Care for the Caregivers

Once or twice a year I am asked, as a member of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Ministry team, to assist a congregation dealing with extraordinary events. Often it is a disaster or tragedy. For example, the last two congregations to which I responded were dealing with the aftermaths of a tornado and a murder-suicide, respectively.

This time I’ve been asked to come to Bismarck, North Dakota, to assist our congregation that has been supporting the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. It’s a unique “deployment” for a few reasons. First, the action isn’t over, and while the Standing Rock camp has asked for out-of-town campers to disband for the winter, or when called back, it doesn’t feel like the last activity here has transpired. We are clearly in the middle of something that is ongoing.

Second, the feelings surrounding this action aren’t all negative. There have been small victories, such as halting Army Corps plans, and many connections have been made between the indigenous peoples of this area, mostly Lakota and Dakota, and residents of neighboring communities.

My role here has been primarily to help the Bismarck congregation understand the lifecycle of a critical incident such as this, to provide some pastoral care to the caregivers, and to support the minister with whatever she might need. Sometimes that’s lending a listening ear. Sometimes that’s just working side-by-side on stuff that’s fallen through the cracks. Today I did pastoral counseling, picked up lunches, measured shelving for a library that’s been turned into logistics storage, and led a workshop.

img_1018-jpgIt wasn’t clear if I would visit the primary camp during this visit. As an ally I’m here to support those supporting the Water Protectors in whatever way they ask for assistance. The minister, here, let camp leadership know our of team’s presence and what we might offer. An invitation for us to come visit the camp came this morning, and tomorrow we will facilitate some conversations, meet leaders, and (most importantly) listen to the stories of this campaign to protect the living waters that sustain life from here to the Gulf coast. I am honored to be invited into that circle.

The messages of Unitarian Universalism are spreading: we act for justice and love conquers hate. When we show up — ready to listen, hungry to learn, eager to contribute as asked — we leave a mark of faith behind that is so much larger than our numbers. Of all the congregations in this capitol city, the UU church is the ONLY one that has responded to the situation at Standing Rock, just an hour south of town. I am proud of this congregation, as I am to the Unitarian Church of Evanston for allowing me the time to come here and contribute in whatever small way we can.

Photo: The site of the sacred fires that burned 24-hours a day when the camp was active. They were extinguished only after Tribal Elders asked for supporters to leave camp for the time being. Many outside supporters found themselves unprepared for the sub-zero temperatures and deadly wind chill. 
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