17 June 2024

A dawning hope for trauma in the church

Graham Stanton 

30 March 2023

Cockayne, Joshua, Scott Harrower, and Preston Hill. Dawn of Sunday: The Trinity and trauma-safe churches. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2022. 

Dawn of Sunday opens with a quotation that is perhaps as unappealing as it is accurate: “the world is full to overflowing with pain”. Neither ignoring the reality nor being overcome by it, this book invites us to become “trauma safe” churches. By connecting the reality of trauma with the fullness of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Dawn of Sunday invites churches to be communities that offer protection and healing for those who have experienced such suffering. 

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Ridley College Christian Thought lecturer Scott Harrower has co-authored this book along with fellow pastor-scholars, Joshua Cockayne from the UK, and Preston Hill from the USA. Part one provides an understanding of trauma drawing on insights from theology, psychology, and medicine. Part two explores how the work of God the Trinity is a source of trauma recovery. Part three integrates those two perspectives in clear principles and practices that characterise trauma-safe churches. 

I appreciated the frequent use of real-life stories in the book, keeping the lived experience of trauma survivors before us. The book helped me recognise that: “many survivors suffer in silence with overbearing feelings of rage, helplessness, despair, and terror. These survivors are in our midst. They are in our churches” (p154). 

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Some readers may baulk at the deep theology in part two, preferring to skip to the “practical bit” at the end. That would be a mistake. If the church does nothing more than just “learn the tricks” of trauma response it can be used to perpetuate harm. The church will only be a source of healing if it is the community that is profoundly shaped by the being and work of God. The church is a place of safety when it invites people into relationship with the “Father of lights”. The church offers life-giving friendship when it mediates the presence of Jesus our friend. The church offers comfort and safety when it shares the indwelling Spirit of comfort and safety. 

In the cold of winter, I love waking up while it’s still dark, pulling on the warmest clothes in my wardrobe, and going for a walk early enough to witness the first light of the sun at the start of a new day. There is something hopeful in the dawn, especially alongside the challenges of the cold and dark. This book invites us to take hold of the challenge and hope of living at the dawn of Easter Sunday. In Christ we get to be that human community that will neither turn away from the horrors of trauma nor be overwhelmed by them. We get to be that human community that is enlivened by hope, and therefore enabled to persevere in faith-filled love.  

Read more: God meets us even when our best efforts seem hopeless 

Joshua Cockayne, Scott Harrower, and Preston Hill have given us a rich resource for healing those who have been damaged by trauma. Indeed, this is a rich resource for being the church: witnesses to the resurrection who wait patiently for the kingdom to come. 

Graham Stanton is lecturer in Practical Theology at Ridley College. 

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