdown restrictions eased significantly this month, and many of us ventured out into a wider social world. Many churches have resumed public worship in their buildings. Whilst there remains uncertainty about whether full freedoms will be restored on 21 June, there is a definite sense that we may be nearing the end of the worst of it – whilst being aware that things can change quickly. We are not out of the woods yet, and we know we will be living with Covid in one form or another for a long time, perhaps as we live with flu. But it may no longer have as much power to completely upend national, communal and personal life. There is turn towards hope and a cautious spring in our steps as we amble towards summer.

Are we now in a position to rebuild and recover, maybe even re-imagine the church, using the new skills we gained as we adapted to life under lockdown?

Maybe, maybe not. The answer will be different for different congregations, depending on people’s experiences and resources. What I want to highlight in this blog is the importance of rest, recovery and reflection as we begin to contemplate what church will be and look like in months and years to come.

Our team, which has been leading Trauma-informed ministry sessions to people in ministry around the UK for more than a year, has been struck in recent months by how exhausted those women and men are. It is not surprising. Our bodies have been under threat, causing higher than normal levels of stress hormones to wreak havoc on our brains and other major organs. Add to that the necessity to innovate and learn new skills, spend hours on Zoom, and be a lightning rod for the anxiety of parishioners and it is no surprise that they are worn out. Under normal circumstances, the demands and complexity of ministry are rarely understood. Under these circumstances, few will be aware of just how much stress clergy have been carrying.

This exhaustion is a physiological reality; we ignore it at our peril. What is most needed now for many in ministry is a period of rest, holiday or light duties. People’s recovery from the strains of the last 15 months will be impeded significantly without it.

Alongside rest is the opportunity to reflect. Steaming ahead without reflecting impoverishes the work of rebuilding and reimagining church. What’s been good about the pandemic? What have we learned about being human and about being church? Where might a renewed vision be emerging?

Susan Beaumont in How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leadership in a Liminal Season (2019) speaks about the importance of a listening, attending presence to discern the movement of the Spirit. One cannot be that kind of presence when depleted.

The pandemic has affected the people in our congregations in diverse ways. Some of experienced great loss; some have enjoyed respite from onerous tasks. All have been deprived of life-giving contact with others. Some will want to get back to normal ASAP; others may feel and indeed be unsafe and are unwilling to pick up where we left off in mid-March 2020. The minister will be a lightning rod for diverse hopes and fears. They will be pulled in opposite directions.

A study of the rebuilding of Jerusalem might be helpful. The Persian king Cyrus the Great declared that Judahites in exile in Babylon were free to return home to rebuild in the year 538 BCE. The first group to return set about trying to rebuild the Temple. The attempt faltered. It wasn’t until the year 520, sparked by the prophet Haggai, that the foundation stones for the new Temple were laid. Even then the people’s responses were mixed:

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel: and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord. 
   ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever towards Israel.’
And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away. 
Ezra 3:10-13 (NRSV)

In short, the work of rebuilding is no walk in the park. Complex emotions will be sparked; loss will continue to be grieved. Not everyone will shout for joy at the changes that will happen. We need our church leadership teams to be rested (as much as possible) and resourced. It is not unusual after a collective trauma for a minister to experience physical or mental ill health or vocational trauma. Decent care now may mitigate that.

Beaumont speaks about the challenges of this time,  (14) Issues of Faith: Church leadership in uncertain times p2 – YouTube, underscoring the need to slow down and ask questions that really matter. Simply getting back to normal, in the long run, is not possible. I hope we can support our church leadership to attend to first things first: rest, recovery and reflection … building a foundation that will support the church we hope to rebuild and reimagine.

Wellbeing and spiritual health for the long haul


March 11, 2021

The Revd Hilary Ison and Dr Rosemary Gomes recently spoke with Darren Wolf about the importance of making space in a digital world for wellbeing and spiritual health, now and in the season ahead.

Touching on the importance of spiritual reflection and lament in these times, the panel members also speak of taking care of physical and mental health as we look ahead in hope to the future and take the next steps on this journey.

See link for the full webinar.

Reflection on the March 23 lockdown anniversary

One year on: Feeling our way towards recovery and rebuilding
23 March 2021

Carla A. Grosch-Miller

 A year ago today the Prime Minister announced the first lockdown. All but essential workers were sent home, places of worship and other public venues closed and we began our crusade against Covid-19. It’s been a bumpy ride. A summer of relaxed restrictions was followed by the alarm of rising rates in the autumn and the introduction of tiers which rapidly became new lockdowns. Next week we hope to begin our way out of lockdown number 3. Watching a third wave rise in Europe, we hold our breath – wanting our vaccination programme to spare us and enable more and more freedom over time.

