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In Times of Crisis, Where Do Faith Leaders Turn for Guidance?

In the midst of national tragedies this week, including the Boston Marathon bombing and the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, many people are heading to their houses of worship and their faith leaders for counsel and guidance.

With congregations of varying size, a pastor or priest may hear from numerous people. So where then do the faith leaders turn for comfort?

The answer varies from religion to religion, but is also somewhat similar. For the Pittsburgh Presbytery, pastors are offered several options.

“We organize colleague groups for pastors to gather together regularly to encourage each other and to support one another,” said General Minister Sheldon Sorge. “These groups typically meet once a month, and there’s typically between eight and a dozen pastors.”

Other options for pastors include going to an immediate supervisor in the church system, or to Sorge. But with that option, elements of the conversation may be included in the pastor’s official record. If confidentiality is needed, the Presbytery has what is called a Pastors Encouraging and Listening, or PEAL team.

“That team is made up of retired pastors who are willing to listen to any pastor who has anything to say, keep it in the strictest confidence, not reveal it to the officials in the Presbytery," Sorge said. "I don’t know what they say; I don’t even know who they talk to."

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh also convenes groups for priests.

“Most priests are involved in support groups with other priests,” said Father Ron Lengwin. “So there are always people to turn to. We also have spiritual directors and we have confessors, so there are a lot of people we can turn to.”

Sorge said for leaders of any faith, it’s important to have a place to turn.

“If pastors have nowhere to go, we’re in real trouble,” he said. “They take in so much of the grief of their community and they’ve got to find a place in which they can also process the things that are happening to them personally as well as the things that are happening in their community.”

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