The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Speak to Me, Man of God: Black Pastor's Views On Handling Trauma and Violence in Urban Communities of Need

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 12:15 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 002A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Shepard Payne, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Forest Park, IL
Background and Purpose:

Urban communities are struggling with addressing trauma, violence, and associated mental health problems.  While some communities are resource-rich, disadvantaged communities often have fewer mental health resources available to them.  For instance, in Chicago eight mental health clinics have closed down within the past year.  Urban pastors, by default, are frontline mental health workers.  They experience the results of trauma and violence first hand, in that they are the ones to officiate the funeral services of parishioners that are casualties to gangs, drive-bys, or domestic violence.  African Americans, in particular, are more likely to discuss issues with their pastor prior to entering a mental health center.

There are few published studies in the secular academic arena which have sought pastors’ input on their views on how to handle present psychological and societal issues.  This study is unique in that it refrains from defining counseling based on mental health/ psychological assumptions or theological assumptions taught in seminaries. Instead, the study’s goal is to discover the lived experience of pastors and how they counsel based upon their own paradigms.

Pastors were asked the following research questions:

1.  What are your thoughts on the causes of violence and trauma in your urban community? 

2.  How do you deal with the issues of violence and trauma in your own congregation and in your community?


Protestant pastors were invited to participate in individual 90 minute face-to-face qualitative interviews.  Pastors were solicited via purposive sample, and interviews were done in the community at each pastor’s church location.

Data on ten African American pastors who lead churches in low-income urban areas of Chicago are presented.  Data was audio-recorded and explored directly from the audio-taped data with the use of Atlas.ti.  A phenomenological methodology was used, with the goal of obtaining the lived experiences of pastors addressing emotional health issues in the urban context. 


Three themes emerged from the interviews:

  1. Pastors discussed their own areas of struggle and resiliency in relation to violence and trauma.  Most pastors discussed serious challenges that occurred in their own lives prior to entering the pastorate (child abuse, childhood domestic violence experiences, being raised in violent communities, etc.).  They discussed how they overcame challenges, and how their challenges shape their present interactions with congregations and community.
  2. Pastors discussed the experience of re-victimization that they themselves presently face.  One pastor, for example, discussed dealing with multiple funerals for church youth killed by violence in a very short period of time. 
  3. They discussed their theological and secular education and how these training experiences shape their interactions with others when dealing with violence and trauma.

Conclusions and Implications:

Through a strength-based emancipatory framework, researchers were able to approach community pastors and engage in non-judgmental, non-assumptive discussions.  It is hoped that practitioners' increased understanding of the lived experiences of pastors can lead to healthy collaborations between social work practitioners and community pastors when addressing violence and trauma.