UMCOR / News Room / News & Features / Archives 2008 / 0812-Iowa Training Addresses Spiritual and Emotional Care for Flood Survivors

Iowa Training Addresses Spiritual and Emotional Care for Flood Survivors

By Susan J. Meister*

August 12, 2008—While the energies of many United Methodists in the Midwest are focusing on cleaning up water-soaked homes, others recognize that recovery from the devastating flooding in the summer of 2008 will mean more than mucking out and rebuilding. Survivors of disasters will also face unique emotional and spiritual challenges that unfold in the months of the recovery.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Iowa Annual Conference, are helping clergy and lay leadership begin to address the spiritual and emotional needs of their communities with a basic training, Calming After the Storm, held in three locations in the eastern part of the state on August 6, 7, and 8. Nearly 70 leaders listened to the practical suggestions presented by UMCOR consultant Mary Gaudreau.

Emotional and Spiritual Care Needed for the Long Term

"It's been amazing to see people move forward (from this disaster)," said Mary Fraser, director of the Office of Pastoral Care and Counseling, who brought Gaudreau to Iowa to lead the three workshops. "This kind of trauma always brings people to the core of their faith and we've seen a real grandeur of faith!"

But Fraser appreciates that dealing with the losses and devastation will take a long time. The Calming workshop is the first of several events she hopes to hold over 1000 days to "help along the way."

"One of the key things to remember is that there is a pattern of emotional response after an event," explained Gaudreau. "There's a quick dip of shock, a short-lived resurgence of confidence, then a long descent toward depression when it becomes evident recovery isn't going to come quickly.

"Everyone moves along the path at a different rate," she continued. "Just seeing the chart and helping people see where they are can be tremendously helpful to survivors."

"We are seeing that this crisis has caused many to revisit the flood of 1993," Fraser added. "We know we're in this for the long haul."

Clergy Appreciate Value of Workshop Information

Beth Straw is pastor of St. James UMC, a church in Cedar Rapids that experienced extensive damage due to flooding. Many families from St. James and the surrounding community were deeply affected. After the waters receded, the church was an early site for distribution of bottled water, flood buckets, cookies and meals.

"I believe that most of the neighborhood knew that St. James had been flooded and so we were able to practice 'incarnational' theology of truly being with people in their time of need," Straw said. "I am interested in Spiritual and Emotional Care training so that I can connect families with these much-needed resources. I hope we can be a 'go-to' place for counseling resources, much as we were for material resources in the early days."

Brian K. Milford, district superintendent, was appreciative of insights from the training. "This event was a timely and appropriate reminder of disaster response theories, tools and teachings that will help in our on-going recovery, including proactive approaches for self-care," he said.

UMCOR Offers Wide Range of Resources

Upon invitation from annual conferences, and in cooperation with conference leadership, UMCOR stands ready to offer expert assistance and training, supplies, and grants to help in the emergency and rebuilding phases after a disaster. In response to the summer 2008 flooding, an emergency grant has been given to the Iowa Conference, flood buckets have been distributed throughout the affected areas, and representatives from both UMCOR and UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteers in Mission) are working cooperatively to set up short-term clean up crews and long-term recovery operations with local churches and their communities.

Gaudreau is one of nine highly trained and experienced staff and consultants who are working with the disasters in the Midwest and around the country. Gaudreau is an ordained deacon in the Oklahoma Conference and a licensed professional counselor. She chairs the NVOAD (National Volunteer Organizations) Emotional and Spiritual Care Committee and works with Church World Service and other denominational groups to write standards for proper care for survivors. She is a frequent speaker on these topics at national disaster response meetings.

To learn more about training for Spiritual and Emotional Care or to schedule training, contact Luz Knight at UMCOR's Emergency Services Office,, 202-548-4002.

How You Can Help

To help those affected by floods, please give to UMCOR Advance #901670, Domestic Disaster Response, Midwest Floods. If you would like to volunteer, contact your conference or jurisdictional United Methodist Volunteer in Mission coordinator for information about volunteer opportunities. Online Giving

Up to 10 percent of gifts for Midwest Flooding may be used to repair United Methodist churches and their facilities that were not insured for their catastrophic losses.

*Meister is domestic disaster response correspondent for UMCOR.