By Tamica Smith Jeuitt, Communications Specialist, Mississippi Conference
Members of the Mississippi Conference Healing Team have common attributes. They are good listeners and sense a call to serve on the team, according to the Rev. Larry Hilliard, who is the director of spiritual leadership for the conference and supervises the Healing Team.
"They listen more than they speak. They are willing to hear your story without having to offer their story," explained Hilliard. He said the team is responsible for responding to local churches in times of brokenness.
"They are dealing with people's grief, their lowest point as a congregation. It is heavy work, so team members also have to be someone who can engage in the heaviness but not take it on. It's not always the pastor with trouble. Sometimes it is lay people. If a significant lay person in your church gets arrested, it affects the whole church," Hilliard stated.
The 20-member Healing Team, established in 2005, is trained by staff from the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Hilliard recently met with members whose names are not in the story out of respect for the congregations that turn to the team. He said the individuals are clergy and laity who commit to at least four years of service.
One of the original members currently remains on the team. She said the Healing Team's role is not to provide congregations answers to why something happened, but to be present in the midst of a congregation's grief. From her experience, honest dialogue about the shame or hurt is crucial to moving forward and it doesn't matter if the incident happened a week ago or six years earlier.
"When we bring things out in the open and don't continue to hide them in the dark, we have the opportunity to heal and not continue to do damage within a community. Even though it may be scary for a congregation to reach out for support, they need to step out on faith and make the phone call if you need to. None of this is easy. I have had congregants say to me thank you so much for coming. Not all people are happy. There have been times when people have walked out, and that is okay. But, we know that being honest and upfront, and not keeping secrets, there is going to be a healthier response in the long run," she said.
Congregations that request the gifts of the Healing Team have to go through their district superintendent for assistance.