So, as spring flowers into being and the vaccination numbers grow, I sense a distinctive turn towards hope. People in charge of things are making plans to recover and rebuild. They want to get a handle on this, to control what they can control and to prepare to resume business, as usual if possible.

What will it take for us to recover and rebuild? We are in new territory here and the lay of the land remains lumpy, with hidden hillocks and bogland beneath our feet. There remains significant unpredictability: the possibility of new variants, the effectiveness of vaccination and its take up, the impact of the uneven rollout of vaccines around the world…all of this and more invites a wary caution. In a real sense we do not yet know the full impact of the coronavirus, the losses we will bear or the resources we will have at our disposal. What are we to do? Wring our hands and wait?

Goodness, no. I honour the recovery and rebuilding energy that has arisen. It signals that, as exhausted as many of us are, there is a nascent hope that can sustain and guide us. We have learned a lot over the last year: how to survive and adapt to the changing requirements of pandemic management, the importance of human connection, the fragility of life, and the hidden in plain sight aspects of our life together (economic structure, racism, sexism, domestic abuse, poverty) that make some people more vulnerable than others. I want to take stock of what we have learned into the process of recovery and rebuilding, for it is a process as much as a project.

My gut instinct is that recovery begins with reflection and recollection: reflection about what has happened to us, and recollection of the basic values that we want to shape our rebuilding.

Reflection on the past year enables us to gather up the experience of the many. Asking each other what have been the heartbreaks of the past year, the challenges and the triumphs? and really listening to the answers, we learn the true impact of the pandemic. This database of human experience tells us not only about the losses and costs of the past year, but also the learnings and resources we carry into the future. Naming losses, we grieve. Naming challenges met, we celebrate. If and when new challenges arise, we have a sense of skills and gifts we may employ. Our resilience grows.

And we recollect. What are we, as individuals and as organisations, about? Surveying the lay of the land, what is our purpose for these times? We may not know how much money or physical resources we will have, but we will have a sense of our capacities, our hopes and our dreams. And coming from a long line of ancestors in faith that have risen from catastrophe, we know that God is and that God will continue to call and equip us to do what needs to be done.

Our attention to one another, to the true impacts of Covid-19 and to resources garnered and gained – through reflection and recollection – will lead us towards the new day, with a spring of hope and the confidence of faith in our steps. God direct and bless our journey towards the new day.

Zoom courses pass 50

Our courses on pastoral care in trauma-informed ministry, which the team have been delivering since May 2020, have now reached 50 groups of ministers.

The course is still available, and we are also offering a course on biblical and theological reflections on trauma and COVID, taught by Meg Warner and Christopher Southgate.

All enquiries to

Summary of the Courses

  1. Pastoral Care (3hrs on Zoom, Hilary Ison and Carla Grosch-Miller).

This will consist of two sessions: The first covers the nature of trauma in the individual and its physiological character – ‘the body keeps the score’. There are then explorations of how to be more aware of the signals our bodies are giving us. Trauma has the character of overwhelming our resources. It is therefore very important for clergy to be aware of their own strategies of self-care. Finally there is an exploration of three models of resilience. 

The second session covers collective trauma – its likely effects on communities, and the way in which those effects shift over time as the traumatic event is processed. There is reflection on the pandemic and the fact that it is ‘a trauma that keeps on giving’ – we are not yet safe, so the dynamics of recovery cannot unfold fully. There is guidance on leadership styles and good practice in pastoral care of the traumatised. There is also an exercise on the use of lament by individuals or communities, and brief reflection on liturgical practice after trauma.

This course has also been adapted for use with hospital chaplains.

  1. Biblical and theological reflections on trauma and COVID (3 hrs on Zoom, Meg Warner and Christopher Southgate) Again two sessions:

The first session is on the Bible. It notes that many key biblical texts in both Old and New Testaments were written (or reached their final form) in the context of trauma. These are therefore robust resources to aid us in reflecting on such experience. The Psalms of lament may be of particular importance in giving voice to the unvoiceable. Consideration is also given to models of resilience in the Scriptures, drawing on Dr Warner’s work on the character of Joseph.

The second session is on theological reflection, especially focusing on COVID. It considers explanations for how such a virus could be part of God’s good creation. It also explores expectations of God’s action in the world, related to the internal narratives by which congregations live. Finally it considers where, for the Christian, hope may be found in a time of pandemic.



Forthcoming article by Christopher Southgate

In the journal ‘Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith’ Christopher Southgate explores questions such as:

why are there pathogenic viruses in God’s good creation?

what underlying narratives lie behind Christians’ responses to the pandemic?

where is hope to be found?

