Unitarian Universalist ministers serving in and around New York City at the time of September 11, 2001, found it no easy task to carry their ministry to the first responders and construction works at Ground Zero. "Who are you?" they were asked. "Who sent you? On whose authority are you here?" Those few who were allowed in had to create their ministerial response on the spot. 9/11 highlighted the need for our ministry to organize so that our religious response to mass disasters could be rapid and effective.
At the 2002 Quebec General Assembly interested ministers gathered and formed the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry (UUTRM). The mission of the Trauma Response Ministry is to bring culturally sensitive spiritual care to survivors of mass disasters, when the weight of events has overcome normal coping mechanisms.
The UUTRM recognized that it needed to equip its members to be effective responders. Training was obtained through the International Critical Incident Stress Management Foundation, the National Organization of Victim Assistance, and the American Red Cross. Standards for participation were established. And money was raised—from the UUA and other donors—to cover costs of training and travel.
The formation of this ministry could not have been more timely. Hurricanes Charley, Katrina, and Rita took a terrible toll on the spirits of those in their paths. The Trauma Response Ministry was there to help support our religious professionals and our congregations as they responded to the crises. The tragic shootings at Blacksburg, Virginia, are only the latest example of events which have called the UUTRM into action. In the five years since its founding they have responded to twenty-five tragedies, providing care, competence and companionship when spirits have been overwhelmed.
The UU Trauma Response Ministry proves that our faith can bring a healing word even in the midst of great tragedy, when hope is hard to find.