By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma Conference of Churches is actively involved in many service projects to help those in need. One of the important tasks undertaken by OCC on behalf of the community is to provide the long-term emotional and spiritual care of those still recovering from disasters like the tornados in 2013.
In January, Rev. Mary Hughes Gaudreau was appointed as OCC’s director of emotional and spiritual care.
At the recent OCC Benefit Breakfast, themed “Equipping in Unity,” Rev. Gaudreau spoke to approximately 120 OCC members about the important role of this ministry.
The event was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, in downtown Oklahoma City.
Dr. Rev. William Tabbernee, OCC Executive Director said, “Mary has already done an outstanding job of recruiting and training credentialed volunteer (mostly clergy) spiritual care providers able to be deployed to help the long-term recovery of those affected directly by the 2013 storms.”
Gaudreau said, “More than 40,000 people were directly impacted by last year’s disasters. And most, if not all, need some emotional and spiritual care as part of the recovery process—whether they realize it or not.”
With over 18 years experience in disaster response and recovery, Gaudreau conducts training workshops for area clergy to assist them in receiving OCC credentials to be spiritual care responders.
“We know that disaster recovery takes much longer than we might first expect and OCC continues to work alongside our partner agencies who are providing mental health services, long-term case management, volunteer teams, and funding for unmet needs,” Gaudreau said.
“We also work with disaster case managers to help them identify spiritual concerns of their clients – usually related to issues of meaning, purpose and hope. We offer credentialed pastoral care providers when requested.”
To date, OCC has certified 44 local clergy from 15 Christian denominations, three interfaith religions, and thee non-denominational congregations as “local Spiritual Care Responders.”
Gaudreau continued, “Our spiritual care responders also provide support and printed resources at weekly volunteer appreciation dinners called ‘CART Dinners’ which bring together volunteers, the families they have been serving, case managers, and disaster workers.”
OCC spiritual care responders are accredited in compliance with new National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) guidelines.
“OCC’s credentialed spiritual care providers are the first VOAD approved group to receive badges from the state of Oklahoma Department of Health.” she added.
“Because our spiritual care responders are also local clergy, many of whom are already serving near neighborhoods that were affected by the multiple storms, they also provide ongoing care from within their own communities of faith.
“The time is now for OCC to be involved in this program. Oklahoma has experienced 30 presidentially declared disasters in the last 10 years. We’re responding in new and creative ways.”
Gaudreau’s previous work as a national disaster consultant ranges from the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City to the 2012 school shooting at Newtown, CT. She continues to serve on the executive committee of the National Emotional and Spiritual Care committee.
Tabbernee said, “Unity does not depend on uniformity. Today we understand that we are working together with all religions, with no religion and with different community groups.”
OCC is comprised of 15 denominations; 1500 local congregations; ecumenical, Interfaith, and community partners; totaling more than half a million Oklahomans.
“By speaking on behalf of that many people, the OCC is a powerful voice on matters such as poverty, education, the environment, immigration and criminal justice,” said Tabbernee.
The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral said, “When I heard the news about the botched execution it was awesome to hear that our executive director, Dr. Tabbernee, was responding to that. It was my pleasure to report to other deans from across North America that we were responding, and responding swiftly. That’s why I’m part of this organization. We bond in unity to stand up to the injustices that occur in our society.”
Tabbernee added, “We have lots to do. By being equipped in unity we can do it together.”
For more information, visit okchurches.org.