Prophetic Pastoral Care in the Aftermath of Trauma: Forging A Constructive Practical Theology of Lived Religion From Organized Trauma Response Ministries

Michelle Anne Walsh (
School of Theology, Boston University
December, 2013
Full text (external site)
Rev. Dr. Michelle A. Walsh, MSW, LICSW is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister and licensed independent clinical social worker. She has worked for over 20 years in lay and professional urban ministry and social work and has directed two major mental health clinics. Her formation as a UU community minister was through her work founding and developing a weekend inner-city youth ministry for 18 years with the UU Urban Ministry in Roxbury, MA. Currently, she has a private practice in pastoral psychotherapy called Sacred Play Explorations in Salem, MA and an urban consulting practice through the Tuckerman Creative Ministries for Justice & Healing (TCMJH). She completed a doctorate in practical pastoral theology at Boston University in 2014. She also is an adjunct faculty member at BU’s School of Social Work where she teaches numerous courses, including Racial Justice and Cultural Oppressions, Ethics, and Spirituality and Social Work


Violent traumatic events impact communities and demand ministerial responses that are not only pastoral in nature but also prophetic, challenging institutional and sociocultural roots of violence through vision and analysis. There is a noticeable gap in qualitative studies of the prophetic pastoral practices of organized trauma response ministries in addressing violence. This dissertation addresses this gap through qualitative case studies of two trauma response ministries operating in diverse cultural contexts.

The dissertation forges a beginning constructive practical theology of trauma from the voices, experiences, and practices of survivors and their trauma response ministry providers, lifting up the need for an intercultural approach and examining the results for untapped theological resources for constructive practical theologies of trauma. By integrating trauma studies into lived religion approaches, this dissertation conceptualizes survivors’ use of material objects, rituals, and surroundings to enact a ‘theopoetics of material religion.’ This theopoetics captures the constructive theological significance of survivors’ use of material objects, rituals, and surroundings for prophetic and performative testimony and witness.

The introduction and chapter one make the case that addressing the problem of violent trauma in the American context calls for an approach rooted in prophetic pastoral care practices, one that is attentive to the particular contextual realities and resources of communities living in the aftermath of trauma. Using a lived religion methodological approach enhanced by trauma studies and a theopoetics of material religion, chapter two presents a case study of an inner-city lay-led trauma response ministry that serves family survivors of homicide. Chapter three presents a case study of a denominational-based trauma response ministry’s services to a suburban congregation following a gun assault. Chapter four illustrates the theological themes witnessed in each case study and places these in intercultural dialogue. The final chapter engages current constructive theologies of trauma and brings the insights of the case studies to bear on interpretations of theology in the aftermath of trauma. The dissertation begins to forge of a constructive practical theology of trauma and concludes with strategic recommendations for constructive practical theologians, pastoral care providers, and social and ecclesial structures.

ISSN: 2374-4103