BUSTH Welcomes New Congregations for Trauma-Responsive Congregations Project

November 2022 – Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH) is pleased to welcome eight additional congregations to the “Trauma-Responsive Congregations” program, part of a grant funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. through its Thriving Congregations Initiative. The four-year project is entering its third year. It is designed to help urban congregations respond to trauma from theologically-informed and spiritually-integrative perspectives.

Starting a trauma-responsive grant in the midst of COVID-19 was challenging, but the five congregations who began with the program last year were motivated to respond to the specific needs in their community. They developed projects to support existing ministries and to lay the groundwork for more robust trauma-care, whether through supporting staff doing front-line care for vulnerable populations, investing in youth leaders, or training facilitators to run trauma-healing circles for unhoused congregational members.

Partnering with trauma experts from across Boston University and at the Danielsen Institute, project leaders have been building online learning modules tailored for congregational leaders. With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the BU leadership team plans to build more interactive trauma education into the second phase. The program’s partnership with Chaplaincy Innovation Lab provides a national network of spiritual care professionals to support the program efforts, and the Lab hosts the Trauma-Responsive Congregations public webinars.  

Associate Professor of Theology Shelly Rambo, who directs the program, identifies several thread that connect the next cohort of congregations: “First, these congregations are culturally diverse with members coming from various parts of the world. Several congregations are responding to challenges facing refugee communities. Second, housing and food insecurity are major issues in their neighborhoods, given the cost of living in Boston and San Diego. Harbor Online Community is exploring what it means to support those seeking a faith home who have experienced religious trauma. And how do they do this virtually? Another is a church without walls; Border Church, recently featured in a Boston Globe article, provides spiritual care and the sacraments at the border wall dividing San Diego county and Tijuana.”

In addition to Prof. Rambo as director, STH alum Ylisse Bess (‘17) serves as the program director. Dayna Olson-Gerry serves as program coordinator. A number of BUSTH administrators, graduate students, and alumni provide support: Nataly Romero (‘23), Martha Schick (‘22), Andrew Kimble (‘19), Megan Strouse (‘23), Mary Page Wilson-Lyons (‘25), Jeehyun Baek (‘23), Shelby Hall (‘27), and Montague Williams (‘18). The program also welcomes several skilled consultants, including Assistant Professor of Spiritual Care and Counseling Eunil David Cho and Dr. Eric Brown. Michelle Shoemaker from Fuller Seminary and Kate Davis, a Lilly grant recipient from Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, will join the team as project advisors.

New participating congregations are as follows:

  • Calvary Baptist Church, Lowell, Boston: They hope the program will grant them access to emotional, social, cultural, academic, and spiritual resources appropriate for supporting the first and second generation immigrant preteens and teens in their congregation. They will further develop and bolster their TeensAlive ministry program, which supports young people from four different congregations from Cambodia, Burma, and Africa.
  • Hyde Park Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Hyde Park, Boston: They hope to build partnerships to help facilitate their commitment to serving folks in their local community who are facing food and housing insecurities, as well as substance abuse struggles. They will provide more specialized care and services to unhoused individuals and be able to enhance the holistic aim of their mission.
  • Common Cathedral, downtown Boston: For over 26 years, Common Cathedral has built community between unhoused and housed people through a variety of public programming. This program allows them to build and implement a “healing institute” that will create equip emerging leaders to engage in trauma-informed spiritual care, as well as create a storytelling program that will encourage healing through the sharing of personal narratives.
  • Brighton-Allston UCC, Brighton, Boston: As their congregation becomes a supportive sanctuary for unhoused guests, they will focus on assisting their leaders to live into a covenant of mutual support and be in loving community with their neighbors. They hope this program will assist them to become trauma-informed and work with persons experiencing acute and chronic trauma.
  • Harbor Online: They aim to focus on forming a restorative and healing space for the leaders of this progressive, LGBTQIA+-affirming congregation to take rest and practice self-care. They will have an opportunity to process and work through their own religious trauma and better serve their online community.
  • St. Luke’s North Park, San Diego: They hope to provide more assistance to congregational members who are former refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They hope to launch a spiritual friendship program to create structured spaces of interpersonal, faith-based support for all of their congregants.
  • New Vision, San Diego: Through this program, they hope to expand the impact of their Urban Mission program which supports people experiencing homelessness and those transitioning from homelessness to permanent supportive housing. They want to expand their street and hotel ministries by collaborating with multiple local partners in ministry.
  • The Border Church, at the San Diego-Tijuana border: They hope to provide trauma training to those who live and work in the borderlands community. They hope to build support for the faith and justice workers who serve displaced persons along and across the San Diego-Tijuana border.

The program continues to support Living Water Church of the Nazarene (downtown San Diego) as it pilots its trauma-responsive curriculum, designed in collaboration with expressive arts therapists, Sook Kyoung Kwon and Jamie Harris Rosen. Pastor Chris Nafis and Justina Kimball had a vision for leading healing circles in their community over five years ago, and the support of this program is bringing it to life. 


Since 1839, Boston University School of Theology has been preparing leaders to do good. A seminary of the United Methodist Church, Boston University School of Theology is a robustly ecumenical institution that welcomes students from diverse faith traditions who are pursuing a wide range of vocations – parish ministry, conflict transformation, chaplaincy, campus ministry, administration, non-profit management, social work, teaching, justice advocacy, peacemaking, interfaith dialogue, and more. Our world-renowned faculty and strong heritage help students nurture their academic goals and realize any ministry imaginable. For more information, please visit www.bu.edu/sth.  

Lilly Endowment Inc. is a national private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J. K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Co. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s grantmaking in religion is to deepen and enrich the lives of American Christians, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.