Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Invisible Epidemic

The subject of suicide is taboo. It is spoken about in hushed voices. Indeed, some people may not be happy that I am addressing it in this spiritual blog. Why not write about something more uplifting and inspirational? But a recent UN report has shocked me into addressing the issue.

A study by the World Health Organization was released in September. It is the UN agency's first report on the subject. It analyzed data on suicides from 172 countries and took a decade to compile. It found that there are more than 800,000 suicides a year. That is one every forty seconds.

Someone will take their own life before you get halfway through this article. It is likely that the rate is actually much higher than this figure because suicide tends to be unreported for cultural reasons.

The statistic that really caught my attention was that suicide kills more people each year than military conflicts and natural catastrophes combined. Suicide accounts for more than half of the world's 1.5 million violent deaths annually. Many more die of suicide than homicide.

My first reaction was: why am I only hearing about this now? Every night on the evening news I am subjected to reports of wars, school shootings, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, murders, and terrorism. But suicide kills more people than all of these! Why is no one reporting this?

As a pastor I regularly deal with people having difficulty dealing with the stress and emotional traumas of life. I have become acutely aware of the lack of adequate mental healthcare in our nation. It takes too long and is too difficult to obtain adequate care. Health insurance coverage is inadequate, as well as the number of beds available in facilities that treat mental illness.

How about the religious dimension of suicide? Is it a sin? I hear people say that Christianity teaches that those who commit suicide are condemned to hell. No, it does not!

Nearly everyone I have known who has died in this manner has died of mental illness, in my opinion. Most died of depression. Depression is a physical illness just as much as cancer or heart disease. It just happens to affect the brain instead of some other body organ, but it is just as deadly when left untreated.

Mental Illness is a serious problem in our nation. Even though the suicide of the young gets most of the media attention, this report said that the highest rate of suicide is among those over 70 years of age. Furthermore the rate is higher in wealthy countries than low and middle-income nations. That fits the demographic of my town of Sandwich, New Hampshire, USA.

Suicide is an invisible epidemic. It is not listed in obituaries as a cause of death and seldom mentioned at funerals. Sometimes only the family knows – and the preacher. It is widely talked about only when a celebrity dies. Then it hits the headlines for a little while, inspires copycat suicides, but is soon replaced with more profitable news.

If you, or someone you love, is depressed or suffering from mental illness, please seek help. Talk to your family, your primary care physician and your pastor. The New Hampshire suicide hotline is (603) 225-9000 or 1-800-852-3388. The National Suicide Prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Go to the ER if that is your only immediate option. Depression does not have to be a terminal illness … or an invisible one. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Community Church

It is now official. As of September 3 we are the Community Church of Sandwich! It feels strange to say that name. I have known this congregation as the Federated Church of Sandwich for over thirty years. Many of you have known it by that name for much longer than I have.

It will be strange to write out my tithe check each week to the Community Church and see it on our website and Facebook page. It feels strange on my tongue to now tell people that I am the pastor of the Community Church of Sandwich.

Part of me will be sorry to see the old Federated Church name move into the history books. Part of me is glad not to have to explain one more time what a federated church is! Mostly I am excited about entering a new phase of our life as a Christian community in Sandwich.

As I ponder our new name, my first thought is koinonia. That is the Greek word used in the New Testament for community or fellowship. It is the unique quality of divine love that binds believers together. The Book of Acts describes the early Christian church with these words: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.”

The early church father Tertullian said that love was the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian church in his day. People outside the church regularly remarked of Christians, “Look how they love one another!" I hope that will be the reputation of the Community Church of Sandwich.

The other aspect of our new name emphasizes our connection to the town. We are the “Community Church of Sandwich.” We are connected to the wider Sandwich community beyond the church walls … and beyond Sandwich. We are not an introverted group of religious people cut off from the town. We are an integral part of the community.

One man - who does not attend church - remarked to me that he considers our church as the heart of Sandwich. I view the church as the soul of Sandwich. As the steeples of our historic meetinghouses point to heaven, so (I hope) our church directs people’s attention to God.

I also hope that our new name we will inspire us to reach into the community with renewed vigor. We are the Community Church of Sandwich. Let us live up to our new name!