Summer Holidays and a Teaser

Even over the summer break the trauma team is hard at work! In August the whole team will contribute a day at Sarum College’s Summer School. Last week Meg Warner ran workshops on Lament Psalms at the 2018 Modern Church Conference. If you are interested especially in Bible and Trauma look out for the 2019 programme for the Christ Church Summer School, held at Christ Church College, Oxford. Meg Warner will lead a week’s workshop on Bible, Trauma and Resilience.

Churches in Crises – A National Necessity?

This blog was first published by Via Media ( on 11 May 2018. The photo appeared with a re-publication in Christian Today.

Here in the UK we are currently marking a string of disturbing first anniversaries. The anniversary of the Westminster Bridge attack was 22 March, and the anniversaries of the Manchester Arena bombing (22 May), London Bridge Attack (3 June), Grenfell Tower fire (14 June) and Finsbury Park Mosque attack (19 June) are fast approaching. The cavalcade of disasters in the Spring and Summer of 2017 shocked and appalled us, even if we were fortunate enough not to have had friends or family numbered among the dead or injured. There is little doubt that the first anniversaries, as we reach them, will be similarly affecting.

For the nation’s churches, the experience was a little more complicated. Many congregations, of course, were situated near the disaster sites and lost members or suffered as a result of these events in a whole range of ways. But something very positive for the churches happened over that period also. The nation suddenly discovered that churches were there, and that they had some quite valuable things to offer.

This was nowhere more apparent than in the devastating aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. The difference between the responses of the local council and the churches (together with synagogues and mosques) could hardly have been more marked. Those things that residents immediately looked to the secular authorities to provide – places to congregate, cups of tea, food, emergency supplies, venues for meetings and media conferences, collection and distribution points for donations, a caring word or a hug – were provided instead by the churches. Here was a network of buildings with on-site staff, catering facilities and willing armies of volunteers that could be mobilised at a moment’s notice, even in the middle of the night. Black and purple shirts became familiar, prominent, sights on the news reports in the days that followed – immediately recognisable.

That is not to suggest that the experience was different elsewhere. Following each one of these events churches played a significant role – sometimes observable and sometimes behind the scenes – and this was not lost on the secular authorities in each place. Most cities, towns or areas have disaster-response plans that are made by local authorities, together with policing, fire-fighting and other civic and community organisations. In the past churches have been sometimes consulted and sometimes not. That has changed. Religious leaders are now typically central partners in the making of such plans and religious buildings are being marked for key roles. And now when disasters occur, for the first time, clergy are being invited inside disaster cordons, to counsel and support victims and responders.

None of this comes without a cost for the churches involved, of course. A church that finds itself nearby a major disaster of this type, and which opens its doors to it, can expect to be overwhelmed by the demands made upon it, both in the immediate days after the disaster, and in the following months or even years. Especially if few of the victims of the disaster had been members of the church (which was the case for a number of the churches near Grenfell Tower) this can lead to real tensions over time. Congregations can find themselves quite literally knocked-off their ordinary course. One church, for example, was so overwhelmed by unsolicited donations following the Grenfell Tower fire that when its clergy and PCC decided they needed to do some ‘de-cluttering’ in order to make the church available again for the conduct of liturgy they dispatched three articulated-lorries full of donations to storage.

The role of churches following these disasters was not limited to the provision of post-disaster relief and care. Churches and clergy have also played important civic roles in marking, mourning and moving back to normality. Clergy from Southwark Cathedral, for example, following the London Bridge attack (in which it had itself been significantly affected) held an informal liturgy among the stalls of Borough Market, sprinkling holy water, saying prayers, and ‘re-claiming’ the area for local people, attracting enthusiastic participation on the part of those who happened to be there. Subsequently, local authorities asked the Dean to lead an observance to ease the dismantling of the impromptu memorial to the victims of the attacks – huge piles of flowers, teddy-bears and written messages – that had become, over time, a public hazard. An unplanned, and extremely moving, ritual ensued in which members of the gathered crowd moved forward one-by-one, unbidden, to carry individual items from the memorial into the trucks that that would take them away for burning. A similar ‘re-claiming’ ritual was welcomed in recent days by the people of Salisbury, following the Skripal poisoning, and although it is still very early days, it can probably already be said that the national service commemorating the six-month anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, held at St Paul’s Cathedral, will be looked back to as a very significant point in the community’s recovery from that tragedy.

