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The gift of listening

BY SUSAN KIM | NEW YORK | November 11, 2001

On the Lower East Side, the

Rev. Henrietta Carter sees the terrorism still

happening. The Mariners' Temple Baptist Church has

ministered in this community since 1795 but right now

it's known more for being next to Ground Zero than for

its rich history.

As cleanup continues, so does "a heavy police presence,

the odor, the dust," and everything else that reminds

people of Sept. 11, said Carter. "Many of our people

walk around with masks all day because they're having

trouble breathing."

With lives that remain dramatically disrupted, "the

terrorism is continuing" for them, said Carter.

And faith leaders are quietly learning how to help them

cope. Church World Service's (CWS) Interfaith Trauma

Response is offering training for faith leaders that

will help them guide people through the long-term

healing that's ahead.

Carter attended the CWS training in October along with

dozens of other New York City area clergy and

caregivers. Together, they learned they're in for a long

haul. Leaders from the Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist

faiths gathered, and Jewish faith leaders will join

sessions this month.

Some were pastors ministering directly to people who

lost a loved one, or who have a loved one still missing.

Others were not clergy but serve on care-giving

committees of varying forms within church congregations.

Still others were pastors and faith leaders who came

from networks -- such as hospices or other Christian

health networks -- that directly or indirectly serve

families affected by the attacks.

In some cases, they're caring for people so traumatized

they can't even talk about it. "People tend to think if

no one is talking right now perhaps they're dealing with

it," said Carter. "No. This is going to take a long

time. It takes a while for the shock to wear off.

Perhaps that's why so many have been slow to share."

Carter and other pastors are exploring emotions they

need to be aware of in their community as people begin

to unravel their shock and anger. The return to normalcy

is just not happening for some people, said Carter.

"Every time there is a new news report of a new scare,

people have fear."

The training, conducted by professionally trained

religious leaders with experience stemming from the

Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, offered what Carter

called "a thorough introduction to the kinds of emotions

people in the community and churches are experiencing."

Faith leaders heard the testimony of clergy who had

ministered to a community - Oklahoma City -- in the wake

of terrorism.

The Rev. June Stitzinger-Clark, who pastors two

Methodist churches in the Atlantic Highlands area of New

Jersey, said she found herself at the training sessions

listening to the "voice of experience."

On Sept. 11, Stitzinger-Clark spent the day at the

harbor, ministering to families as people were evacuated

via ferry from Ground Zero.

Stitzinger-Clark has been a minister for 12 years.

Before that, she was a professional counselor and social

worker. Attending the October training was a refresher

for her counseling skills, she said. And it also meant a

lot to hear from trainers who had been in Oklahoma City.

"The scale of New York is at least 50 times the scale of

Oklahoma City in terms of loss of life," she said. "And

in terms of loss of jobs, it's worse. But it was good to

hear from somebody who has been in Oklahoma City who

could say, 'we made it through. God is here.' "

The purpose of the training was to equip religious

leaders and caregivers to meet the emotional and

pastoral needs of their communities and congregations in

the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

But Stitzinger-Clark has a simpler way of putting it:

"It's about sharing the gifts of communication and

listening."

As the faith leaders learned ways to care for others

during two four-hour sessions, they began to draw

together themselves. "As people shared we began to see

how much we had in common," explained Carter.

Like a networking session among businesspeople, there

was an exchange of cards, Carter said. Only among this

group it amounted to an exchange of care.

"A lot of people are out of jobs in my community, and a

lot of people are hungry. Our church is trying to help

feed people, and at the training I met a gentlemen who

just delivered 50 ten-pound bags of rice to the church,"

said Carter.

CWS's William Sage, who coordinated October's training

events and is planning more for this month and December,

said that an added benefit to the training was when

participants learned about each other's needs. "Some who

attended wanted to do something but didn't have a loss

within their congregation. They wanted to understand

what needed to be done."

Sage worked for CWS for 18 years before serving as a

consultant to the United Nations High Commission for

Refugees. He is also an adjunct professor at Arizona

State University.

Sage said that the training is helping faith leaders

understand the difference between responding to an

individual's trauma and a public trauma. "This whole

tragedy was a violation of public trust. There are a lot

of ripple effects."


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