- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

A sneak terrorist attack, a suitcase bomb in the subway: Should Americans pray, meditate or read Scripture following a catastrophe?

First responders already understand post-disaster protocol. Now the clergy will get their chance.

The federal Health Resources and Service Administration awarded Johns Hopkins University a $186,374 grant to develop a disaster-preparedness curriculum to teach pastors and other religious leaders how to respond to the spiritual needs of the public after a calamity, the university announced Friday.

“Having religious leaders trained to respond to individuals who seek trauma-related services following a man-made or natural disaster is a vital but long-overlooked element,” said Lee McCabe, an associate professor of psychiatry in the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the project.

“Local spiritual leaders, if appropriately trained, can divert from hospital emergency departments those individuals who are psychologically affected, but not physically injured, following a major disaster,” he added.

Some churches already have addressed public faith under dire circumstances since September 11, 2001.

The National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, American Baptist Churches and others offer terrorism-related prayer resources, suggested topics to discuss evil and other theological issues plus practical guides for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Survivors “are usually struggling with deep faith issues,” notes one guide from the United Church of Christ. The new federally funded program, meanwhile, will ultimately unite the interests of six academic and faith-based groups, the state of Maryland and one private association.

The Hopkins medical school will collaborate with the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and Office of Hospital Emergency Management; the University of Maryland College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and three religious groups to develop the curriculum.

The grant was first made to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and distributed to Hopkins by the Maryland Hospital Association.

Once under way, the pilot program will train 240 members of the clergy.

Participants will spend four months with mental health experts developing spiritual “principles of individual and group psychological first aid” for a variety of religious and ethnic populations.

They’ll also learn “congregational crisis communications,” get insight in the burgeoning new field of disaster psychiatry and “speak with one voice on matters of disaster preparedness and response,” Mr. McCabe said.

Religious groups participating in the project are Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore, the Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Institute for Mental Health Ministry Inc.

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