One of the benefits clergy receive, for which I’m grateful, is two weeks every year to devote to continuing education. I have used this time for retreats, writing workshops, catching up on my reading, studying conflict management, and visiting historic churches. I’m not as creative as my friends who have taken improv comedy classes or gone fly-fishing—both skills that can be applied to ministry—but I always learn something.
Last week, I used some continuing education time to attend a conference offered by the Louisville Institute, an agency funded by the Lilly Endowment to support research that will strengthen churches, institutions of higher education, and the broader society. I was invited to this conference because I’m one of 25 scholar-ministers, this year, to receive a Pastoral Study Project Grant. My cohort will be researching topics as diverse and important as grieving and memorial practices among African-American churches in the pandemic, how to transform Christian formation buildings into affordable housing, and how to network Asian-American congregations for non-partisan political action. Although the Omicron variant of Covid led the Louisville Institute to move the conference online, the three days we devoted to the gathering offered both intellectual stimulation and supportive fellowship.
My research topic is Christian theology of suicide. A survivor of suicide myself, my mother having died this way almost 30 years ago, I know I’m in sadly plentiful company. Tens of thousands of Americans take their own lives every year. I hope that by writing accessible theology that addresses our complex feelings, thoughts, and questions about suicide, I can help Christians support people in this danger. You can read more about my project here: https://louisville-institute.org/our-impact/awards/pastoral-study-project/16148/.
Friends, each of you is infinitely precious, as is every one of God’s children. If you struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide, compassionate support is available. I hope you’ll be in touch with a friend, family member, medical professional (your primary care provider or local emergency room), and/or me. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800-273-TALK (8255), or text HOME to 741741.
If you’re fortunate not to struggle with this illness, please check on your friends who may. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has resources for supportive friends and family: https://afsp.org/when-someone-is-at-risk. And our diocesan youth missioners have resources for parents and other adults concerned about young people. You can find these gifted members of diocesan staff at https://www.episdionc.org/children-youth-families-ministry/. Remember, too, that your church is here to support you as you care for others.
As Christians, we live in light of the resurrection and proclaim that life and love are stronger than death. For some of us, sometimes, it’s hard to hold onto that hope. But together, we can help make it easier to do so.