In a time of rising suicide, religious communities move beyond condemnation to care

Religion News Service | 4/25/2019 | Staff
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(RNS) — When Andy and Tina Plank discovered that their son Sam had killed himself, one of their first calls was to the minister of their church.

As soon as he got the news, J.C. Austin dropped everything and met them at the hospital.

Pastor - First - Presbyterian - Church - Bethlehem

Newly installed as senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pa., Austin had only been working there for a few months, a relative newcomer who had arrived in the wake of a bitter internal feud over doctrine and practice that split the congregation.

Now he had to step in to bring comfort to a family at the worst moment of their lives.

Midst - Shock - Pain - Deaths - Clergy

In the midst of the shock and pain that often attends such unexpected deaths, it’s crucial that clergy and congregants reach out to those left behind, offering a message of grace and hope rather than one of rejection and condemnation, Austin said.

“The church has to be right in the middle of offering pastoral care to those impacted,” he said.

Care - Planks - Story - Son - Life

Offering pastoral care included helping the Planks tell the story of their son’s life and death.

A freshman at Kutztown University who had only been in college for a week, Sam Plank was 18 when he died. His story didn’t have to be public: Many aren’t. But his parents decided almost as soon as the tragedy occurred to talk candidly about how their son died.

Part - Journey - Tina - Plank - Story

“Part of my healing journey,” said Tina Plank, “is getting this story out there so that perhaps we can save another family.”

Numerous faith traditions have a history of criticizing suicide as a sin — and one that leads to damnation.

Leaders - Despair - Help - Root - Causes

But some faith leaders are now working not only to offer those facing despair help in addressing the root causes of suicide but to remove the stigma that keeps so many suffering families quiet after the death...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Religion News Service
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