Just before my camp held our week for kids with an incarcerated parent, I read about Lincoln High School in Walla Walla WA, Principal Sporleder, and learned what ACE means. In 2007, Mr Sporleder came to what is now Lincoln High Scool as the new principal. A few years later he attended a Washignton State sponsored conference on ACEs which changed his methods and Lincoln High School.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE,is a term arising from a late 90’s study of the correlation of childhood trauma and extreme stress and unhealthy behaviours in adults. The results showed that not only did childhood events such as sexual assault, verbal or physical abuse, domestic violence, or a parent’s incarceration, on average, dramatically and negatively affect adult life but that these were much more common racial and socio-economic demographics than we might think. A survey of an upper middle class, predominantly white, mostly high school graduated neighbourhood showed than about 1/3 of people had an ACE score of zero.
Which resonated with my own life and knowledge of those around me. My ACE score is about 3.5. And I had a good childhood. A good childhood isn’t protection from the vagaries of a world unconcerned with being fair or kind. Research shows that an ACE score of 4 or greater begins to greatly impact your future. Rates for depression, physician ailments, and risky behaviour increase. The higher your ACE score the lower your ability to be resilient is likely to be, stress and stressful situations have greater impact, and your conflict resolution skills less developed and less easy to access. The question Principal Sporleder and others are trying to answer is how, in the face of a population deeply affected by violence fear and trauma, to build resilience, how to restore the possibility of a bright and hopeful future?
The story of Lincoln High was intensely relevant to that week of camp. But in the months since then my subconscious has reminded me of it frequently. As a priest I’m given the benefit of the trust people extend to my office, and occasionally the recipient of the emotional damage the Church has created. It is a precious and precarious privilege. In a world where most people have deep seated reasons not to trust others or to trust very slowly, my priestly invitation into the hardest and most intimate parts of people’s lives has become even more precious. I am always aware of responsibility I accepted in my ordination to live into, to repair, and to stewardship that trust for those who follow me.
This fall Ferguson MO has become an example of brokenness, fear, and trauma. Broken trust because of racism, broken trust between a community and their police force, broken trust between society and our legal system. It has been reassuring to see Missouri clergy in the streets and rallies, calling for listening, calling for nonviolence. It has been encouraging to see others recognize and appreciate this.
The work being done with the ACE study show us that our society is already threatened by our traumatic experiences. The events in Ferguson this fall tell me we are already at crisis.
For my parish I wrote about Advent as a time when we see the need for tikkun olam, the healing of the world, as we hold up both the vision God has for our world and the realities of the world we live in. I am becoming convinced that we are all on the front lines and our first task is to model and teach resilience.
This was written for and will be posted on the blog of The Scholar Priest Society. (edited)
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Pediatrician Nadine Burke discusses how ACE changed her medical practice: