United Church of Christ

Commentary: Breaking the Silence

Witness for JusticeI grew up in what many would call the traditional black church. Worship lasted hours, children were relegated to speaking only during the holiday pageants, men were in places of leadership, and the women wore big hats.

Looking back at those early years of formation, I am grateful for the foundations. At the same time, I now realize there were many things the church and my faith did not prepare me to deal with in the real world. You see, I can think theologically, I have preached to the masses, I have planned worship for thousands, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the depth of pain that so many colleagues, Christians, and neighbors live with chronically.

There was recently a news story about a small university in New Jersey that experienced its third suicide this semester. Since then the school has come under scrutiny and criticism for not doing enough to support students dealing with mental health issues, including and especially mental health concerns that may lead to self-harm. Studies show that suicide and attempted suicide have risen exponentially over the last sixteen years. For all the ways that are available to us today for connection, there’s still a disconnect between us. Youth and young adults, specifically, reference not having someone they can personally count on for support in times of trouble.

Unfortunately, this is true in the church as well. People are suffering and in desperate need for help and support but have few places to turn.

In my work I see the pain our young people are living with, and as a young adult I can say I have been there, consistently. The gospel calls us to care for those who are hurting without judgment or shame.

I want to take a moment to uplift the work of my colleague, Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund, Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice. She has been integral in starting conversations in many of our churches and wider settings around best practices and ways to support those who are hurting.

It is time for us to end the shame and stigma attached to depression, anxiety, and mental health challenges, so we can live into creating the beloved community where all are welcome and cared for.

Trayce Potter is Minister for Youth and Young Adult Engagement for the United Church of Christ.

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