Mothers Day brings about many emotions.
Many people are very happy. Thinking about the exciting events (including birth) over the previous year, we reflect on the excitement of new life and the mothers who welcomed in those precious lives. We also think about the happy moments and the commitments made by all of the moms. We think of the sacrifices made to stay-at-home or pay for a baby sitter to sacrifice by going to work for earned income. We think of the many meals enjoyed (or missed), the clothing laundered, the homes cleaned, the birthdays celebrated, the parties attended, and so much more.
However, it’s not just mothers who perform these activities. It also includes the fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, foster parents, neighbors, friends, guardians, and anyone else you can think of who fulfils these responsibilities. The list is quite long!
Although many people are happy, many people are sad. Very sad. Languishing. Even groaning.
Mothers Day is such a happy holiday. Or is it?
Recently, I was challenged by a few events that led me to think purposefully about what a responsible approach to the upcoming holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may be for a church that is seeking to be sensitive to all in their worshipping community.
During the past year(s):
- Some of you have lost a mother.
- Some of you have not known a mother.
- Some of you have lost a baby (perhaps in utero as a miscarriage/abortion, or shortly after birth).
- Some of you have lost a child.
- Some of you have not been able to get pregnant.
- Some of you have been physically, emotionally, or sexually traumatized.
- Some of you have been traumatized by a church/ministry/community organization.
This list can not be all inclusive as there are certainly other situations/losses/traumas that I can not fathom. One thing is for sure, each person’s history is individualized. The experiences of each person shape them and, in turn, shape their perspective (positively or negatively) on life. When we mention trauma, this includes all of the negative and adversities in one’s life. It includes many characteristics. Some of which we discuss here.
Trauma is like a fingerprint. Everyone’s experience is unique.
A Trauma Informed Ministry
So, what would a trauma-informed approach look like on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?
I am not sure I can offer a finite answer, but I will try to provide some stimulating thought, guidance, and a few questions to guide your ministry in honoring everyone (including the biological mothers and fathers) without unintentionally doing harm to those who may struggle for multiple reasons.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides much support on becoming trauma-informed and helps organizations develop frameworks to facilitate safe practices for all. Intermountain Ministry offers four guiding principles to support a Trauma-Informed Ministry. These include:
- Realizing the widespread impact of trauma–those deeply distressing and emotional experiences that leave lasting effects–and provides practical ministry interventions as well as support for ongoing mental health interventions.
- Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in the children, youth, men and women it ministers to as well as the effects that living with a traumatized individual has on all relationships–marriage, family, work, and social.
- Responding to the need within its worshipping community and the needs of its neighbors by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into church and ministry policies, procedures, and ministry practices. And,
- Resisting re-traumatization that can occur when appropriate recognition and intervention is not wed with compassion and a commitment to stabilizing relationships and supportive structures that destigmatize mental health issues.
6 Key Principles of Trauma Informed Care
The CDC developed 6 key principles to Trauma Informed Care and we will use these same ones to apply for a trauma informed approach to ministry. These are:
- Trustworthiness and Transparency
- Peer support
- Collaboration and mutuality
- Empowerment, voice and choice
- Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues
Application to Ministry
How does all of this relate to ministry?
- First, the ministry must recognize the impact of trauma and adverse childhood experiences within its community. Each time we display sensitivity, we increase trust and transparency within our ministries. Oftentimes, we are lead to believe that trauma does not exist within the confines of the church or religious setting. That is simply not true. Our community (our people) are products of a sin-cursed world. Trauma and adversity are two of the results of this curse and adverse childhood experiences impact about 1/5 of the population (including those within the church). We must be ready and able to defend those within our community who have been affected. For Mothers Day or Fathers Day, how will you or your ministry honor all who have served the role of parent (including those who are not biological parents)? Some of these amazing people will have had very difficult relationships with their own parents and struggle with scripture in Ephesians 5 & 6 because of their personal experiences. (That is understandable and allows the church a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate love and true discipleship.) Sometimes we are tempted to praise the “ideal parent” (perhaps a biological/same-race parent) within the congregation which may cause additional pain. The result could be them choosing to stay home. Perhaps you are thinking that is their choice, and I would partially agree with you; however, when we choose to support “picture perfect” people in our settings, we are (perhaps unintentionally) creating Pharisees in our congregations. If we truly believe Genesis 1:27, then we would agree that all people (even those who believe differently than we do) are created in the image and likeness of God.
