Magazines 2022 May - Jun Trauma-friendly church?

Trauma-friendly church?

03 May 2022 By Phil Wagler

Join a mini-course on becoming a church that is ready to help people scarred by tough life experiences.

You are still in a pandemic. News of a terrible war that could spill over into World War III bombards you. You may have lost a loved one to a crime or suicide. You may sit regularly beside someone who was abused as a kid without knowing it. You may be seeking to build a relationship with a newcomer to Canada or a neighbour from a people group you know next to nothing about. You may be a congregational leader asked to guide a community of faith who has been ripped apart and you keep coming up against mistrust and misunderstanding at every well-intentioned turn. 

Have you or your church given any thought to how these dynamics – to just name a few - impact your life and your church’s mission in your community?

Our cities, towns, neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces and, yes, churches are filled with people who have experienced large and small traumas. These invisible scars have rippling and significant repercussions on us and the people we do life with. How might past trauma have shaped some of the divisions that erupted in your church during this pandemic? How is present trauma coming into your community as displaced peoples from conflicts in places like Ukraine, Sri Lanka, and Cameroon come into your area?

I have a friend whose family was violently displaced during the war in Kosovo in the 1990s when he was a teenager. Now settled in Canada as a good father, husband, employee, and follower of Jesus, it wasn’t until the war erupted in Ukraine in February of 2022 that he realized the need for deeper healing. The Russian invasion of Ukraine rocked his world and shook him to the core in a way that caught him off guard.

Trauma therapist Brenton Diaz notes that trauma occurs when someone has experienced or witnessed event(s) so extreme, severe, powerful, harmful or threatening that they require extraordinary coping efforts. The “trick of trauma” can make a person feel like they're still in danger when not in danger any longer. Furthermore, trauma is not just individual, put may occur and become real at the group and even cultural level.

In individualistic western society we may rightly seek help for the personal traumas that are impacting our souls, relationships, and work. But we can give less attention to the impact of trauma at a wider societal level where a culture itself can be fractured and communities ripped apart making reconciliation very important, but enormously challenging.

The war in Eastern Europe today will produce innumerable individual traumas, but the community trauma will be just as real and arrive in Canada as displaced Ukrainians settle into our cities. These sufferings will be added to the journey this country is already on as a new, healed future is built with the indigenous peoples who were first entrusted stewardship of this land.

The daunting task local communities are facing as they seek pathways that heal the personal and relational fractures takes time, humility, relationships, and expertise.

Isn’t this healing precisely what Christians proclaim is found in Jesus and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God?

How are you and your local congregation humbly working in a posture of humility, concern, and love as a trauma-friendly church? Could your fellowship become more equipped to embody the hope of Jesus’ reconciliation and embrace God’s ministry of reconciliation now?

The Peace & Reconciliation Network in partnership with Brenton Diaz invites you to join a mini-course on becoming a Trauma-Friendly Church as one way of growing up a people of Good News for such a time as this. To find out more or register visit the Peace & Reconciliation Facebook page.


Phil Wagler is North American regional coordinator for the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace and Reconciliation Network and serves as a pastor in Kelowna, B.C. This blog series is produced in collaboration with the WEA PRN. Read all the posts at faithtoday.ca/reconciling. Photo of couple by Külli Kittus on Unsplash.

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