Ministry that Matters: Upcoming trainings offer tools for suicide prevention
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As people of faith called to “Go and Do Likewise” in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Oregon-Idaho Conference is moving forward with one initiative to address a serious and all-too common health concern: suicidal desperation.
The Conference is sponsoring several “Soul Shop” workshops presented by Rev. Christy Dirren to equip local churches and community leaders to respond to individuals experiencing suicidal desperation and provide safe and loving spaces in their communities for those experiencing these feelings and congregations are encouraged to attend.
Dirren, pastor at Jason Lee United Methodist Church in Blackfoot, Idaho, has been involved in the national Soul Shop movement for years and is one of 24 certified trainers across the country. It is an ecumenical partner to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). She taught a workshop in August for pastors in the Blackfoot area and is leading another one at Meridian UMC on Sept. 18 for greater Boise-area churches.
Thanks to Conference support, including the Abundant Health initiative, Dirren is offering another training at Open Door Churches of Salem-Keizer on Oct. 16, and there are more possible opportunities on the horizon.
“We want the church to be a safe place to be vulnerable and a place where we’re able to struggle,” Dirren said. “We want to keep as many people alive as possible.”
Laurie Day, Director of Connectional Ministries for the Oregon-Idaho Conference, said the work of Soul Shop is a shining example of how our ministry settings can live out the call to “Go and Do Likewise” through ministries that matter – particularly when it comes to the topic of community health.
“As we think about the outward expression of our faith, and how we create ministries that matter, we don’t have to look far and wide to have an impact,” Day said. “Soul Shop has been in existence for years, and it’s a beautiful, life-giving ecumenical ministry that seeks to answer a community health crisis: suicide. Participating in these trainings will help our churches and ministry settings better understand how to provide informed, supportive spiritual care to individuals experiencing suicidal desperation.”
The Centers for Disease Control lists suicide as a public health crisis in The United States and September is known nationally as suicide prevention month.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the AFSP. More than 10 percent of youth in grades 9-12 reported at least one attempt of suicide in 2021. Dirren said these numbers are often underreported.
Addressing a public health crisis fits into Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth’s framework for going the M.I.L.E. as United Methodists in the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area follow the example of The Good Samaritan Jesus speaks about in Luke: 10 the Bible. The “M” in this framework calls for churches and individuals to take up the causes of ministries that matter, particularly in the areas of health and housing, in the various communities across this region.
“Sometimes people don’t want to die, they just want the pain to stop,” Dirren said. “The goal is to take suicide off the table – not minimizing the chaos, or trouble or trauma a person is experiencing – and lead them to safety.”
Through Soul Shop training, Dirren said participants learn to understand the basics of what suicidal desperation is (they specifically don’t use the world depression, for example, because not all suicidal individuals are depressed and not all depressed individuals are suicidal) and the signs of this desperation and how to respond. Additionally, Dirren said through Soul Shop training, participants work through stories of suicide within the Bible.
It’s designed to reduce the spiritual stigma that surrounds suicide – shame and being shunned, to begin with – and equip individuals with much the same skills you would learn to become CPR certified, Dirren said.
“It’s a specific set of skills that is not obvious,” she said. “But is easy enough to teach to the masses and it can save lives.”
The goal of Soul Shop is also to help individuals identify ministries they have that could be beneficial to individuals experiencing suicidal desperation. Sometimes it may be recognizing that their church has an empty office where a mental health counselor can be set up. Or it may be addressing an issue of food insecurity that is causing suicidal desperation on the part of another individual.
Dirren said it boils down to being the Good Samaritan.
“When someone is in a ditch and we walk by and we criticize them for ending up in that ditch,” she said. “When in reality, they need that Samaritan attitude. They just need someone to sit with them – especially someone who has been in the ditch before.”