Dear Lutheran Suicide Prevention Ministry – The Need for Better Training

Your last e-newsletter e-mail was gladly received. It talked about reducing stigmatization of suicide– but that is not enough. I did not receive any education in seminary and neither have the pastors of my acquaintance.

I received my education in suicide from attending education offerings through my additional ministry as a fire chaplain. Last year I received education from the Federation of Fire Chaplains and the NYS Association of Fire Chaplains. I know this training was fire chaplain- oriented but it is all transferable to parish ministry.

This training was a year- long education on suicide, warning signs, before and after care of families dealing with suicides with the caveat that all suicides cannot be prevented but there are clues to look for to steer a person toward help and hopefully reduce the risk of a completed suicide.

I am also an advocate of having pastor become members of their community’s fire departments and receiving Community Emergency Response Team training so they can be helpful in communities that rely on volunteer fire departments and be able to know the skill set of these people even if they do not directly physically participate themselves. I want them to see these fire departments not as places to “recruit” for new members of their congregations but as a ministry in itself.

The church must do more than remove the stigma. It must work to equip pastors to be resources in case certain behaviors surface and be equipped for family and funeral preparation after such an event occurs in a family. The hurt lasts for a long time. I was ill prepared to care for a suicide in my previous call but better equipped now. In my lifetime I have had to deal in one way or another with 3 suicides and a pastor in this present synod committed suicide a few years back. The after care for the congregation was inadequate. The psychological impact was ignored.

I hope there is some plan in the works for better equipping pastors for this kind of care on their ministry. I am better prepared for this now— but I hope I never have the opportunity to use it. Please encourage others to seek this education– not just for their particular ministry but also for their own personal mental and spiritual well-being should they ever have to address this is in their ministry site.

Grace and Peace,
Rev. Dr. Flavia Skilbred
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Cordova, MD.

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