Spiritual Care Team volunteer explains why he helps others in disasters

(The American Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Program was launched as a Disaster Cycle Services function in 2015 to assist in caring for people in disasters. The Program respects the Red Cross Fundamental Principles, assuring the message of neutrality and impartiality in a way that supports the Red Cross mission. The Program provides consistent and reliable services in all religions, to all persons, regardless of faith tradition. Steve Smith, a volunteer with the Greater Kansas City Chapter, is a Spiritual Care Team member and goes to disasters throughout the nation to help those in need.)

 By Steve Smith
American Red Cross

 I am a disaster junkie! I was trained for the ministry in college and seminary to serve in a local parish, which I did for 25 years.

I then went back to school and got extra training to become a hospital chaplain, where I served for about 25 years.

I was always drawn to people that were hurting, especially during times of crisis. Whether it was a code blue or a trauma team alert, I was inclined to go toward those families in pain and in need.

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Red Cross Spiritual Care Team member Steve Smith from the Greater Kansas City Chapter talks to children displaced by flooding in South Carolina. (Photo by Carl Manning/American Red Cross)

From a theological perspective, I suppose I have the gift of bringing some comfort and peace during these stressful times. The transition from being a minister in a local parish to being a chaplain was not difficult for me.

I have never been one to push my ideas and religion on someone else. To me, it is about bringing the presence of the Creator in a turbulent situation. It is not about theology or specific religious beliefs, but about meeting the needs of individuals and families that are hurting.

To me, working with people with their spiritual needs is much easier and greater than a specific denomination or faith tradition. It is not about doctrine but about a caring spirit.

Being a Spiritual Care Team member provides me the opportunity to continue my “ministry of caring” even after I retired. I look forward to being a non-anxious presence following a disaster. I am comfortable talking with families who have experienced a death and allowing them to express their grief.

I am knowledgeable of many different religious beliefs and practices and I am at ease encouraging families or individuals to reach out to their faith tradition regardless of whether it is similar to mine.

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Members of the Red Cross Spiritual Care Tea talk to those displaced by disasters to offer them comfort and hope. (Photo by Carl Manning/American Red Cross)

My responsibility after a disaster is not to provide a pat religious answer but to affirm the questions and frustration one has with their own faith and understanding of the Holy Other or Higher Power.

I feel like I am to help others plug into their own faith traditions and beliefs whether they are similar to mine or radically different. It is not about my faith but their faith and their connecting to it.

Spiritual Care is not about specific religious writings, traditions or rites of a faith group but of connecting, on some level, with whatever the others believe about their own Faith.

This is also true of those who have no faith. To help them connect with some since of Hope that is positive is Spiritual Care for me.

This hope may take on different forms for each person, but it is not about what the Hope looks like but about joining with this Hope to sustain them during this time of uncertainty.

Spiritual Care Team members are there to help others find this hope in whatever form it may be to buoy them during their chaotic time.

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