I didn’t grow up in this country. I’m Australian and have spent most of my life in a country that doesn’t have an established church. Perhaps that makes me especially sensitive to what I see as the rich gifts that establishment brings, both to church and to nation. In the churches’ response to these terrible events one year ago I think that the public began to develop a renewed awareness of exactly what the Church of England offers to the nation – both nationally and parish by parish.

I hope and pray that the Church of England is also being led to a renewed awareness – an awareness of what it can be and who it is for.


‘Don’t waste a crisis …’

March’s nerve agent attack on Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury sent shock waves around the world, but it has been in Salisbury itself that the most immediate effects have been felt. Visitor numbers to Salisbury have dropped, and business profits fallen, and this has served to intensify the general feelings of fear and vulnerability that the attack has created. None of the residents want the attack to be what people worldwide think of when they hear the name Salisbury. The Rev’d Kelvin Inglis, Rector of St. Thomas’ Church, together with the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, together decided to find a way to respond to these events and concerns and at the same time to do something to lift the community’s morale and rebuild its sense of identity.

Yesterday’s ‘celebration’ began with a service at St Thomas’ Church. Strikingly, one of the first elements of the service was a rendition of Russian composer, Rimsky-Korsakov’s, setting of The Lord’s Prayer. The music of fellow-Russian Sergei Rachmaninov was also sung, and the service ended with the whole congregation singing ‘Jerusalem’ together. After the service, which was billed as ‘A Celebration of the Community Life of the City of Salisbury’, the congregation joined other community members at the nearby Maltings, at a spot as near as possible to the place where the bench connected with the attack had previously stood, for a short ritual of ‘cleansing and reclaiming’. Ironically, it was raining at the time, but that didn’t deter the Rector from liberally dashing water across the site, symbolically ‘cleansing’ the area and ‘reclaiming’ it for the people of Salisbury.

This event has been the most recent of a series of liturgies following attacks in different parts of the UK. The St. Paul’s Cathedral service held six months after the Grenfell Tower fire was the most prominent of these. In light of the profile and magnitude of the disaster, the cathedral service served as a national memorial for those who died. Other events have been more local. After the London Borough Markets were re-opened after the London Bridge Attack, clergy from Southwark Cathedral, which had itself been inside the security cordon, went on a ‘walk’ through the markets, meeting locals, saying prayers and sprinkling water. Again, a public ritual was held in which the area was ‘reclaimed’, and during which the community both remembered the victims and looked ahead to the future life of the area. Movingly, an un-scripted element of the outdoor observance was the solemn removal, by members of the community, of flowers and mementos left at the makeshift shrine.

Reports following these post-disaster liturgies suggest that they have been meaningful and helpful, especially for those who live and work in places that had been blighted by violent attacks. Sometimes they have been surprisingly joyful events, as a whole community anticipates life returning to something approximating normal. People who don’t normally think of themselves as ‘church people’ have been particularly vocal in their appreciation. These sorts of observances are vehicles for local churches to serve their communities by providing space for public remembering and grieving, as well as offering a kind of permission and encouragement for life to continue and grow. As painful as such disasters can be, there is always the hope that through them new life will appear, and the church has a crucial role to play here. As Bishop Holtam said yesterday, ‘don’t waste a crisis …’

Following below is the text of the outdoor ritual at The Maltings:

We seek this day to reclaim our city for the common good.

That Salisbury may once more be a byword – around the world – for the values we cherish.

Here in the Maltings we name all that has been visited upon us

* violation of our peace and prosperity

* injury inflicted on individuals

* fear and anxiety

* disruption of normal lives

* economic and financial uncertainty

With this water of new life, I symbolically cleanse our city…

May it be vibrant, lively, alert, prosperous.

