During and after a natural, or un-natural, disaster, there is an emotional timeline that exists alongside the stages of disaster recovery.  (See attached timeline) There can also be multiple crises that co-exist at the same time, which creates a significant amount of stress for the faith leader to navigate as they continue to minister to the people in their care. Below are some tools and ideas for how we can foster resilience during and after a crisis, which is key for helping leaders stay grounded, present, and making thoughtful decisions.

  1. Recognize the stage you are currently experiencing and let yourself be where you are. Conversely, recognize the stage(s) others may be in, and help them recognize and claim where they are.  Naming your own stage will help you care for yourself.  Naming the stage(s) others are in will help you be more present with them and offer what they need.  Click here for Disaster timeline
  2. Relax. No, we actually mean it! Practice relaxation and grounding exercises daily (or even multiple times a day) to make sure your body, mind and spirit are in a relaxed state from which to perform ministry and make good decisions. There are relaxation and grounding exercises on the PDA website. Find the ones that work best for you. For suggestions, look here: PDA Self-care Tips
  3. Think about the purpose of your ministry now, in this moment. This is important reframing, because often we feel the programs we used to offer are our ministry, as opposed to caring for others, building relationships, exploring faith, etc… Share your purpose with others on your team.  To think about your current purpose, fill in the blank:  I do this work because _____________.  I am called to ________________.  What’s important to me is _______________________.  I am here (in leadership) because __________________. (These questions are found in the Building Resilience Webinar final Handout PDA packet)
  4. Take care of your physical body. Do all the things we know we need to – get some exercise, get good sleep, eat your veggies and fruits.  Model this behavior to others.
  5. Be gentle with yourself. We are in a CRISIS, multiple, actually.  Be careful of expectations you have for yourself and others, and be gentle.
  6. In making decisions, first become aware of your NEED to have some definitive decisions made. Acknowledge it and let it go, because often you do not have all the information you need to actually make the decision you want to make or are being asked to make.  Then relax (see #2), and make a real list – what decisions do you feel you need to make? Which ones do you have control over?  What is out of your control?  For instance, you can assure your group that there will be ministry happening in some form in the Fall.  You cannot control what your university decides about the Fall.
  7. Enlist others to help you make decisions. Invite student leaders or volunteers to help think of creative programming ideas and ways to stay engaged with one another.
  8. Mark the transitions – from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college, college to the “real world.” Continue to foster relationships and invite conversation about how the student is doing not only transitioning into a new phase of life, but also a new phase of life in a pandemic!
  9. Name resentments and grief that things are not the same, and we don’t know when our “new normal” will actually begin. Walk around and say them out loud. Write down a list.  Vent to a trusted friend.  Scream them outside.  Read the Psalms, especially those of lament.  And then remember that you can choose to operate from a place other than resentment.
  10. Separate work from home, even if you are working primarily from home. If you have a lanyard or nametag from work, put that on at the beginning of work, and then take it off when you are finished as a sign that there is a boundary around work.  (Someone asked if they could put on pants and take pants off as their object – sure, as long as you don’t plan to get up during that Zoom call!)
  11. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Even if you are still waiting to hear official news from the city, county, state, church or college, stay in relationship with those in your ministry by sharing what you know and what you are waiting to hear.  Also stay connected to the decision-makers.  People are tired and anxious, so the more you stay connected the better.
  12. Have two other people you covenant with to share how you are doing. This probably should not be a spouse or partner, as marriage can be hard enough as it is during a crisis!  Be intentional about asking your friend or colleague to covenant with you to support you and (gently) hold you accountable to your purpose.  And you can be that person for someone else.  These can be reciprocal relationships but do not have to be.
  13. Be aware of other’s anxieties when they ask questions, and as gently as you can ask them why they are asking. It is easy to get defensive when you feel pressured to “perform” the same way you did pre-crisis, yet try to ask questions from a place of curiosity. They may be anxious for a completely different reason than you assume, or it can open up a conversation about grieving what has been lost.
  14. Practice Coping Ahead. Things are clearly ambiguous right now, but what is your best guess how things will play out?  Brainstorm and imagine what you would do in various situations, and ask yourself, “What is possible?  What can we do?”
  15. Practice gratitude. Gratitude helps put us in touch with our worth as those made in the very image of God. As human beings, not human do-ers.  Not “pie in the sky – everything is fine” gratitude, but even minute small things that happen each day.  One way to do this is in the morning, think about the places where you will look during the day for something to be grateful for and write those places down in the three bullet points.  At the end of the day, write down even very small things you want to honor, even if they are not from the situations you thought they would be.
  16. Each day allow time to focus on something besides work. Whatever you choose – be it a creative endeavor, a good (non-work related) book, or just watching funny cat videos on your phone – the purpose is to allow your brain time to stop “working” and focus as completely as you can on another part of your life.

And remember, your worth comes from God who calls you beloved.  Your worth is grounded in the fact that you were made in God’s image.  No crisis or pandemic or un-natural disaster can ever take that away.

To contact Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for more information on this topic, email Kathy Riley at  [email protected].  To watch the Zoom panel, go here https://youtu.be/vNYPYxFJ0Wo