Johns Hopkins Medicine
Office of Corporate Communications
Media contact:  Gary Stephenson
410-955-5384; [email protected]
May 19, 2005


During a disaster or public health catastrophe, citizens expect firefighters, police and hospitals to be prepared. But what about their clergy?

In times of crisis, many people look to familiar religious leaders for comfort and guidance.  But can clergy cope when whole congregations, or even strangers, turn to them?

With a $186,374 grant from the federal Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences will collaborate with the Center for Public Health Preparedness in Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Maryland’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and three religious groups to develop a disaster preparedness curriculum and conduct a pilot program to train at least 240 Baltimore-area religious leaders in responding to the mental health and spiritual needs of people following a disaster.

The grant was made to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and distributed to Hopkins by the Maryland Hospital Association.

“Having religious leaders trained to respond to individuals who seek trauma-related services following a man-made or natural disaster is a vital – but long overlooked – element in Maryland’s disaster response workforce,” says Lee McCabe, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“The project will help spiritual caregivers help residents of the greater Baltimore area, particularly disadvantaged minorities in the eastern and western corridors of Baltimore City, to address personal difficulties that might arise during crises,” says McCabe, who also is director of the psychiatry department’s Office of Behavioral Health Care and principal investigator on the project.

Religious groups participating in the project include Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore (CURE), the Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Institute for Mental Health Ministry Inc., which already has provided mental health training at local ministerial conventions and statewide meetings.

The clerical groups will spend four months with Hopkins and University of Maryland mental health experts developing a disaster preparedness curriculum that reflects the religious and ethnic culture of the clergy and the vulnerable minority population with whom they work. Among the mental health issues to be addressed in the pilot training program are principles of individual and group psychological first aid, as well as learning to tell what is distress and what is dysfunction. The latter can be more incapacitating and more likely to require professional intervention. 

Also to be covered are congregational crisis communications and identification and use of referral resources. Eventually, a disaster training manual and a “tool kit” for clergy and church leaders will be developed.

- -JHM- -