'After the heroic phase...' | Responses to Covid-19

Revd Karen Wellman, Vicar of St Mark’s Church Teddington, writes:

Back in 2018 I went on a course on Tragedy and Congregations and used some of the material in my own church. The course was about how churches respond to events such as Grenfell and the various terror attacks around the UK.

What the research shows is that people/organisations have an immediate response of activity. We saw this at Grenfell with all the donations of food and clothing and fundraising. We are seeing it today in Teddington with all the drive for practical action in leafletting and shopping for neighbours and organising into street level WhatsApp groups.

Researchers call this phase of the reaction to a tragedy heroic action. I’m no scientist but I understand that at a neurological level it is about calming the amygdala, which is an almond shaped structure in the brain that is responsible for our fight, flight or fall down response to trauma. Our brain is shouting BEAR so as we are British we get busy and make tea and check on the neighbours. The brain calms down and stops shouting BEAR. It feels good.

The next stage is Disillusionment. Quoting from ‘Recovering from Unnatural Disaster; A Guide for Pastors and Congregations after Violence and Trauman’ Kraus, Holyan and Wismer (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.).

‘This painful phase emerges when heroic behaviour dissipates. During and immediately after a crisis, heroic behaviour keeps the community unified and provides a necessary, bracing antidote to violence. But like a rush of adrenaline, heroism is unsustainable for the long haul. In its wake, disillusionment rises with its loss of belief, faith and trust … The community and its members struggle as feelings of rage, hatred, vengeance and hopelessness displace joy, peace and purpose … Part of the work of this phase is to prepare individuals as well as congregations to be open to the process and to begin walking, however slowly, through the valley of the shadow of death. Acceptance is painful. Leadership in this season requires accepting a new reality and learning to function after traumatic experience … It is about finding new ways to be productive rather than disengaged.’

This book is about violent events but the authors of the UK project Tragedy and Congregations project are keen to emphasis we are in a tragedy situation. A really helpful blog post from Carla Grosch-Miller is here:


So that is a very long preamble to say that running around an organising stuff is good but if we are in this for the long haul and having some idea what the long haul looks like, what else can we do?

  • From the blog – celebrate the work of the secular organisations
  • Think about how we might mark people’s need to lament and mourn when isolation is lifted?
  • Provide a listening ear to those who are facing the loss of loved ones without saying goodbye in a funeral.

As minsters we know our own contexts. Doing is great but how do we prepare for what comes next?