In Birmingham and Huntsville, Ala., PDA and the Red Cross have held two training sessions for local clergy of all backgrounds who are interested in addressing the spiritual and emotional needs of residents, said the Rev. John Robinson, PDA’s associate for national disaster response.
The training focuses on how to provide non-biased, non-proselytizing care, he said, adding that it’s also important for counselors to know about disasters, stress and different faith traditions.
“One of the things PDA has been working on is being cooperative and collaborative with other faith partners,” Robinson said. “We really try to be respectful so that anyone of any faith background can get spiritual care from us without feeling manipulated.”
Once the clergy are trained, their names are given to the Red Cross, which then contacts them as needed for work in shelters or service centers.
In a resource outlining how disasters can affect individuals, PDA states that traumatic stress can play out as feeling alienated from God, a new fear of God, anger at God or difficulty praying.
In communities of faith, disasters can lead to difficulty in making decisions, confusion, resistance to change and declined attendance.
The Rev. Warner Durnell, executive presbyter of North Alabama Presbytery, helped coordinate the training in Huntsville, which saw about 50 participants.
Although he had hoped for more participation, Durnell said those who did attend saw the benefits of the training, such as learning about the cycle of grief and how to recognize symptoms that might require additional counseling.
“We have a keener ear, we’re better listeners,” he said.
And the training was beneficial for clergy as well, many of whom were able to share their burdens and experiences as first responders.
The Huntsville session was led by PDA stafferes, but Durnell said he hopes the presbytery can coordinate another session that will allow attendees to be certified to go on follow-up visits with the Red Cross.