May our businesses prosper,

our visitors be welcomed,

our art and culture flourish,

our vulnerable be cared for,

our past valued,

our future embraced,

and may all be people be treated alike

            with dignity, respect and generosity.

May God bless this fine city of Salisbury

today and always.



Salisbury Observance

The team is glad to have been in contact with the Revd Kelvin Inglis who will be leading ‘A Celebration of the Community Life of the City of Salisbury’ tomorrow afternoon at St. Thomas’s Church, Salisbury, following the recent chemical attack there. The service will be recorded and reported on by media, and you will find reflection upon it on this site after the event. The service begins at 3 pm and both Revd Inglis and Bishop Nicholas Holtam, the Bishop of Salisbury, will give addresses.

Common Awards Seedcorn Grants – Applications Open Now


Common Awards Research Network

Seedcorn Grants in Liturgy in response to Trauma

Call for Applications – Closing Date: March 1st, 2018


In association with the broader Common Awards Seedcorn Grants, the project ‘How can Congregations be Helped in Times of Tragedy’ ( invites applications for four seedcorn grants of £2000 each.

The purpose is to generate liturgies, with theological commentary, that will enrich the TEI sector, and through it the wider Church, in its response to sudden tragedies.  These grants will be managed by the Project Leader, Professor Christopher Southgate, at the University of Exeter. The funding for the project comes from the Templeton World Charities Foundation Inc.


The deadline for applications is March 1st, 2018.

Applicants will be informed about the outcome of their applications by April 1st, 2018.

Two of the four pieces of liturgy with commentary resulting from the grant must be sent to the Project Leader by September 30th, 2018 and the remaining two by November 30th, 2018.

These deadlines are set because of the publishing schedule for the edited book to be published from the project, Tragedies in Christian Congregations: The Practical Theology of Trauma (working title) (Routledge, 2019).

Application to the project implies consent to the use of the material submitted, with acknowledgement, in the edited book above, on the project website, and on the Common Awards website.

Essential Criteria

Projects must:

  • have the potential to shape the Common Awards – in terms of enriching the liturgical teaching and learning at participating TEIs.
  • be led by a member of staff employed by a TEI, Ministry Division, the Discipleship and Ministries cluster of the Methodist Church, or the United Reformed Church; and
  • provide novel insights into good liturgical practice following a sudden shock to a congregation, through both liturgical materials and commentary that shows clear awareness of the importance of context, and a nuanced theological approach to the encounter with unexpected harms.

All projects are also expected to involve a brief presentation by members of the project team during the Common Awards staff conference in July 2019 – so attendance by at least one representative of the project will be required.

Desirable Criteria

We will look in particular for projects that are ecumenically diverse.


Where possible, the project team will work closely with the successful TEIs to optimize the results of the grants. Once the successful projects have been chosen, we will discuss with applicants the forms of support that might be most appropriate.

Application Process

Applications should comprise all the elements listed below. Please aim to be concise and clear. Ask yourself whether someone reading your application will end up with a clear idea of exactly what you plan to do, and why you plan to do it.

1. Title (no more than 20 words)

This will be the only information about your grant that will appear in some forms of publicity. Please make sure that it clearly conveys the main idea of your project.

 2. Information about the Principal Investigator

Name, institutional affiliation, and full contact details for one person who will be the coordinator for the project, and our key contact. This person must be a member of staff employed by a TEI, by Ministry Division, by the Discipleship and Ministries cluster of the Methodist Church, or by the United Reformed Church.

3. Brief overview (no more than 500 words)

A short paragraph describing your project. This text should be suitable for use in any publicity we send out about the outcome of this round of awards. It should summarise your approach to the topic, what you hope to do, and why it is important.

4. Proposed project timetable

Please note that projects may begin as soon as the award has been made (Easter 2018) and must be completed by Nov 30 2018.

5. A full description (no more than 2500 words)

The full description must include the following elements:

  • An account of the approach taken
  • What is liturgy in time of tragedy seeking to do?
  • How might that be achieved?
  • What existing published resources will be drawn upon?
  • What theological approach to tragedy will the liturgies reflect?
  • In outline, what type of liturgies will be generated?

