Focus On America
The Pastor and Crisis Response Ministry
During the past decade, crisis response teams have been called in after mass shootings, plane crashes, and natural disasters. They are used after military engagements, major fires, and law enforcement incidents. The events of 9/11 have made us increasingly aware of the need for critical incident stress management and critical incident stress debriefings. We also need more pastors to become involved with CISM/CISD.
Training in CISM/CISD is an absolute requirement before becoming involved. The training is also helpful in providing normal pastoral care. The information gathered can be used immediately and will help the local church.
CISM/CISD and the Local Pastor
Where is God in this mess? Or, why didn’t God prevent this (disaster)? These are typical questions people ask after a crisis that need to be answered by the religious community. There are no easy answers. Clergy need to ask some questions of their own: If God were to speak into this situation, what would He say? Who will He use to get His message across? Who would the people look to for answers, direction, and comfort? The answers involve the clergy in a community.
God does have something to say in times of crisis. The ministry of Christ included a prophetic and priestly role. In His prophetic role Christ spoke into human situations. In His priestly role He brought the presence of God into human experience by identifying with human need—through acts of reconciliation and healing and by offering hope, forgiveness, and acceptance.
In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the priestly ministry of the clergy needs to take precedent over the prophetic ministry. After the 9/11 disaster in New York and the Pentagon, several well-known clergy used a prophetic voice rather than a priestly voice. Their call to repentance and blaming the situation on American apostasy offended many honest seekers who needed to be assured that God cared and loved them. In the public arena, those who speak prophetically bear the responsibility to temper their message with love and action as taught in 1 Corinthians 13. Nothing speaks more powerfully about the love of God than Christian unity in response to a community crisis.
During the vulnerability of community crisis, sensitivity toward different views of religion and spirituality is a must. Also, unwanted or forced prayer during the crisis may produce anger and the desire to have the clergy removed from the process. Trying to theologize or philosophize during diffusing or debriefing is counterproductive. Pastors who remain present and engaged in the process will have opportunity later to engage the big questions of life, and at a time when they can be more capably grasped. Once the community is stabilized, pastoral care begins in earnest. Though evangelism may temporarily take a back seat, out of the ashes of a community crisis come opportunities for future evangelism.
In many communities, the local government or law enforcement have already established a community disaster program. Unfortunately, the church was often left out of the process and must take the initiative to become involved. Fortunately, communities are waiting and wanting local church participation.
Training Opportunties For Crisis Response Teams
CISM and CISD are offered by the following agencies:
The American Red Cross
The American Red Cross has regional offices throughout the United States that provide emergency training. They have a segment on spiritual care for clergy. After successfully completing the Red Cross training, the trainee receives certification.
The Red Cross provides two levels of training. The first level introduces persons to the Red Cross and its resources. It also introduces community workers to the procedures and protocol for working in a local crisis situation. It is recommended that pastors begin their involvement in CISM/CISD with the Red Cross. The advanced training is required for involvement in a crisis of national significance.
For Red Cross training visit your local American Red Cross office. For further information on the American Red Cross, visit their Web site: www.redcross.org.
National Organization for Victim’s Assistance
NOVA provides excellent training for communities to initiate a comprehensive crisis response team. Their materials are available on the Web, but it is highly recommended that they only be purchased in connection with training.
NOVA offers two courses. The basic course is 40 hours in length and provides certification. The second is a 24 hour advanced course. NOVA only recommends the second course after trainees have had some experience using the training from the first course.
NOVA can be reached through their Web site <www.try-nova.org> or by writing the National Organization for Victim’s Assistance, 1730 Park Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20010, or by calling 202-232-6682.
International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc.
ICISF has the most comprehensive training for CISM/CISD. ICISF provides three levels of training—basic, advanced, and training for trainers. They also provide certification. ICISF has an informative Web site complete with a yearly schedule of their regional training opportunities. Their training books are valuable for referencing. They have a training course just for pastors called Pastoral Crisis Intervention.
To contact ICISF, write to the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. (ICISF), 10176 Baltimore National Pike, Unit 201, Ellicott City, MD 21042, or call 410-750-9600. Their Web site is: www.icisf.org.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
FEMA is the federal agency that has traditionally done the most in responding to natural disasters. They have a correspondence training program available through their office. The training however, lacks specific CISD components for working with stress management. The training is valuable for understanding community needs during a crisis.
FEMA can be reached through their Web site, www.fema.gov, or at FEMA, 500 C. Street, SW Washington, D.C., 20472, or by calling 202-646-4600.
Law enforcement and fire safety agencies may have opportunities for pastors to become chaplains. Chaplains are eligible for department training on dealing with emergencies. If your police, sheriff, or fire departments do not have a chaplain, I encourage you to become one. This is one of the greatest ways a pastor can impact his or her community while getting some valuable training.
During the past 2 years, several national crisis and disasters have brought crisis response organizations together. The tremendous needs after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made them aware of their need for each other and for community support. The Chaplaincy Department of the Assemblies of God has the vision to have at least one trained and certified Assemblies of God crisis response team in each district.
Preparing Your Church To Respond To Community Crisis/Disasters
The need for critical community response teams is so great that pastors need to see their involvement as mandatory. The opportunities for ministry within the community will expand as pastors become trained, crisis responders. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
- Contact your local American Red Cross office, take their initial training, and make your self-available.
- Get all pastoral staff trained in CISM/CISD.
- Develop a trained crisis response team (CRT) for your congregation.
- Find out if your community has developed a CISM/CISD plan. If yes, get trained to be a part of the plan. If not, start one.
- Become acquainted with your community resources, including help agencies.
- Serve as a local law enforcement and/or fire department chaplain.
- Offer your church as a potential site for a family crisis center and safe place for CISD.
- Offer family training for emergencies.
- Make your CRT available to your district.
- Encourage your lay people to become certified crisis-response team members.
Professional counselors in your congregation are needed to serve as team leaders for CISD. Emergency respondents such as law enforcement, medical technicians, and fire personnel are needed for peer support. Schoolteachers, union members, and social workers are also valuable members for community crisis response teams. In addition to the need for CISD trained persons, there is tremendous need for those willing to serve as CISM volunteers doing practical deeds such as meal preparation, caring for children and the elderly, and assisting with housing. Lead the way and encourage your membership to follow.