Shock, fear, terror, outrage! People cycle through a barrage of emotions in the face of the unthinkable, church leaders no less than anyone else, writes Evie Vernon, USPG Theological Adviser…
When things go horribly wrong, people look to the church and church leaders for practical help, for emotional guidance and for answers to hard theological questions. What do we do now? What do we do next? How are we supposed to feel about this? Why did God allow this to happen?
So how do you minister to people in the wake of a terror attack? What do you say to your congregation on Sunday morning? How do you relate to people in the community? What sort of public statements should you make? How do you deal with your own emotions?
The first level of response, at the practical level, though difficult, is in some ways easier to deal with. London churches, for example, have been given these practical guidelines for what to do at the scene of an incident, away from the scene and in the community. The general principles of having organised community responses should also be applicable to churches elsewhere.
There is no question that incidents of terror and disaster cause an emotional impact on people at the scene and far-away. It is important to recognise the signs and symptoms of emotional trauma, including in oneself. Emotional trauma can mask itself as anger or coldness and withdrawal. We often know this intellectually, but find it difficult to recognise and deal with. This helpful site will help us to recognise disaster-related emotional symptoms.
Theological issues are the most difficult to deal with in the wake of a disaster. One asks: ‘Where is God in all of this?’ This is perfectly legitimate. Job, sometimes saddled with the acclaim of being patient under unreasonable suffering refused to keep silent before God (Job7:11). And Jesus cried out from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ (Mt 27:46).
There are no easy answers to this. All we can say is that the world can be horrible, and that God understands our suffering. The reggae song Footprints, by T.O.K., powerfully attributes these words to God: ‘When you cry, I cry along with you.’
In our suffering, God is there.
Other resources for churches: