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Faith-Based Communities and Spiritual Leaders

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This installment of the SAMHSA Disaster Behavioral Health Information Series (DBHIS) focuses on how spiritual leaders and faith-based communities can support behavioral health after disasters, and how faith-related support can be included in disaster behavioral health response.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s concept of the “whole community” includes faith-based communities as an influential component of disaster preparedness efforts.  Faith-based communities include places of worship, religious organizations, congregations, and the spiritual leaders who represent them. Many faith-based communities are interwoven with local communities and are some of the first to respond in disasters. In times of hardship, faith-based communities respond to survivors and assist in long-term recovery communities.

Faith-based communities provide informal and formal services related to disaster response.  Informally, faith-based communities rally around community members, offer moral uplift, and assist in fulfilling unmet needs. In other cases, faith-based organizations enter into mutual aid agreements with tribal, local, state, and federal partners in disaster response and recovery efforts.  Examples of mutual aid agreements include collecting donations, sheltering, and providing food services. The services carried out by faith-based organizations contribute to maintaining and strengthening behavioral health following disaster.

The resources listed below target religious leadership, faith-based communities, and those wishing to learn more about the role of faith-based communities in disasters. Topics covered include but are not limited to the following:

  • The role spiritual leaders and faith-based communities can play in helping with the behavioral health consequences of disasters
  • Self-care for religious leaders as they provide disaster behavioral health support
  • Ways to build resilience in faith-based communities through planning, preparedness, and mitigation
  • Engaging faith-based communities in emergency management
  • Faith-based services involved in disaster response

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Related Resources

Displaying 38 total results.
North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention

This training manual explains disaster ministry and the role of a spiritual leader in a disaster or other crisis.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

This tip sheet discusses common reactions of Children and Youth DBHIS to traumatic events, the importance of family in the recovery effort, recommendations for meeting the emotional needs of Children and Youth DBHIS, and information on how to use support networks.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

This tip sheet provides basic disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery information for communities of faith.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

Developed by NDIN and the University of Southern California Center for Religion and Civic Culture, this series offers religious literacy and competency guidelines for providers in mass care settings in the United States to assist staff and volunteers in meeting the needs of people of many different religions during disaster response or recovery operations. These guidelines can be applied in work with disaster survivors in a variety of settings.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

The webpage provides 27 downloadable tip sheets on many topics relating to faith-based organizations and disasters.

Catholic Charities USA

Catholic Charities USA provides leadership and resources to help its member agencies respond to disasters in the United States; offers disaster case management services; and collaborates and coordinates with partners including the American Red Cross and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and with local, state, and national government agencies.

Episcopal Relief and Development

Through this program, Episcopal Relief and Development supports leaders of Episcopal dioceses in responding to disasters. Support includes access to a database of disaster response volunteers and to a resource library, as well as connection to other diocesan leaders who have experience in disaster response and recovery.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

This tip sheet provides information for religious leaders about common stress reactions to a disaster and suggests ways they can cope, and help others cope, with these reactions. The tip sheet also provides information on referring people for mental health services.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

In this tip sheet, NDIN provides religious leaders with information on SAMHSA's Disaster Distress Helpline, which offers 24/7 crisis counseling throughout the year for individuals and families experiencing distress because of disasters. NDIN explains who answers the Disaster Distress Helpline, what happens when someone calls or texts the helpline, and what services are available, as well as when the helpline should be used as a referral.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS, CDC)

This checklist begins with a brief explanation of the importance of faith-based and community organizations in supporting the health of the public in the event of an influenza pandemic. It then identifies steps for organizations to take in the areas of planning, communication, policy development, resource allocation, and collaboration with other organizations and agencies in pandemic response. Also available in Spanish at

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

This checklist provides guidance for faith- and community-based organizations interested in developing and improving their pandemic influenza preparedness and response plans. The authors include steps for planning for the impact of a pandemic on residents and staff; communicating with staff, members, and residents; setting up policies (e.g., for sick leave and travel); allocating resources; and coordinating with external organizations to protect the community's health and safety. Also available in Spanish at

Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California

The report details the role of faith-based organizations in communities and as strategic emergency management partners. The report also outlines ways for public agencies to work with faith communities to engage in disaster preparedness and response. [Authors: Farrag, H., Loskota, B., and Flory, R.]

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

The webpage provides a list of tip sheets developed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by NDIN and the University of Southern California Center for Religion and Civic Culture. The tip sheets provide information to help with engaging religious leaders and congregations of specific faiths (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and Sikh).

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (DHS, FEMA)

Developed by several federal departments, this collaborative guide provides houses of worship with information regarding emergency operations planning for the spectrum of threats and hazards they may face. It includes steps in the planning process, important components of an emergency operations plan, and an example of how a plan can be used to cope in one type of emergency (an active shooter situation). The following agencies contributed to this publication: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (DHS, FEMA), the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

This guide for increasing safety and building resiliency is directed at places of worship. The guide includes information on identifying threats and reducing vulnerabilities through prevention, protection, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

This tip sheet discusses how religious leaders can adapt their place of worship to be used as a shelter, service center, warehouse, or volunteer staging area during disaster response and recovery. It presents tips for preparedness, response, and recovery, as well as listing important considerations and organizations to work with in using religious facilities for particular purposes after a disaster (for example, a respite center for workers or a cooling center for heat emergencies).

Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth (ICTG)

The ICTG provides materials, training, and other types of support to people who act in ministerial rolessuch as preachers, directors of worship or child and youth ministries, and mission directorsto help them foster recovery, healing, and growth in their congregations after trauma, including natural and human-caused disasters. The website provides lists and links to articles, books, and films related to trauma-informed ministry.

Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA)

IRUSA provides disaster relief across the country and around the world. Services include medical care, building of temporary shelters, and provision of basic resources such as food and water, as well as social services, skills training, and even provision of supplies to help families survive cold winter weather. In collaboration with the American Red Cross, IRUSA also has a Disaster Response Team composed of volunteers who help the organization in its emergency relief efforts.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

This tip sheet discusses the important role of religious leaders in helping to ensure that LGBT disaster survivors have access to culturally appropriate assistance and services. The tip sheet describes the negative misperceptions LGBT people often face, defines sexual orientation and gender identity, identifies ways for LGBT people to prepare for disasters, and suggests ways religious leaders can model and encourage equitable and respectful treatment of all disaster survivors, including survivors who are LGBT.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

This webpage describes ELCA's work in disaster response and assistance. It includes links to current efforts, opportunities to volunteer with Lutheran Disaster Response, and resources for congregations.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Lutheran Disaster Response is a ministry that brings together Lutherans from across the United States in response to disasters. This section of the website provides resources for religious leaders and congregations and for a variety of hazards and events.

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS)

Mennonite Disaster Service is a volunteer network of churches that assists disaster survivors in the United States and Canada. The MDS website includes tools and information such as congregational resources at

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries takes a holistic approach to responding to both natural and human-caused disasters around the world. They supply people and communities in crisis with a network of supporters and tools to move toward further preparedness and personal stability.

NECHAMA - Jewish Response to Disaster

NECHAMA is a nonprofit organization through which volunteers of all faiths provide natural disaster preparedness, response, and recovery services across the country. They work to offer help to those who are the most vulnerable or have the greatest need after a disaster. In recent years, their volunteers have responded to Hurricane Matthew; flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and in West Virginia; and tornadoes in Dallas, Texas. The Jewish Disaster Response Corps (JDRC), formerly a separate organization, is now a program within NECHAMA.

New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS)

NYDIS is a nonprofit organization comprising faith-based service providers and charitable organizations who work to ensure that communities are prepared for disasters and to support disaster response and recovery in New York City. Among its offerings is an online resource collection with tip sheets and materials to support planning and recovery.

Episcopal Relief and Development

This guide explains how leaders of Episcopal parishes and congregations can prepare for disasters and help their communities to recover from disasters. It includes information and tools for developing emergency contact lists, establishing preparedness goals for a congregation, assessing risk, and planning steps to take in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is the emergency and refugee program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Its website features resources for disaster response volunteers and for religious congregations.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (DHS, FEMA)

This FEMA webpage provides links to resources for protecting faith communities and their facilities in the event of a disaster. The links include resources from federal partners, webinars, trainings, tabletop exercises, and tools for assessing preparedness.

Duke University

This article discusses the importance of self-care and how it provides the foundation clergy need to be effective figures within their religious communities. It highlights the self-care practices religious leaders need for resilience at all times, including in the event of a disaster.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for PTSD (VA, PTSD)

This online article introduces the concept of spirituality, explains how spirituality relates to trauma, identifies aspects of trauma most likely to affect spirituality, and suggests ways for spiritual and religious leaders and mental health care practitioners to support people with trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Links to additional information about PTSD are provided.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

This tip sheet is designed to guide religious leaders as they develop disaster plans and move themselves and their congregations through preparedness, immediate response, and short- and long-term recovery. Based on hurricane planning, preparedness, response, and recovery, this tip sheet can be used by religious leaders to prepare for and respond to any type of disaster. For each disaster phase, the tip sheet identifies steps to be taken by emergency management, public health, and first response agencies, and those to be taken by religious leaders.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

This tip sheet discusses the central role that faith communities and faith-based programs have in disaster recovery. The sheet covers the unique disaster-related supports and services that religious leaders and communities of worship can offer, general tips to help determine and plan to provide support, and suggested roles for communities of faith in disaster mitigation and preparedness.

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army provides several basic disaster services, such as disaster response training, food service, donations management, and recovery. The organization responds to disasters across the United States and around the world.

Episcopal Relief and Development

Developed to support religious leaders in helping their congregations after Hurricane Sandy, this tip sheet offers advice on how to effectively provide community and congregational support after a disaster. It also features a sidebar on working with children. The information the tip sheet provides will be useful to religious leaders after any disaster.

Episcopal Relief and Development

This fact sheet discusses the importance of self-care for religious leaders as they provide support for others after a disaster. It defines and describes compassion fatigue, explains why burnout is dangerous, and offers tips for self-care.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The mission of the center is to build resilient communities by working with faith-based and community organizations. In collaboration with federal, state, and local partners, the center supports the DHS's strategy of sustainable risk management by building capacity and resiliency among faith-based and community organizations.

United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

A ministry of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR provides disaster relief, disaster response training, supplies, physical and behavioral health support, and other services in the United States and around the world.

National Disaster Interfaiths Network (NDIN)

In this tip sheet, NDIN discusses the need for religious leaders to accommodate the needs of vulnerable populations during the disaster preparedness and response effort. The tip sheet identifies several vulnerable populations and presents preparedness and response best practices to assist individuals within these populations.

Last Updated

Last Updated: 10/09/2020