Red Cross Training on Delivering Pastoral Care During
by Deacon Michael Sochka
constantly read and hear in the news media that we live in a "post-9-11
world." While I have problems with that label, primarily because I see
our lives lived in a "post-Resurrection" and
"post-Ascension" world, for many, the events of
asking myself these questions I was, like so many, motivated to look for ways
to understand the tragedy and help other people through their personal trauma.
When I received an invitation from the American Red Cross
to attend a conference on the impact of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on faith
communities and their leaders I decided it was worth the trip to
surprising piece of information is that the US Congress designated the
American Red Cross as the national provider/organizer of spiritual care in a
disaster, directly linking the Red Cross with FEMA and other state and local
disaster relief agencies. The fact that spiritual care is a matter for the
federal government may or may not surprise you. We owe the government's keen
awareness of the importance of spiritual care during and after a disaster to
another of our nation's tragedy, namely the bombing of the
spiritual care during a national disaster differs from spiritual care at other
times is a matter of scale. As individuals we may lose loved ones to an
accident or a home to fire. But when it's the whole nation the scale is bigger
and so is the recovery time. History has to play out; we are faced with our
own inability to control our environment. Recovery is in years, not months,
and whole series of events re-open the wounds.
Main Themes of the Training
a whole progression of pastors, rabbis, priests, imams, and psychologists
spoke, (obviously from different faith traditions) one thing was made very
clear, that we must make ourselves available to help all people, even those
outside our faith. We do this primarily by practicing the ministry of personal
presence-listening to people and responding to them where they are. Specific
techniques include assuring people, especially children, of their own personal
safety and security. It is also critical to allow people to vent their
feelings, and have those feelings validated. Finally in the
"critical" phase of care, it is important to try to predict next
steps and prepare the person for taking them. For someone that has been
displaced, it may include transportation to a shelter and providing social
workers to help him or her with practical matters.
the conference was also designed to help spiritual caregivers, a lot of the
information dealt with issues of compassion fatigue and burnout. Some
important statistics from
interesting to note that most people prefer to talk to a member of the clergy
than to a mental health worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
help clergy and other spiritual caregivers, the Greater New York chapter of
the American Red Cross-the first chapter in the country to do so-provides
certification classes for disaster spiritual care. In addition to
"Volunteer Orientation" and "Introduction to Disaster
Services", coursework includes "Serving the Diverse Community"
and "Disaster Spiritual Care Services." Completion of the coursework
enables clergy to receive a Red Cross badge and to accompany emergency workers
in the Greater New York chapter area. An Emergency Services Ride-Along is the
final requirement for being put on a regular disaster spiritual care rotation
(once a month). While this was my immediate goal in signing up for the Red
Cross training, I've also leveraged that training into a volunteer position
with the International Orthodox Christian Charities, where I am helping to
build a national network of Orthodox clergy to respond to disasters anywhere
in the United States.
we are building a response network or responding one-on-one to the people in
our everyday life, we are, in fact, responding to Christ and to His call to
serve and love those around us. For much of my life I think this idea has been
a bit of an abstraction. While professing my love for God and for people, it
was all too easy for me to feel sympathetic, act superficially and still be
focused almost entirely on my own life. For God, love is not an abstraction.
We owe our existence to His love and to really respond with God's love to
those around us requires more than feeling sympathetic and acting
superficially. It requires us to give ourselves. But of course, what we give
to God, we get back as a blessing.