The final outputs will consist of four pieces of liturgy, each of at least two pages of A4, and a 2000-word commentary on each. The commentary should make clear for what context the liturgy has been designed, and why, pastorally, liturgically and theologically, the liturgy might be expected to be effective.

6. Project Management

How will the Principal Investigator ensure that the project stays on track, and achieves its objectives within the time available? How will members of the team communicate? How will the main activities be organised?

7. Project personnel

Who, beyond the Principal Investigator, will be involved in delivering this project, and what will they do? Will students be involved, and if so, how? We encourage the inclusion of at least one currently serving minister in the team.

Please supply names, cvs, and full contact details for the core team.

8. A budget

This should include:  a breakdown of costs (totalling no more than £2,000); and a brief explanation of how these costs have been arrived at.

9. Up-to-date CVs for the project team (at least three team members must be involved)

Applications should be sent to Christopher Southgate at to arrive no later than midnight on March 1st 2018.

Applications will be assessed by at least two members of the project team, including the project leader. Details of the team can be found at www. tragedy and

Any queries about the grants or the application process should be sent to Christopher Southgate at

Further information about the Common Awards Research Network can be found at

Tragedy and Congregations on the BBC!

The project was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme yesterday! You can tune in with this link: The 7 minute piece includes interviews with Project leader, Dr Christopher Southgate, as well as some of the participants in our very first day of teaching with curates in the Diocese of Exeter. Apart from the fact that the project is described as being sponsored by the Church of England (which it is not!) the report is worth a listen.


Tragedy and Clergy Self-Care – the ‘Heroic’ Phase

One of the aspects of responding to tragedy and trauma that is least well-known, and that can come as the greatest surprise, is the initial ‘heroic’ phase. Far from being immobilised, some clergy find that in the initial hours and days after a traumatic event they can feel full of unusual amounts of energy and clarity, and even experience periods of elation and fulfilment, as they respond with unprecedented vigour to the disastrous circumstances around them. There can be a sense that one is truly living out one’s vocation for the first time. This extra energy and enthusiasm can be invaluable in the face of what might otherwise seem an insurmountable task. It prompts, and is in turn fed by, inspiring acts of generosity and compassion by congregation members and other members of the public.

The heroic phase is not without its dangers, however. It can be easy to forget that it is always followed by a far longer period in which levels of energy and mood plummet as the reality of the traumatic event and its consequences sink in. A failure to anticipate this inevitable movement from elation to despair can make the transition even more difficult. If one does not pay close attention to the need for regular eating, drinking and rest, and gives in to the temptation to take on more responsibility than can be managed reasonably – in other words, treat the event as a sprint rather than a marathon – there may be little energy left in the tank for the real work of leading the congregation through the traumatic experience and its aftermath.

So what are some of the tips for good self-care and management when the ‘acute’ or ‘heroic’ phase of a traumatic event kicks in? First – breathe. Take a moment to breathe, pray and assess before running in to take action. What is the scope of the role that you are equipped to assume in the situation? Are you in good heart, well-rested, fed and watered? If you haven’t eaten recently – do so – and carry water. The core of your role in the coming days may be delegation. What responsibilities can you give to others so that you are able to take an overview of the situation? It will be tempting, at first, to work all hours of the day or night, but make sure you work no longer than twelve hour shifts before getting proper rest.

In the longer term your responsibilities may be heavy and the recovery may be protracted. Make sure that in the weeks and months that follow you take regular time out to re-charge your batteries, and that you follow basic rules of personal hygiene. Those who have been through this experience recommend that one of the things you should do in the first few days of the crisis is to make time to sit down with a partner, family member or close friend and plan a holiday for three to six months’ time, book it and pay for it. This piece of advice should alert you to the strength of the forces that are likely to get in the way of self-care in the longer term! Self-care is not a luxury in these circumstances, it is an imperative.

For more reflection on the topic of clergy self-care in the face of tragedy, we highly recommend Laurie Kraus’ book, Recovering from Un-natural Disasters (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), especially pp. 16-19. Self-care is a topic to which we’ll return in future posts.

