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The Church and Trauma Recovery

By Ken Sloane

Growing through disaster cover

A few years back, I was having coffee in the café at Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church with my friend Clayton Smith, who was looking toward his retirement from his successful role as executive pastor of generosity. It was a crucial time in the life of Church of the Resurrection. A respected author, Clayton shared his plans for this next life chapter, which included, among other things, a book that would help people in their financial recovery from natural disasters. We talked about how the book could meet a need that had not yet been addressed.

That conversation made me reflect back to 2001, when I had joined the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference staff, just months before the tragic events of 9/11. In the months that followed, we got an immersion education in disaster recovery. I began to imagine how helpful it would have been to have had a resource like the book Clayton was describing to me.

The day Clayton’s published book arrived on my desk, I flipped through its pages with excitement. I realized that while Clayton and his co-author, Matt Schoenfeld, had created the effective finance manual I had imagined, the finished product is so much more. Growing Through Disaster is a tool with a mission to help churches be agents of healing and recovery after their community has suffered the trauma of a flood, tornado, fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster. The book’s authors understand that there are also personal traumas that people endure, from which recovery is just as desperately needed: divorce, loss of a job, death of a spouse or a child, and others. Reading and embracing what Clayton and Matt present in Growing Through Disaster can help people do more than just clean up and make things look pretty again. The work of recovery is a commitment to do what is needed to help people stand on their own again. The church’s role is the work of support and empowerment until broken people can begin to feel the hope of wholeness again.

Growing Through Disaster is a tool with a mission to help churches be agents of healing and recovery after their community has suffered the trauma of a flood, tornado, fire, earthquake, or other natural disaster.

In the preface of this wonderful book, Clayton is brave enough to tell the story of a time of great brokenness in his life: the sudden death of his first wife, which left him with two small children and the prospect of raising them as a single dad. This heartbreaking story became a story of hope, due to Clayton’s willingness to let other people step in to help. He allowed his congregation to be the loving community God intended them to be, as they stood alongside their pastor in recovery from this personal disaster.

Read Clayton Smith's Story

After the sudden death of his wife, Clayton Smith found himself a single-parent pastor with two small children. He survived thanks to the grace of God and the support of his local church.

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Is your church willing to make a commitment to be better prepared to be agents of recovery and not just participants in a clean-up effort when a disaster touches your community? Are you ready to be healers and encouragers to those whose disasters have not just torn up their homes but their hearts and souls as well? If you are ready, offering a study of Growing Through Disaster is a wonderful first step.

Growing Through Disaster by Clayton L. Smith and Matt Schoenfeld (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2019), ISBN 978-1501890918

Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

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