Spiritual care in disasters is a hallmark of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), and by working with agencies such as the American Red Cross, PDA is better positioned to be of maximum service to those in need, PDA personnel assert.

Every faith-based disaster organization does spiritual care, but “what is different is that in PDA, rather than trying to set up our own separate spiritual care process apart from others, we see our role as working with other agencies and organizations including the Red Cross,” said the Rev. John Robinson, PDA’s associate for national response and a veteran staffer. PDA provides nonsectarian training and guidance  that enables the community to become aware of what the issues are in spiritual care, specifically in disasters, Robinson continued.

PDA has been working with the Red Cross for several years, providing joint trainings for disaster responders and direct care to those in need. “We do side-by-side training with the Red Cross,” said Robinson. “It’s a natural fit.”

What also has been a good fit is PDA’s relationship with National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD), a coalition of nonprofit organizations that respond to disasters as part of their overall mission.

In fact, National VOAD was the conduit through which PDA and the Red Cross began discussing how to work together. National VOAD has been the agency to bring everyone to the table, said Robinson. Their job is to provide the arena in which these discussions can take place, he said.

PDA and the Red Cross first offered a joint training in 2008 for about 30 clergy, and about a month later those chaplains were called up to a fire in the Texas Panhandle to provide coordination and orientation for various faith organizations on site to help, Robinson said.

With spiritual care in disasters you are dealing with issues such as sudden loss and the disruption of the normal patterns of the community. Working jointly enables both PDA and the Red Cross to build on the strengths of the other entity, Robinson said.

The Rev. Dr. Jim Kirk is a PDA national response team member and secretary of the emotional and spiritual care committee of National VOAD. He has seen this collaborative work up close and personal. Kirk first got involved in PDA in the mid-1990s, and over the years he has both been trained and facilitated training events to help local clergy provide spiritual care in disasters.

The associate pastor at The Moorings Presbyterian Church in Naples, Fla., Kirk also has received training through the Red Cross and is part of the agency’s spiritual response team. Most recently he assisted the Red Cross during Hurricane Irene, working in shelters to provide spiritual care.

Working with the Red Cross is “just a wonderful example of pooling resources to provide not only an effective response, but an efficient response so that those who are in the most need are able to receive the best response possible,” said Kirk.

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