Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Disaster relief

RSS By: Pastor Craig Miller

Disaster relief coordinator Pastor Craig Miller shares disaster relief information in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The state of long-term emotional and spiritual care

Jun 02, 2014

When I was asked to give a presentation at a Disaster Preparedness, Response and Resilience Forum at Union Theological Seminary on the subject of emotional and spiritual care, I took it as an opportunity to reflect on the state of spiritual care now that we have passed 18 months since the storm struck. The Rev. Susan Karlson of the Unitarian Universalist Church and I teamed up to look at what systems are in place to respond to disasters throughout the recovery process. We noted that, like much of the disaster response we have seen, a good deal of resource and capacity exists for the short-term and intermediate phases, but long-term emotional and spiritual care especially has suffered a drastic drop-off in attention after we passed the first anniversary of the storm.


For the first year after Sandy came ashore a great deal of emotional and spiritual care for survivors came through Project Hope, a state-funded program that lasted until February of this year. Long Term Recovery Groups gave little attention to what would happen once this program concluded. Almost all thought was to crisis management with an implied assumption that after 14 months the crisis would be over. However, for many survivors, the crisis lingers and, as frustrations at the many delays and disappointments mount, it is compounded by new crises with even deeper impact.


I have observed from meetings of LTRGs and their Emotional and Spiritual Care Committees that we tend to focus on this area, as with most of our response, only as a "professional" response. We look for the mental health professionals and religious leaders to provide the care we believe we need.


When considering spiritual resilience and preparation for future disasters, we need to look beyond the professionals to the communities of faith that create healthy spaces. In my presentation, I stressed the importance of congregations planning for disaster so that they are prepared to serve as those places of health and healing. Having a disaster plan means that we are less likely to spend our energy figuring out our congregations’ recovery and more available to serve our neighbors; our plans will help us to work for real Long-Term spiritual renewal among the people to whom God has sent us.


During a conversation with one of the conference attendees we concluded that we are asking our congregations that they be church. Planning for disaster is part of being church.


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