United Church of Christ

NC workshops for pastors address disaster-related trauma

Written by C. L. Stumb*
SOC e-News editor
United Church of Christ Southern Conference

Participants_cropped.jpgWILMINGTON, N.C. -- Many Southern Conference persons are on a first name basis with disaster.  Matthew, (2016), Florence (2018), Michael (2018) are all hurricanes that left their footprint on the land and their signature in the minds of Carolinians and Virginians.  The seemingly routine occurrence of these storms has prompted church leaders to direct strategy toward a pro-active rather than re-active approach for disaster responses.

To guide this path, Ken Skalitzky was hired by the United Church of Christ as Disaster Recovery Specialist for the Eastern Region, an area comprising 24 states along the U.S. East Coast covering FEMA Regions 1-4.  At four Southern Conference retreats in recent weeks - in Wilmington, Raleigh, Elizabeth and New Bern, N.C. - Skalitzky gathered an assortment of persons who represent either an engagement in or a heart for disaster ministry response.

Each retreat was pitched toward the wellness of caregivers.  "Come away ... Rest awhile." [John 6:31]  Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa reflects on the event and said, "it slowly dawned on me that this was truly a retreat meant for those on the front lines of trauma recovery."
 
Minister Gail McAfee added, "So, yes, we learned about disaster, and even how to find resources, and much, much more, but at this Retreat, we were added a bonus. Yes, an additional luxury ...we were ... resting from some of the weight that we carry on our shoulders on a daily basis, resting from everyday life, resting in the Presence of God."

Martha_talking_cropped.jpgRev. Martha R. Jacobs (D.Min.) (pictured, left), Senior Minister at First Congregational Church in Chappaqua, N.Y., and former Coordinator for UCC Disaster Ministries Chaplains, facilitated the retreat.  "Trauma is difficult for us, because we like to be in control," Jacobs told the group.

Rev. Jacobs talked about the pastoral role of being a good listener.  "We are people of meaning.  Get people to tell THEIR story," she said.  "Part of our role is to help people grieve, and name it."  She added, "The biggest role the church can play is to provide safe space, sanctuary."

Ken Skalitzky offered participants insight into how the United Church of Christ approaches disaster ministries.  Rev. Terry Ogawa, a retreat participant, captures the essence of his remarks.  "[I] was so glad to understand that in true UCC fashion, we work to be in ministry with 'the least of these' and the 'forgotten ones.' This means the denomination leverages the limited funding we have in preparedness, like training volunteers, and in Long-Term Recovery in the communities that don't get the media spotlight, and therefore, are often underfunded. So while we might not have the most splashy presence, we sure do have a needed one."
* Thank you, UCC Southern Conference, for sharing this story.

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