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Recommendations for 'Ministry in Disaster Settings'

There is no doubt in my mind that clergy are at the forefront of disaster help. I experienced this first hand when, as one of the psychologists who went to help train relief workers after the World Trade Center disaster, I quickly discovered that hurting firemen and policemen digging for body parts down in the hell hole only wanted to talk with "chaplains" - not psychologists. We quickly learned to set aside our professional hats and spent our time holding burly firemen and policemen as they cried and we prayed. It wasn't psychotherapy they needed so much as an infusion of hope - new hope for the shattered hope that lay all around.   

Stephen Robinson's insights into the impact of disaster on clergy is priceless. More importantly, he points us to the biblical hope we can offer hurting people and those who try to help them. Disasters not only impact the victims, but also those on the front line of help. His practical suggestions can be of immense help to all who minister in traumatic circumstances.

Arch Hart, Ph.D., FPPR.
Senior Professor of Psychology and
Dean Emeritus Graduate School of Psychology Fuller Theological Seminary


This impressive book breaks new ground in terms of thinking about Christian ministry in extreme
situations and makes a major contribution in an apparently neglected area of ministry involvement. .
Beginning with four case studies of well known Australian disasters, it moves on to identify the effects
of disaster on those ministering, then reflects theologically on this, raising questions about the
presence of God in suffering.
It provides a valuable analysis of the different kinds of disaster settings (e.g. natural vs man made),
and the varying responses which people have to them. It moves from case study, to theological
reflection, to very practical suggestions for those who might find themselves in disaster situations,
and people caring for those who do ministry in those situations.

Judges' comments
Australian Christian Literature Society
Christian Book of the Year Awards 2007


 

Since 1962, when first joined an emergency service (Bush Fire Brigade), since 1973, when I became peers support/chaplain to a brigade/SES unit, since commencing ministry (1979 as a Lay Pastor and being ordained in 1991), having a passion for emergency services and being caught up in various disasters, I have dreamed of this book.

Revd. Rob Dummermuth
Uniting Church Frontier Services
Esperance West Nullarbor Patrol, Western Australia


This book is a much-needed resource that all clergy have been waiting for. It is a factual account of those who have walked the path, and been the fingers of God during Trauma.

Major Ron Anderson AFSM
Senior Chaplain NSW Rural Fire Service


Stephen Robinson's book "Ministry in Disaster Settings" is a great read for all those who know
ministry at the edge. In particular, the reflections of those who have been there and survived, to lesser and greater degrees, I found helpful as a point of identity. Stephen has captured both the joy and privilege as well as the sheer terror of working in trauma situations.I found the Emmaus reflection particularly powerful.

Revd. Alan Lowe
Senior State Police Chaplain NSW Police Force


Those who provide spiritual care to both victims and rescuers in a disaster setting are involved in a high-risk occupation. Caregivers can experience deep psychic wounds to their own soul in ministering to souls who are in deep emotional, if not also physical trauma. What can begin as a spiritual high in being part of first-responder teams can often lead to a spiritual low, if not also a personal crisis of faith. Pastoral caregivers are taught or soon learn how to deal with sickness, trauma and even death in one-on-one encounters, usually in the context of faith communities, family bonds, and full-time, readily accessible medical professionals. The very nature of a disaster in terms of trauma to humans, not to mention the devastating effects on the social, economic and material ecology, draws the caregiver out of the 'safe' zone of ordinary pastoral ministry into situations that can leave the caregiver with devastating and long-lasting emotional, physical and spiritual consequences.

The literature on post-traumatic stress syndrome abounds with both diagnostic and prescriptive counsel and praxis, often informed by psychological and physiological modes of treatment. What is largely missing in this literature is not only the effect of trauma on spiritual caregivers in disaster settings but also preventative and palliative models that can be incorporated into the training and on-going support of pastoral caregivers in disaster settings. Stephen Robinson has produced just such a book. I am not aware of any literature on this subject that incorporates so effectively psychological, sociological and theological perspectives. What makes the book credible rather than merely a theoretical piece of work, is the in-depth analysis of actual ministry in disaster settings. The Chapter on “Theology From Disaster,” faces head-on the issues of divine providence and, without providing easy answers, suggests ways that spiritual caregivers can serve as agents of God's presence in the midst of disaster.

The conclusion offers both warnings for those who might undertake this ministry naively without counting the cost, as well as practical suggestions for a support system for those involved in this ministry. Though the setting and context are in New South Wales (Australia), as the author points out, disaster is universal in its impact on the people involved and ministry to those impacted on the part of clergy is applicable for the church universal. Disaster knows no boundaries. I heartily recommend this book, not only for those involved in trauma ministry, but also for church leaders who are searching for ways to be more effective in providing training and support for those who are on the front line.

Ray S. Anderson
Senior Professor of Theology and Ministry,
Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California USA

 


 

Articles and Reviews

Insights is the journal of the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia. Its August 2007 issue ran a feature on the issues of church involvement in disasters, including a review of the book. Follow the link by clicking here.

Sydney Anglicans recently published extracts from the book and review at http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/culture/reading/ministry_in_disaster_settings/

Review by Rowland Croucher of John Mark Ministries at http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/22059.htm

Other articles relating to the 2007 Christian Book of the Year Award

http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/sydneystories/2007s_best_book_announced/ http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/culture/reading/faith_duty_the_john_anderson_story/ http://www.acctv.com.au/articledetail.asp?id=5403
http://au.christiantoday.com/article/political-biography-wins-christian-book-of-the-year-award/3197.htm