Quick review: Ministry in Disaster Settings

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Ministry in Disaster Settings Lessons from the edgeMinistry in Disaster Settings Lessons from the edge by Stephen Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good read for anyone doing Christian ministry (paid or unpaid). The book began with interviews with chaplains involved in very stressful settings: the Granville Train Disaster, Kempsey Bus Crash, Port Arthur Massacre, and Thredbo Landslide.

These stories draw us in from the start of the book, which then goes on to reflect on a number of areas: the nature of ministry in these tough circumstances; theological reflections; tips and lessons.

This is all great stuff. It’s full of important observations. It illustrates the varied types of response people make, as well as varying kinds of support given to chaplains (and others). The appendices alone are a most useful resource. Three appendices I think I will return to address symptoms common in emergency response workers, what it means to defuse, and what it means to debrief.

There are two criticisms I have of the book. Please only read these if I’ve convinced you that it’s a very good book and worth reading!

First, the interviews and reflection are grounded in disasters. That is, exceptional situations of chaos and mayhem. Yet the conclusions are applied equally to general emergency work. As a volunteer ambulance chaplain, I am naturally interested in these conclusions and lessons. But I think there needs to be more effort put into explaining how lessons from ‘big trauma’ are applicable to everyday emergency service work. I suspect there is connection and similarity – along with significant difference. A disaster, I’d guess, is more than a scaled-up everyday emergency.

Secondly, I wish that theological reflection in Christian circles had more depth when speaking of incarnational ministry. This book did as I’ve seen often: ‘Jesus became flesh, that’s a model for us.’ It has become a simplistic ministry cliché, bypassing the theology of Jesus’ two natures, of creator taking on aspects of creation, etc. If we use such a high-powered theology to justify care for neighbour it doesn’t improve our care, but seems to water down the theology. I can feel a hobby-horse coming on, so will stop there …

Overall: a good book, worth reading, and full of reflection on caring for those confronted with trauma.


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