Spiritual resources to process trauma
Dr David Wang, a pastor and associate professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, USA, shared research carried out across different religious denominations in the United States during the pandemic. The results, which reflect the pattern in wider society, show a huge increase in depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
People of faith, he noted, also face “spiritual struggles, including anger with God” and a rise in complex theological questions. Yet members of faith communities have resources to help them mitigate anxiety and deal with depression, he added, including an understanding of the values of humility, forgiveness and acceptance, as well as a sense of belonging and a safe space where trauma can be processed. At the same time, participants pointed out that seminaries and churches themselves have sometimes been places where students and congregants have experienced trauma.
Dr Karla Koll, director of the School of Theological Sciences at the Latin American Biblical University, based in San Jose, Costa Rica, noted the way in which the pandemic “added to the traumas of racism and injustice” faced by so many people in the region. During lockdown, staff at the university, which includes programs for pastors and lay leaders in 17 countries, set up online support groups and other forms of pastoral care to better respond to the mental health needs of the students.
The pandemic has taught us to “recognize our vulnerability and limitations, overcoming the model of super-pastors."
– Dr Karla Koll, director of the School of Theological Sciences at the Latin American Biblical University.
Koll shared some important learnings from the period of pandemic, including a need to “recognize our vulnerability and limitations, overcoming the model of super-pastors" to which church leaders had traditionally aspired. “COVID has taught us to name our shared experiences of helplessness and realize that our role is to accompany people who struggle with questions, rather than having all the answers,” she said.
Rev. Dr Chad Rimmer, LWF Program Executive and co-facilitator of the consultation, commented: “The LWF emphasizes the link between theological education and formation because learning involves our whole being – body, mind and soul. While the COVID-19 pandemic revealed this reality in many painful ways, it also revealed the promise of new opportunities to decolonize the content and methods of learning.”
In a concluding communique, participants stressed the importance of transformational teaching and learning in the post-pandemic world. “We are not merely challenged to translate established models of learnings, spiritual and ministerial formation into new formats,” they said, but “to rethink what theological education is about, for whom it is, to which ends and what it requires.”