The journal is available on-line at www.asa3.org. The article is due out in March.

Wiser living

Wiser Living…

Writing this in lockdown in February with the snow falling, I am reminded of an interview with Katherine May on “How ‘Wintering’ Replenishes” from the ‘On Being’ podcast[1]. It is a lyrical and moving interview that reminds us of the need to hunker down sometimes and allow our bodies and souls to replenish. It’s no wonder we’re tired in the context of where we are in the flow of this pandemic, finding ourselves in the foothills of exhaustion and possibly burnout.

The term ‘Wiser living’ denotes the final stage on the chart of Phases of Collective Trauma Response.[2] It is seen as the fruit of coming through traumatic events maybe with wounds and scars but with a much deeper understanding of and grace towards our bodies, our souls, our relationships, our work and our faith. Wiser living says, I wouldn’t have chosen for this awful thing to have happened but I have learnt so much through it, I am stronger now.

Katherine May speaks of knowing in her body, her gut instinct, that she was struggling almost a year before she was officially signed off work with exhaustion and burnout. She speaks now of learning to trust her ability to know what she needs and to listen to it. Perhaps you may not be at the stage of burnout yet, but knowing you are exhausted, depleted, in need of rest and replenishment. Be kind to yourself, listen to your body, your soul, to God within you and allow yourself time to ‘Winter’.

 Hilary Ison 12.02.21

[1]    https://onbeing.org/programs/katherine-may-how-wintering-replenishes/ (accessed 07.02.21)

[2]    https://www.ictg.org/phases-of-disaster-response.html


Burnout in a Time of Pandemic

Burnout in a time of Pandemic                                                           February 2021

A blog from the Tragedy and Congregations team,  

The Pandemic Wall

Have you hit the ‘pandemic wall’ yet? I first saw this term in a twitter feed recently and immediately resonated with it as did many others.

If one of the stock phrases in the first lockdown in 2020 was “in these unprecedented times”, then the one I hear most often in this third lockdown and say myself is, “it’s so much harder this time”.  In the first lockdown, when the crisis hit we responded with heroic energy: throwing ourselves into coping and adapting; learning how to ‘Zoom’ and work from home; home-schooling; volunteering to help others; setting up more foodbanks as the need grew; clapping the NHS frontline workers and carers; live-streaming church services; setting up pastoral care networks; connecting with friends and family online with games and quizzes!

Surge Capacity

All amazing stuff – but I simply don’t have the energy this time round.  My ‘surge capacity’[1]is depleted and I’m feeling exhausted and struggling to regulate the low-level thrum of anxiety beneath the outwardly coping exterior.  The ‘body keeps the score’, as the trauma researcher and author, Bessel van der Kolk writes[2] and so, for the first time ever, my skin has developed eczema!

Surge capacity, or heroic energy, is incredibly important in the face of a one-off shock event or disaster – gearing us up through the release of the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) to keep ourselves safe or to leap into action to help others. It’s only meant to be for a short period though, even if recovery and restoration takes longer. But this pandemic is stretching out interminably; it’s the trauma that keeps giving as the long-term impacts will keep on unfolding for months and probably years to come.

Professor Ann Masten,[3] who coined the term ‘surge capacity’, says, “This (pandemic) is an unprecedented disaster for most of us that is profound in its impact on our daily lives….. I think we maybe underestimate how severe the adversity is and that people may be experiencing a normal reaction to a pretty severe and ongoing, unfolding, cascading disaster.”

 A normal reaction to abnormal circumstances – so I can cut myself a bit of slack and be a bit kinder to myself. It’s not me being abnormal, inadequate; it really is ‘normal’, understandable that I should be feeling like this. Masten continues, “It’s important to recognize that it’s normal in a situation of great uncertainty and chronic stress to get exhausted and to feel ups and downs, to feel like you’re depleted or experience periods of burnout.”[4]

 The Development of understanding Burnout

One of the early American researchers in the 1970’s into the experience that came to be known as burnout[5]was working as a psychoanalyst at a substance abuse clinic where the term ‘burnout’ was a slang term for extreme substance abuse. Freudenberger realised that both he and many of the caregivers there were exhausted and drained by their work with addicted clients and adopted the term ‘burnout’ for their experience too. In a sense, the experience of the caregivers was mirroring that of the addicts in over-doing it; “they were overworked, perhaps overly idealistic, and certainly overly committed” and “like substance abuse, burnout is an illness of immoderation”.[6]

