University to offer trauma response training for clergy

University of Exeter to offer classes to teach clergy how to respond to terror attacks in their communities

Clergy who help communities devastated by horrific events are to receive new training.

Ministers have supported hundreds of people in the UK after traumatic events like terrorist attacks, fires, flooding and revelations of child abuse. The new training will help them support large numbers of people in such circumstances.

Ministers who have worked with communities experiencing difficult situations have helped create the course, which is being run by Dr Christopher Southgate, from the University of Exeter

Clergy were trained in Exeter and Plymouth in November and further training will be held in Cumbria in January, with further courses around England within the next three years.

Dr Southgate said: “Events we have seen this year – the attack in Manchester and the fire in Grenfell Tower – make it clear that this training is very much needed. Horrific situations like this pose challenges for ministers which their current training doesn’t include. We hope this new course will help them feel prepared when their communities are traumatised.”

The training is the next step in a project led by Dr Southgate, who interviewed ministers who had been through traumatic situations to see what response had been effective and what was not. During the course he shows the importance of good communication and listening carefully to people’s needs and responding to them.

Dr Southgate said: “It is crucial that ministers tell the community what they know rather than what they don’t. The time for reflection is later. Ministers need to be careful that they look after their own physical and mental health in this initial, acute phrase of the tragedy.”

Dr Southgate and his team have interviewed fifteen people when planning the course, including a vicar who had to respond after 7/7 in London, one who had to support a congregation after a policewoman was murdered and others who had to react after murders and suicides in their local areas. He found there were common issues when major trauma first occurs – confusion and communities not being able to process what has happened.

The training covers what works – particularly how to respond to what people perceive to be their need to be not what a minister might think their need is. This includes the opportunity to have a gathering for vigil, and shared expression of grief. Clergy are also told it is important not to assume everyone is in the same position – survivors have a very different outlook to those who have lost family or friends.

The Reverend Marc Kerslake, from the Churches4all Mission Community in Devon, who attended the training, said: “The course was excellent, thought provoking and informative. As a newly appointed curate I am conscious of the unique position we have to help the communities we serve in times of tragedy – we are alongside them for the long haul after all other agencies have moved on. This input has provided me with an invaluable tool kit which will assist in serving them better based on the real experiences of individuals and communities who have had to cope. I would highly recommend it to anyone in ministry.”

Details of the project can be found at

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