The Recovery Taskforce Considers Spiritual and Emotional Care As A Part of Recovery

The Recovery Taskforce Considers Spiritual and Emotional Care As A Part of Recovery

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Basic Disaster Spiritual Care Etiquette

The Taskforce will consider spiritual and/or emotional care for those affected by the disaster based on the summary of findings and perceived needs collated from the Hearing.

Considerations in this planning include:

  • Type or kind of spiritual and/or emotional care needs that seem to be indicated
  • Availability of clergy, laity, helping agencies, and professionals with appropriate training and experience
  • Length of time that such care will be needed

 "Hope is the central capacity that contributes toward personal and communal resiliency.  It enables individuals, families, and communities to endure great hardship with courage.  Despair can begin to take root when tasks seem insurmountable and conditions seem unsolvable.

"Some of the most powerful interventions that can be performed by spiritual care providers are interventions that specifically stimulate a sense and experience of hope in individuals and communities."

Light Our Way:  A Guide for Spiritual Care in Times of Disaster, P. 33, National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster

 Examples of events or activities that might be developed include:

  • Corporate worship opportunities that are in memorial, observance, or celebration
  • Worship experiences within a particular church or faith community that are specific to their rites, rituals, and traditions
  • Crisis line that operates for purpose of referral to the appropriate social service agency or mental health agency
  • Collaborative projects for various age groups that address the trauma of the situation; i.e. art therapy classes for children or support groups for adults
  • Bible studies
  • Topic-specific classes that support the educational efforts of the Taskforce

Technology-caused disasters generate spiritual and emotional needs that must be addressed:

  • Evacuation and relocations may be difficult because the affected area may look "normal"; there are no uprooted trees or houses full of muddy water
  • Not knowing when or if the affected area will be safe again; will they be living in shelters or temporary facilities for a few hours, days, or weeks?
  • Days, months, or even years of waiting and not being able to make decisions that allow them to get on with their lives in another location
  • Clean-up work that is often healing for individuals, is very limited or not advisable
  • There are consequences of the disaster that may take years, or even generations, to appear or resolve; how will their property be cleaned up?  Who will pay?
  • Realization that other humans are respoinsible for the disaster; having a focus for anger may help some survivors, but may keep others "stuck"
  • Emotions centered on loss and uncertainty naturally include anger, frustration, rage, violence, hopelessness, and depression; emotions will be conflicted when jobs are at stake or there is some sort of relationship or obligation to the entity that has created the disaster
  • Some persons may feel responsible for the disaster
  • Tasks of everyday living become stressful
  • Parents may feel regret and guilt that their choice of a neighborhood or a house inadvertently exposed their children and themselves to danger; will they be safe?  Will their children be healthy?  Who will pay for the doctor's bills if they aren't healthy?
  • The issues, the trauma, the conflict, the economics, the media, and the reality of the toxics just may not make sense

Basic Disaster Spiritual Care Etiquette

  • Disaster spiritual care is not an opportunity for evangelism - it's the time to be present and caring 
  • Handing out tracts, scriptures, inappropriate offers of prayer, and (depending on the situation) even wearing religious jewelry may be construed as evangelism 
  • Listen, listen, listen - this is not the time to tell your story 
  • Make no promises that you personally cannot guarantee the outcome - please be cautious about giving false hope 
  • Do no harm - please carefully consider the consequences or precedents set by your presence, your actions, or your generosity 


"Akzo Mining was putting some $50 million into the local economy annually ..."

March 12, 1994, a part of the mine roof of the largest salt mine in North American collapsed near Rochester, NY.   

Millions of gallons of water flooded the mine, eroding the salt pillars that held up the roof.  More than 300 jobs were at stake, as well as what would happen to the area if the salty mine water were pumped into the Genesee River. Tourism dollars depended on the newly pristine river and the aquatic life in the river.

Keeping the mine open was considered vital to the county where Akso was the third-largest private employer, and the largest employer when the transportation jobs connected to the mine are added in.

The New York Times, April 11, 1994


"September 11, 2001 continues"

June 11, 2006 - since 9/11, 283 World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers have been diagnosed with cancer, and 33 of them have died of cancer, says a lawyer for the ailing responders.

David Worby, a lawyer for 8,000 World Trade Center responders, including cops, firefighters and construction workers, said teh cases include blood-cell cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's and myeloma.  Doctors say the cancers can strike three to five years after exposure to toxins such as benzene, a cancer-causing chemical that permeated the WTC site from burning jet fuel.

New York Post, "Cancer Hits 283 rescuers of 9/11" by Susan Edelman

May 24, 2007 - New York City's chief medical examiner, Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, has for the first time directly linked a death to exposure to dust from the destruction of the World Trade Center.  In a letter made public yesterday, Dr. Hirsch said that he was certain "beyond a reasonable doubt" that dust from the twin towers contributed to the death of felicia Dunn-Jones, 42, a civil rights lawyer who was engulfed on September 11 as she ran from her office a block away from the trade center.  She later developed a serious cough and had trouble breathing, and she died five months after the terrorist attack.

The New York Times, "For The First Time, New York Links A Death to 9/11 Dust" by Anthony DePalma


"Aftermath of Settlement is Anger"

Anniston, Alabama:  PCBs were manufactured in west Anniston for 40 years, until 1971, while operating under the Monsanto name.  Monsanto disposed of tens of thousands of pounds of PCBs by dumping them into creeks or burying them locally. In 1996, one of the dumps started leaking--it was then that residents began to learn the extent of the contamination.

EPA tested soil and water, finding that residents' blood had the country's highest recorded levels of PCBs.  A former union organizer, David Baker created Community Against Pollution in 1998 to force the chemical companies to clean-up the contamination and compensate those harmed by it.  A class-action suit was filed by 8 law firms in conjunction with federal and state cases. 

Plaintiffs contended they suffered cancer, liver disease, mental anguish and property losses from the contamination.  The result was a $700 million settlement, but the 18,447 plaintiffs in Anniston are realizing that the big winners in such class-action suits are usually the lawyers.

Outrage over the settlement has ripped apart the once close-knit community.  Baker said many locals are angry because they think he helped the lawyers get millions of dollars while they received only a few thousand dollars (average $7,725)/  "I was one of the claimants," said Baker, "so I'm asking that people please stop making death threats against me.  I'm not the enemy."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, April 12, 2004 "Aftermath of Anniston, Ala., Pollution Settlement Is Anger" by Charles Seabrook.

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Contact Info

Zachary Wolgemuth
Executive for UCC Disaster Ministries
700 Prospect Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115