- Second, we are commanded to serve in love, minister with Godliness, and live the ministry. These are all characteristics of Biblical discipleship . All it takes is #1Peer to make a difference in someone’s life. By recognizing the signs of trauma in others we must have a clearly defined plan for supporting and ministering to those who may be emotionally or physically overwhelmed in our facilities. This may mean incorporating other practices that allow traumatized individuals to have quiet areas within the church such as quieter access points (where “greeters” may not be present). This could also mean having dedicated areas for nursing mothers to breastfeed. Maybe this could include specific locations with reduced stimulation for those with sensory issues. We must be willing and able to effectively listen to those in our community and promote their safety (both emotional and physical) at all times. Have you or your organization considered how you would support children who may not have a “traditional” family environment with a biological mother and a father? Or, how would you ensure the mothers who have lost a child (whether through abortion/miscarriage/death) would receive equal treatment as those with living children? Would this change your practices at all? Or, if you honor the oldest and youngest mothers in your congregation, do these also include any of the aforementioned mothers in your presence?
- Third, how do the ministry’s policies, procedures and practices (including sermons/lessons) protect or harm those in your community? If you have information forms in your children or nursery areas, do these include “guardian” in addition to “Mother/Father”? If you promote special recognition (such as those above, or asking individuals to stand), how does this impact each member in your congregation (including those with traumatized histories)? How do you support visitors, bus ministries, community outreach to those of differing viewpoints? How do you support cultural, historical, or gender issues in your congregation? (This is not an encouragement to change your viewpoint on biblical definitions of marriage or a means to question political agendas. Instead consider how you would approach beliefs you may view as non-traditional.) If you are a very small ministry you may be aware of all member beliefs in your congregation, however, you likely do not. If you are not considering differing views of your own (such as not having a biological parent(s) in the home), are there decisions within leadership that could be unintentionally causing harm? There are some (or many) in your congregation who have been hurt by “traditional” views. Consider empowering those who are often overlooked or ignored. Be mindful of the traumatic pain experienced by those in your congregation.
- Finally, your ministry can do much to make it ok to talk about issues of adverse childhood experiences, trauma-informed approaches, mental health issues, adoption/foster care, infertility, miscarriage, and many other tangible issues for your congregants. Many know that mental health has a significantly negative stigma and I would argue that the stigma inside of the church is exponentially greater. By discussing and making plans to addressing these concerns, we can help prevent the re-traumatization of individuals in our community. We must promote choice, power, and voice to those from a variety of backgrounds to reflect love and compassion among all.
You may be thinking that your ministry’s practices are very supportive to all people (and they may be). You may also be thinking that I am presupposing that “traditional” views are now all of a sudden non-scriptural and that is simply not true. What I would challenge you to consider is evaluating your practices whether they demonstrate the love of Christ to all who are present (including those with living biological children and to those who do not). If your practices only favor those with living, biological, same-race children, then I would challenge you to reevaluate your practices. Those who have had miscarriages, adoptions, fostered, etc. are still just as much a “mother”, “father”, or “parent” to the child as those who birthed a biological child. Both of these groups include those who are followers of Christ, too.
Holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can certainly be very special events within a ministry/church setting. By incorporating some of the above trauma informed practices, my prayer is that many more children and adults will be loved, supported, encouraged, and engaged within your community.
I truly believe that it takes just #1Peer to make a difference. Are you or those in your ministry willing to be that #1Peer today?