Bishop Forms New Team to Help Congregations in Crisis
(Kari Barlow for the AWF Conference) - A new 19-member Bishop’s Response Team now stands ready to support congregations across the Alabama-West Florida Conference in times of crisis.
Bishop David Graves, along with his cabinet and the Board of Ordained Ministry, began forming the team in May, after recognizing the need to provide more tangible support to churches dealing with a wide range of disruptive and life-altering events.
“His vision is to deploy a response team of trained persons into a church and community whenever there is a traumatic event,” said Rev. June Jernigan, Assistant to Graves and Director of Ministerial Services. “He wants the congregation, complainant, clergy and clergy family to find support, encouragement and healing.”
The team, intentionally comprised of both clergy and lay members, will assist in times of the sudden death of a pastor, sexual misconduct, abuse of authority, misuse or embezzlement of funds or other chargeable offenses, Jernigan said.
“Having a Bishop’s Response Team is just one more way that we are seeking to help churches be vital congregations,” she added.
Each team member was nominated by a District Superintendent and is representative of the Conference in regard to age, gender, ethnicity and church-size. Several of those who accepted the invitation to serve described the opportunity as “a calling upon their lives,” Jernigan said.
“An effective team member is a person willing to step into a crisis, a good listener, a non-anxious presence and a person who is willing and able to set aside his or her own story to hear the story of others,” she said.
Individual or small groups of team members will be deployed based on their calling, gifts, geography, and availability, and they will work closely with the District Superintendent. During their time at a church, one of the response team’s first priorities will be to connect with the pastor parish relations committee or the staff parish relations committee.
“It is important that communication with a congregation is clear and transparent throughout the process,” Jernigan said. “Team leaders might be assigned to support the SPR, the complainant, the congregation as a whole, the clergy person or the clergy spouse and family.”
Conference officials have estimated a response team could be needed every four months, but the length of time a team works with a congregation will depend on the specific situation.
On Aug. 12, the new team completed an extensive all-day training with Becky Posey Williams (pictured above), who serves as the Senior Director for Sexual Ethics and Advocacy for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. The team delved into topics such as sexual ethics, how to treat victims of sexual abuse, guidelines on how to deal with a staff member or clergy member accused of a sexual abuse, the church’s responsibility and ways to move toward justice and individual and church-wide healing following a crisis.
Jernigan said the challenging work of the team is based on building and nurturing relationships with people affected by a crisis or trauma within a congregation.
“The key question we ask—so that God is guiding this process of healing—is, ‘What are the needs for this particular situation?’” she said. “Based on the answer, the response team opens up a safe space for God to do God’s work of healing, restoring of hope and strengthening of faith.”