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Being a Trauma-Informed Church Member

August 18, 2021

Anthony Gibson, pastor of Peletah Ministries in New Bern, N.C., was talking about being a trauma-informed church during a recent Safe Church webinar when the family dog, Galley, began barking loudly at a delivery person.

Instead of apologizing for the interruption, he and his wife, Dr. Dawn Gibson, who was also part of the online presentation titled “On Being a Trauma-Informed Congregation” used the incident as an example of what they were talking about. Just being startled at seeing the wrong person, or recalling a harsh memory, can trigger your emotions, they said.

“Everything can be fine until something happens,” said Dawn Gibson, who holds a doctorate in Christian counseling. “Our dog doesn’t like someone coming into her space.”

The Gibsons presented the fourth webinar of the 2021 Series: On Being a Safe Church on Aug. 4.

In the first webinar, held on May 12, Amanda Benckhuysen, director of the CRC’s Safe Church Ministry, spoke on “Biblical Perspectives on Human Dignity and How That Shapes the Church's Life Together.”

On June 9 for the second webinar, Anne Martin, director of Restorative Practices, and Mark Vander Vennen, executive director of Shalem Mental Health, presented “On Being Restorative Congregations in the Aftermath of COVID.”

Then on July 7 for the series’ third webinar, Scot Mcknight spoke about his book The Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing.

Dawn Gibson said Peletah Ministries began in 2011 when her husband heard the word peletah — a Hebrew word meaning “deliverance” — in a vision from God. He was also led to start a church and then eventually a school.

“We opened our doors, and people came,” said Anthony Gibson. “Our ministry flourished, and people kept coming. The need was there physically and spiritually.”

In dealing with people who have been traumatized, he added, “Trauma shakes our worldview. I am broken. Why would a loving God let this happen to me?”

Ministering to people shattered by trauma, Peletah Ministries seeks to help them express their trauma, learn from it, and be sensitive to the trauma others have experienced.

“We collaborate with them,” said Anthony Gibson. “When we are together in hope, we can help bring about healing in their lives by focusing on the strengths they have, and we can help people tap into their own voice so they can become their own advocate.”

Over the past decade, Peletah Ministries has helped many people look at and talk about a traumatic event  or tumultuous circumstances that have happened to them. In the process, people have been encouraged to see how experiencing trauma can help them become stronger.

The Gibsons also noted that when it’s clear that a person who comes to them should be helped by another ministry or mental health professional, they refer that person to the appropriate resource provider.

Over the past year, they said, they have helped people in their community deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 epidemic.

“We help others to be resilient,” said Dawn Gibson. “Our lives have changed because of COVID. We have created a safe environment in which people can talk about how this epidemic has affected them.”

Her husband added: “As we create an understanding of what it means for people to be trauma informed, every single individual is helped and can approach others in their lives from a different perspective. Trauma is very relevant and real, and God has called the church to be a force of change in bringing about healing, not hurting.”

To learn more about the Gibsons’ ministry and the tools they use to address trauma in people’s lives, see this story published on the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website.

In addition, the Safe Church webinar series continues at 7 p.m. on Sept. 8 with a Safe Church Town Hall. In preparing for Abuse Awareness Sunday, all people who are leading "safe church" in their congregations or classes are invited to participate and to collaborate with one another.