Dawn of Sunday – The Trinity and Trauma-Safe Churches by Josh Cockayne, Scott Harrower, Preston Hill. Published in July 2022 by Cascade Books

Response by Dr Helen Reid, Director of Leeds Church Institute at the book launch, 7th July 2022

Early on in the book, the parable of the Lost Sheep is introduced and is axiomatic to the approach throughout the book. The parable is retold as the shepherd tenderly seeking out the wounded sheep. This is explained as God prioritising care for the individual who has suffered trauma and inviting others to care for this individual too.

This followed by a specific calling for church leaders to care for the individual, even if their present needs mean they don’t easily fit into church life; and this is also linked to the role of the Good Shepherd as described in John’s Gospel. As the book progresses, the whole of the church/body of Christ is called to be a community that includes and cares for those who have suffered trauma, and that this can involve individual acts and also changes in outlook and practice.

This is a radical re-reading of the parable. In the Lukan version, when the lost sheep is brought back to the fold it is said ‘there is more joy in heaven over the sinner that repents than the 99 righteous who have no need of repentance’. We believe this to be a rendition of Jesus teaching, but it is likely that the evangelist linked this teaching to the parable. But the parable can stand apart from this explanation, and indeed does so in the gospel of Matthew. And then there is no implication of shame or sin for the wounded sheep, a sheep lost through trauma. Such a reading is in keeping with the gospel priority for the poor, that is the marginalised and oppressed, whatever form that has taken, including the wounds of trauma.

Moreover, read in this way, the parable is a reminder to the comfortable majority in church, that when there is need for care of someone who has suffered trauma, they themselves are not centre stage, and their needs and the way things have always been done, is not determining of how church should be. It isn’t just a parable for the hurt, it is for all who listen, all who have ears to hear

And so I would like to share the retelling of the parable (on page 8).

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the wounded sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on is shoulder and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me: I have found my wounded sheep.”

On this basis, Dawn of Sunday offers us a practical theology, and offers it to a wide readership that includes those who live with the effects of trauma, but not only them. It is not offered as a problem solving approach for survivors but a theology that speaks of God to the whole body of Christ. It speaks to us all as the people of God and called to God’s purpose.

The outworking of a theology of the Trinity and Trauma Safe Churches is a unique aspect of this book. We are offered an understanding of the Recovery of Safety through God the Father – the Father of Lights. Being Safely accompanied by the Son Jesus our Friend; and experiencing comfort and safety through the Spirit within. The focus of the loving essence and relational action of the Trinity is on the person who has experienced trauma and who can and does experience healing.

The process of healing is complex and not presented as ‘that is all sorted then’ but as an on-going process. Moreover, the whole work of healing is not seen as within the divine realm only. The book identifies a role for therapies and what has been learnt and is practised with the treatment of PTSD, counselling and the field of psychotraumatology. This makes for a clear statement that may contradict the experience that some people have of being encouraged to pray for healing ‘in faith’ with the implication that if they are not ‘visibly’ or ‘fully’ healed their faith has not been sufficient. Or, indeed, people who might have been told to commit fully to the healing of God and not go down the path of secular-based treatment. The theology presented in this book is not controlling or judgemental in these ways. As presented here, the healing power of God works with, and not exclusively or jealously.

The book also has a clear focus on the role of the church based in the conviction that we are all resourced by God the trinity to form a community that is trauma safe. It gives us given clear guidance on what that might mean in practice as well as in general approach. This is the last part of the book. My sense is that the theology draws strongly on the moving of the Spirit. This is not to the exclusion of the other persons of the Trinity whose role is clearly expressed earlier  but it is as a Pentecost People that we can  be released to be a trauma safe church. This is how we embrace the diversity of our group in its beauty and brokenness. It is not pity or caring for the vulnerable but about including all God’s children.

The stated aim of the book is to offer concrete and practical suggestions for ministering and belonging to a trauma safe church that depend on us seeing the theological grounding of such suggestions. The church is the primary way that God ministers to the world.

The theology in the book takes the time to engage deeply with knowledge and practice in secular disciplines; includes witness to people’s stories and the realities of life; explores a fuller sense of understanding of God through particular focus on each of  the three persons  of the Trinity in turn, and their unity; and reflects on what it means to be church and how we are resourced to take action. These four elements combine to create a fulsome theology of trauma safe churches.

And a final commendation for the book is that it is written by three authors. The theology is co-created out of dialogue and trust and so the method fits the content well. I believe this book seeks to offer the best and fullest iteration of a theology for trauma safe churches it can. I would recommend you read it, keep thinking about it, act on it.