Meg Warner

Off and Running …

The Project Team has just completed its first teaching round! We were invited to present day programmes to curates in the Diocese of Exeter and to second and third year students of the South West Ministry Training Course. The two bookings gave us a chance to try out some different approaches and timings. Overall the two days seemed to go extremely well and were warmly received. New bookings are coming in – more welcome!

First Meeting with the Project Advisory Board

Last week saw an important milestone for the project as the team met for the first time with members or the project advisory board. The team is extremely grateful to the group of specialised practitioners who have agreed to be part of the board, and these meetings will represent the team’s best opportunity to share ideas, challenge assumptions and explore possible new directions. At this first meeting Dr Ruth Layzell led a discussion about pastoral counselling and ministry in times of trauma, with particular reference to clergy boundaries and implications for self-care. In addition, the project’s new postdoc researcher, Meg Warner, presented a paper on the pastoral and practical use of lament psalms, with particular reference to advisory board member John Swinton’s Raging With Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil. If you are interested in that topic and the paper please email Meg at

Open the Doors . . .

Last week’s Church Times (13 October 2017) carries a story about an event titled ‘The Parish: Has it had its day?’ held at St Mellitus College during the week. The story opens like this:

The Grenfell Tower fire and the Parsons Green tube bomb showed that if the parish system did not exist, “you’d sure as heck want to invent it,” the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, said on Monday evening.

Dr Tomlin spoke at the event about the two parish churches close to these two disasters. For example, St Clement’s, Notting Dale, is only a few hundred yards away from the Grenfell Tower. Its vicar opened the doors at 3 am on the night of the fire and St Clement’s “became a great centre for gifts, for respite for people who had been evacuated from the surrounding blocks and the tower itself.” The parish church in Parsons Green, on the other hand, “was a place in which people could go, sit quietly, take a breath when they were panicked as a result of this event.”

Even to those of us who observed the two events from the safety of our living rooms it was readily apparent that local churches played very prominent roles in the responses to the two events, and both churches and clergy were highly visible in the days and weeks following the Grenfell fire, in particular. We saw clergy and bishops speaking with survivors, politicians and media, we saw parishioners distributing food and hot drinks, and we saw piles and piles of donated clothes, blankets and furniture.

As part of the ‘Tragedy and Congregations’ project, the team has been interviewing clergy about their experiences of responding to similar disasters. The range of events has been very large – from sudden deaths of congregation members, to terrorist attacks and natural disasters – but one action has been almost universal in the context of these varied disasters; “I opened the church”.

A further theme that has emerged from these interviews so far is that clergy have been surprised at the positive reaction that they have received to the church’s involvement. Often expectations of public authorities are high after major disasters. When these expectations are not met the result can be mounting anger and frustration. The Grenfell Tower fire has been a parade example of this. Expectations of churches, conversely, have tended to be low, but have regularly been exceeded. Churches (and mosques and synagogues) are often to be found close by disaster sites and their clergy are in a position to respond quickly (more quickly than local authorities), while congregations offer potential bodies of volunteer workers.

This important role of churches in responding to disasters can make it all the more traumatic when disasters strike so close as to have the effect of forcing churches to close their doors. This was the experience of Southwark Cathedral, for example, following the recent London Bridge attack. The Cathedral might have offered an ideal focal centre for people responding to the attacks, had it not itself become part of the crime scene. Only last week, tragically, the death of a visitor who had fallen from the Whispering Gallery forced the brief closure of St Paul’s Cathedral. Neither of these examples comes close, however, to the experience of residents of Christchurch, New Zealand, whose cathedral was inaccessible following the earthquakes of 2011 until the erection of a cardboard cathedral in 2013.

These disasters aside, it is clear that the role of parish congregations in responding to major disasters is becoming more prominent. As this prominence grows it may be necessary to monitor and manage public expectations. Response to traumatic events can, in the short term, be invigorating and bonding for congregations. When trauma, or the response to it, becomes long term, however, the impact for both congregations and clergy can be very significant and the burden very heavy. These will be matters for the project team to ponder over the life of the project.