By Jessica Brodie
NORTH CHARLESTON—The Rev. Richard Lewis will never forget the time when he was a rescue squad member and a person committed suicide right in front of his ambulance. Or the time a house fire claimed three victims. Or the time he went with a team to North Carolina and felt powerless to comfort the family of a man who died trying to escape his car after it plunged into the Broad River.
Thanks to a pastoral crisis intervention class offered in February by Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, Lewis and a host of chaplains and pastors now have training to handle that and more.
Lewis was one of several United Methodist pastors who participated in the class Feb. 24-26, including a pastor from Maryland. Open to both clergy and laity, the class addressed how to assist communities during a time of psychological or spiritual crisis (such as 9/11 or the Emanuel 9 shooting last year, or a host of individual first responder calls), while unpacking the impact that crisis situations have upon people.
“Sometimes, we can come up on some very gruesome situations,” said Lewis, pastor of the Duncan-Startex-Loree Charge in the Spartanburg District who has served as a first responder, chaplain and search-and-rescue team member. “I thought that with the proper training, I could be of use not only to the first responders on the scene, but also with the persons involved in the situations that occur every day. Sometimes the first responders are not equipped to handle the people involved in auto accidents, fires, domestic disputes, etc., and I feel that God would have me to make myself available to assist them in any way I can.”
Lewis said the class helped him feel he can truly be there for people after a crisis, whether that means simply sitting with them or enabling them to release pent-up emotions.
“I think in any stressful situation, the first responders need to know that someone has their back on the emotional and spiritual side, even if they may not be believers,” Lewis said.
The Rev. James Lewis, pastor of the Zion-Zoar Charge in the Hartsville District, also took the class. He said it added what he calls “one more tool” to his ministry toolbox. Lewis has served as a chaplain to fire departments for more than 15 years and now works with the Chesterfield County Sheriff Office. He said the class was extremely helpful for him and others who work directly with public safety personnel.
The Rev. Judy Emerson traveled from Winfield, Maryland, to take the class. The pastor of Ebenezer UMC in the Baltimore-Washington Conference and chaplain of the Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department, she hoped the class would help her learn how to better serve her church and community. It didn’t disappoint.
“I never realized that the entire experience would offer incredible pastoral insight, creative and informative leadership and an opportunity to meet some wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to serving others,” Emerson said. “To hear stories from first responders who found themselves in the middle of situations such as the Emanuel 9 shooting and other horrific circumstances, and to listen to what it meant to have a ministry of presence provided for them and others in the midst of these experiences, reminded me once again that God is with us at all times. It also heightened my awareness that those in pastoral ministry are a reminder of God’s presence through the big things we do, as well as the small things.”
Emerson said the class has inspired her to do more with the ministry entrusted to her. Her church is now discerning where God is calling them to offer a much-needed ministry to first responders and the people they serve.
For more on the class: http://coastalcrisischaplain.org/pci.