 Freudenberger also used the vivid illustration of a burnt-out building to describe the impact of emotional and psychological burnout. Under the strain of living and working with complex demands in society and in our churches, exacerbated by the added pressures of coping in a time of pandemic, he describes how our “inner resources are consumed as if by fire, leaving a great emptiness inside, although (our) outer shells may be more or less unchanged….Only if you venture inside will you be struck by the full force of desolation”.[7]

 The impact of burnout has been all too vividly portrayed for us on our television screens during this third lockdown with the cumulative impact on doctors and nurses of dealing with the trauma of patients dying of Covid 19, exacerbated by having to stand in for families at the point of death. James Lawrence, Director of CPAS, reports from his recent engagement with clergy in Anglican dioceses that two thirds describe themselves as just “hanging on” or “struggling” and that the four words most used to describe their feelings are “fatigued, frustrated, fed up and fragile”.[8]

 What is burnout?

Burnout happens when we’ve pushed ourselves above and beyond our resources to cope. This can be for worthy reasons to meet the enormous need that confronts us, or perhaps because we’ve tried to live up to our own or others’ expectations of us. Often we will have ignored the warning signs in our bodies and emotions trying to get our attention, until we suddenly crash and burn. It is often characterised by:

  • Exhaustion – I simply can’t do my job anymore
  • inability to concentrate, read or pray as you would normally do
  • cynicism – a negative view of life, “what’s the point?”
  • low feelings of self-worth – “I’m useless, I can’t do this, what have I got to give?”
  • inability to be creative, to imagine the future.

Is this different from compassion fatigue & vicarious trauma?

Compassion fatigue can perhaps be seen as a precursor to burnout. It often afflicts caregivers and church ministers in coping with the weight of pastoral need and suffering that confronts us. If, as a hospice chaplain a few years back, I had recognised my reluctance to visit another patient as the onset of compassion fatigue, I may have stopped sooner to attend to what was going on for me, rather than pushing on and eventually crashing with burnout.  Vicarious trauma is very similar to compassion fatigue and can happen in response to dealing with the constant ‘drip, drip’ of desperate suffering and trauma of others.  A powerful example of this was seen in the BBC news clip of Baptist and Anglican ministers breaking down in tears as they struggled to respond to overwhelming emotional and physical need and the social injustice before them.[9]

 What can I do in the response to compassion fatigue and burnout?

Self-care is vital. We ignore this at our peril, even though we often find it hard to make space for it. It’s also difficult when the usual things we would do to look after our emotional and physical well-being are denied to us in lockdown. We need to look for simple and accessible ways of taking care of ourselves and connecting ourselves back to resource through things such as: 

  • rest: connecting with your body’s needs and learning to listen to them.  A Tedx talk on Seven Types of Rest[10] includes passive and active rest such as physical exercise and breathing practices
  • retreat: exploring sabbath rest and simply being still with God; allowing others to hold you in prayer when you find it hard to pray
  • relationships:  connecting with supportive and loving others in whatever way you can; allowing yourself to be on the receiving end of love and care
  • re-creation: connecting with the natural world, slowing down to notice and wonder at creation and the surprising places where God comes to meet you
  • reducing stressors and expectations: giving ourselves permission just to be – it’s okay not to be functioning at the same levels we normally do. Let others know that you need time out. 
                                    • Hilary Ison

[1] https://elemental.medium.com/your-surge-capacity-is-depleted-it-s-why-you-feel-awful-de285d542f4c (accessed 04.02.21)

[2] Van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, Viking, 2014.

[3] https://icd.umn.edu/people/amasten/ (accessed 06.02.21)

[4] https://elemental.medium.com/your-surge-capacity-is-depleted-it-s-why-you-feel-awful-de285d542f4c (accessed 04.02.21)

[5] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/fascinating-history-burnout-arianna-huffington (accessed 06.02.21) 

[6] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/fascinating-history-burnout-arianna-huffingto (accessed 06.02.21)

[7] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/fascinating-history-burnout-arianna-huffingto (accessed 06.02.21)

[8]https://www.cpas.org.uk/browse-everything/leading-future-1   (accessed 05.02.21)

[9] https://youtu.be/FwRcibp4sJ4 (accessed 05.02.21)

[10]   https://ideas.ted.com/the-7-types-of-rest-that-every-person-needs/ (accessed 29.01.21)

Our new book goes to the publisher!

Carla Grosch-Miller tells me that the ms. of the book Trauma and Pastoral Care: a ministry handbook has gone to Canterbury Press.

The book is due out in June 2021 and can already be pre-ordered on Amazon. 

This is among other things the fruit of the many courses we’ve run with clergy over the last nine months or so. I think it’ll be a great resource.

Christopher Southgate

February 2021