Building a Trauma-Informed Church
Spouses Rev. Amie Vanderford, MDiv and Thaddeus Shelton, Jr., MFT, CSAYC, first dreamed of starting a Trauma-Informed Church a few years prior to the launch of The LabOratory Church in 2020, but could not have anticipated that its start would coincide with a massive global pandemic, a time of great grief and trauma. They saw the need for this type of church because of their own personal and systemic traumatic experiences.
What Is Trauma?
"Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience. Few people can go through life without encountering some kind of trauma. Unlike ordinary hardships, traumatic events tend to be sudden and unpredictable, involve a serious threat to life—like bodily injury or death—and feel beyond a person’s control. Most important, events are traumatic to the degree that they undermine a person's sense of safety in the world and create a sense that catastrophe could strike at any time. Parental loss in childhood, auto accidents, physical violence, sexual assault, military combat experiences, the unexpected loss of a loved one are commonly traumatic events." - Psychology Today
What is Trauma-Informed?
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) defines any setting as 'trauma-informed' if the people there realize how widespread trauma is, recognize signs and symptoms, respond by integrating knowledge into practice, and resist doing further harm. SAMHSA further identifies six principals of trauma-informed approaches: Safety, Trustworthiness, Empowerment, Collaboration, Peer Support, and Values and Supports Diversity in History and Culture.
Here at The LabOratory Church we align with these principals, and fully recognize that there is widespread trauma in our culture from individual abuse such as childhood adverse experiences, domestic abuse, and sexual violence, to systemic and societal abuse stemming from racism, sexism, ableism, homo/transphobia, etc., and that many of these toxic -isms grow out of a culture that promotes scarcity, individualism, and competition.
In order to heal from trauma, there are the two stages that deal with individual healing, and a third stage that deals with healing in relationship with others. While individual therapy is absolutely necessary to help with the first two stages of healing from trauma, we believe the church has the responsibility to walk alongside the therapy process in order to facilitate and encourage the third stage of healing, which is relational healing (Please see Dr. Judith Herman's book Trauma and Recovery for more information on these stages). As such we practice healthy personal and relational values that allow for safety in being authentically oneself (please see our Statement of Values), and room to work out interpersonal challenges as they arise. We intentionally name that we practice these principals and values, as we have learned through our own experiences of trauma, that the healing journey is messy and has many ups and downs, progress and set-backs. We are inspired by the biblical commandment: Love Our Neighbors As Ourselves!
Statement on Safety
Safety is a relational container and it goes back and forth between people, so while we cannot ever guarantee a 100% safe space for all people, all the time, what we can do is provide guidelines and presence to talk about safety issues as they arise. We give general content warnings, but with the knowledge that sometimes people get triggered by things that are inexplicable (ACE stuff, expressions, tone of voice, looks). We cannot promise that you will never be triggered, yet we also promise that we are here to process it if/when you are. The reality is that safe spaces should be called brave spaces, because it takes all of us to participate in the safety for it to exist. It means we all need to be doing our personal work alongside our community work, and we need to ask for what we need, and also acknowledge that not all needs can be met by this community. Some issues will require outside referrals and/or additional time and learning. This goes back to our values, we need to be honest in our communications and desires and our own stuff, and we need to be brave and vulnerable and understanding that we all have troubles and things that we navigate in relationship with others, and varying external and internal factors. The responsibility of being a healing community lies on each and every one of us, not just on church leadership. Brave community happens when we choose love over fear, honest communication over hiding or suppressing issues, and hold compassion that leaves room for grace and growth, mistakes and learning.
Our Statement of Values
by Rev. Amie Vanderford
We strive to live together in loving and healing community in the model of Jesus’ life and ministry, and to live “on earth as it is in heaven.”
We believe that in order to truly love one another in community we need to practice the following relational values which provide safe space to develop deeper relationships:
Compassion, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, respect, honoring one’s own boundaries and the boundaries of others - both physically and emotionally, and participating in conflict resolution when disagreements and hurts arise.
We practice the acceptance of others’ whole selves through replacing judgment with curiosity and assumptions with clarifying questions. This fosters an environment where those of us who don’t check a ‘normal’ box can feel comfortable being ourselves in a world where social norms often crowd out our ability to be fully ‘real’.
We request that you always ask before initiating a hug or other physical contact with another person, inc. children, as we believe in honoring the sanctity of boundary-making for every person over his/her/their own body, and we do not know what an innocent contact might trigger.
We define ‘sin’ as those words & acts that harm/break relationship with ourselves, others, and God. We believe in both grace with accountability, and mercy with restorative justice.
We marvel that each and every person is wonderfully and uniquely made in God’s own image, and that God’s image covers all of the magnificent diversity therein, whether in age, gender, ethnicity, language, country of origin, sexual orientation, economic status, or abilities.
We know that God is bigger than any of our interpretations, and so we will often use the gender neutral pronouns They/Them/Theirs or God/God-self/Creator to refer to God. Because of the history of dominantly male pronouns for God, we will also lift up the female pronouns for God from time to time.
Our approach to biblical studies will be by acknowledging the authority of the texts while also asking questions of these texts through studying the contexts under which they were written, along with how they might apply to us in our current contexts. All doubts, questions, and concerns are welcome in discussions.
We name that evil is most spread in our world through the insidious nature of individualism and competition which are lauded as cultural achievements. We name that these values have separated us from our God-created relational natures, dividing us, and causing loneliness, isolation, and increased mental illness.
We believe that in the face of divisive and oppressive systems of power, the most revolutionary thing we can do in the face of these problems is re-join one another in deep and loving community, not just meeting at worship times, but throughout daily life, to re-create our communal family of neighbors, where we look out for each other and each other’s families. It takes a village to heal what ails us! We can be Christ in Community.
Co-Founder & Pastor
Co-Founder & Minister of Mental Health
Minister of Food Outreach
Minister of Spiritual Care