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Putting on Their Oxygen Masks

Faith Leaders Take Time to Help Themselves to Better Help Others

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take hold across our nation, faith leaders have become overwhelmed by the increased demands of caring for their community during this crisis, they say.  Oftentimes, caring for themselves takes a back seat to meeting the needs of those whom they serve.

Recognizing this, staff from Advocate Aurora Health, Hartgrove Behavioral Health System and DLJ Consulting collaborated to create a six-week virtual support group. The first series took place this past summer.

“Faith leaders are on the frontline, supporting their communities,” said Amy McNicholas, faith and mental health specialist for Advocate Aurora Health.  “The goal of the support group is to give clergy, chaplains, youth group workers and other faith leaders a safe space to connect, share and take a collective breath.”

During the summer session, participants discussed a wide range of topics, including vulnerability – how it is not a weakness but a power. “That resonated with the group,” McNicholas said. “It gave them the permission to feel that it was okay to not be okay.”

Many shared the loss they and their faith communities had experienced due to the pandemic.  “We talked about the trauma and grief everyone was experiencing,” McNicholas said.

“The series helped faith leaders become more trauma informed,” said Dr. Darryl Jenkins, pastor of Faith Community Church, Itasca, IL, and founder of DLJ Consulting LLC. “Participants learned more about how to provide trauma-informed care, respond to crises, while ensuring personal care that ultimately will benefit their respective congregations and communities at large.”

“I found concrete help in dealing with my own patterns of responding to trauma, which were increasing my anxiety during the pandemic,” another participant said. “Particularly, the learning around Adverse Childhood Experiences was so insightful and helped me unpack the way I and those closest to me responded to the pandemic. I also appreciated the steps to build more resiliency through self-awareness and self-care.”

Faith leaders also discussed the logistical challenges of serving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many clergy and churches under 150 members don’t have the resources or technology needed to keep their congregations connected during the pandemic,” Pastor Jenkins said. “We shared strategies to keep congregations connected and engaged, and how we can do things differently, such as delegating and leveraging the use of new technology. We relied on one another for resources. That was invaluable.”

Amy McNicholas, Pastor Jenkins and Amy Bergholtz, clinical director with Hartgrove Behavioral Health System, will facilitate the upcoming six-week support group, which meets at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesdays, from Oct. 21 to Nov. 25.

“It was helpful and beneficial to be able to flesh out concerns and challenges and to share in learning,” Pastor Jenkins said. “It was especially beneficial to know that Advocate Aurora Health is engaged through this support group. As a pastor, it was helpful to know that Advocate Aurora valued us, and that our voices were being heard by staff who were sincerely interested in what they could do to strengthen faith leaders.”

To learn more about the Faith Leader Support Group, or to register for the next series, contact Amy McNicholas at


A joint project of Advocate Health Care & the OCEAN-HP at the University of Illinois at Chicago.