I am an ELCA pastor and have been a Navy Chaplain the past 26 years. I’m currently assigned to USCG Pacific Area HQ at Alameda, CA. I have been heavily involved in providing suicide prevention and intervention training with the Navy and USCG since 2004.
Sadly, the reality and stigma of suicide is all too real for our clergy and congregations. While our Christian vocation and faith, relationships and spiritual disciplines make us more resilient, our clergy and congregations are not insulated from the reality of suicide. Federal chaplains, many of whom are certified trainers in the areas of suicide prevention and intervention, can be an important resource for you and your congregations.
For those here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have volunteered to provide training at no cost to clergy and congregations. All I require is a training room that can accommodate a max of 30-40 people. My hope is that more and more clergy and congregations will become more alert to the possibility of suicide in our midst. The Armed Services, including the Coast Guard, have been very proactive about suicide prevention and intervention.
Here locally we recently held a 2-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) at Station Golden Gate and had 35 in attendance. Our next scheduled ASIST at Alameda, CA is 19-20 July and we have 40 pre-registered. We have another one scheduled for 27-28 September and I have seats available for anyone who would like to attend. Participants must be age 16 and older. If you desire to learn more about this world renowned evidence based training, visit www.livingworks.net/programs/asist/.
LivingWorks programs like ASIST and the 3.5 hour safeTALK (suicide alert training) are used throughout the Army, National Guard, Navy and Coast Guard. The Air Force has also used these programs. These interactive trainings can be easily delivered to clergy and congregations. safeTALK is also being offered at a couple of our Lutheran seminaries. To learn more about safeTALK visit www.livingworks.net/programs/safetalk/.
If you would like to attend a safeTALK or sponsor the training for your congregation or conference, contact me. It requires a minimum of 10 participants (max 30-40) and 3.5 hours. It is open to anyone age 15 and older. The “safe” in safeTALK means “suicide alertness for everyone”. The TALK steps: Tell, Ask, Listen, KeepSafe are the steps a suicide alert helper follows to help keep someone at risk of suicide safe from suicide.
Many of our ELCA federal chaplains are safeTALK and ASIST trainers and would love to partner with you. My wife Shirley and I are senior safeTALK and ASIST trainers certified through LivingWorks Education. In addition to mentoring and coordinating our training teams we also help deliver safeTALK and ASIST to our Coast Guard units, churches, and community organizations, including our hometown of Stanwood, WA. There is growing interest, especially in those states that have new laws requiring school staff and medical professionals to have a certain number of CEU hours in suicide prevention. WA State is one example that now requires 6 hours of annual training for certain professionals.
The Federal Chaplaincy Ministries of the ELCA seeks out, supports, nurtures and sends exemplary pastors and seminary students to serve as federal chaplains or chaplain candidates for the U.S. military, Veterans Affairs hospitals and federal correctional institutions.
Although the settings may be very different, federal chaplains have many of the same responsibilities as any other ELCA pastor. They preach the gospel, lead worship, administer the sacraments, perform weddings, counsel, teach and bury the dead. Yet because of the unique settings, chaplains carry out their ministry immersed in the “Monday through Saturday” world of military members, patients, families and staff at Veterans Affairs medical centers, and among the staff and inmates of federal prisons.
I can think of no more “in extremis” ministry than the journey with an individual contemplating suicide or the experiences with those family and friends, colleagues and co-workers who deal with the aftermath of a suicide or suicide attempt. Educational workshops like ASIST and safeTALK can be a key resource for clergy and congregations. Please consider reaching out to those federal chaplains in your area and consider partnering in this critical area of ministry.
CAPT John Swanson
USCG PACAREA Chaplain (PAC-00A)