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New Jersey church members put 'heart' into Sept. 11 response

7/23/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

United Methodists in New Jersey are continuing to search for those who have suffered, directly or indirectly, from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bishop Alfred Johnson recently appointed the Rev. Christopher L. Miller, who had been pastor of Pemberton United Methodist Church, to lead that effort as coordinator of outreach ministries.
As part of his duties, he will direct the Healing, Encouragement and Advocacy in Response to Tragedy (HEART) unit for the long-term response of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference to the events of Sept. 11. The United Methodist Committee on Relief approved a $4.4 million grant in April for the work in New Jersey.

Since starting the position on July 1, Miller has hired a bilingual caseworker with previous training from UMCOR and expects to open an administrative office for HEART soon at the United Methodist church in Elizabeth, N.J.

He hopes to deploy both clergy and lay volunteers, based at local churches, to find referrals for case management. "We're trying to get those (people) who are falling through the cracks," Miller told United Methodist News Service. "We're very concerned with undocumented aliens and people who are afraid to come forward or who didn't know they qualified for aid."

The conference's continuing response to the Sept. 11 attacks, led by the Rev. Robert Duncan Jr., disaster response coordinator, also has included cooperation with other religious groups. That will be true of the HEART program as well, Miller said. He will work with the New Jersey Interfaith Partnership for Disaster Recovery.

Much of the unmet need resulting from Sept. 11 is financial, he reported. Unemployment benefits have run out for most people who lost jobs and who have cashed in their savings and are using credit cards to pay basic bills. Finding new employment is a problem, too. "You're missing a huge number of jobs that haven't been recreated yet," he explained.

Miller also wants to ensure that church-related volunteers have the proper training to sensitize them to the situation. Instead of merely evangelizing, he pointed out, volunteers need to listen "in a way that people can unload their burdens and get some real spiritual and mental help."

Having served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy Reserve since 1994 and with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves from 1976 to 1994, he knows what it means to respond to a crisis situation. As a volunteer chaplain for the Pemberton Township Police Department, Miller also received training in the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and recently completed certification in bereavement facilitation through the American Academy of Bereavement.

Those who were not able to work through the emotional impact of the Sept. 11 attacks are the people showing signs of post-traumatic stress nearly a year later, he said.

But the anniversary of the event, as demonstrated in places like Oklahoma City and even by normal losses of loved ones, can shake anyone up. That's why the New Jersey United Methodists are planning a "pre-emptive strike" in September.

"We're going to train several people to be ready to lead teams to the commuter stations on or around Sept. 11," Miller explained. Team members will be identifiable in some way "so that people will know we are there for prayer or for talk."

Duncan has been involved with the establishment of an International Traumatology Institute in New Jersey, using faculty from Drew University Theological School. The institute is affiliated with the University of South Florida and information can be found online at www.duncanassociates.org/iti, the institute's Web site.

As another part of the Sept. 11 anniversary response, Miller is on a committee planning an interfaith prayer service of Muslims, Jews and Christians that day. The service is sponsored by the New Jersey Council of Churches, with funding through UMCOR.

More information on the New Jersey program is available by calling Miller at (201) 400-9210 or sending an e-mail to HEART@gnjumc.org.

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