My Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper

by Karen Kulm, First Congregational United Church of Christ, Vancouver, WA

ucc mental health networkMental illness affects nearly 60 million Americans every year. One in four adults is affected at some point in their lifetime by a severe mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and schizophrenia. In fact, mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

People living with mental illness often feel isolated and alone. They need help, hope and a community that supports them and their family. Recovery is possible with medication and treatment. Faith and spirituality are essential elements of healing and recovery for many, yet many clergy and people of faith feel poorly equipped to provide appropriate support, education and assistance to persons living with mental illness.

OUR CULTURE OF GUNS

by Jeanine Elliott, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ, Beaverton, Oregon
Americans are awash in guns. Our history tells the story. The continent opened up before us as we surged across the land. Orderly communities and the law followed the surge. Guns, for good and bad, went with the frontier. Guns provided food; guns provided self-defense; guns gave people, primarily men, a sense of power and identity. The Western movie and the Western novel captured the stories of the frontier. Heroes and villains abound in these stories, and nearly all of them used guns.

The “Western” has almost disappeared from our entertainment library, replaced by war and urban crime movies, and more recently, stories that explore (or exploit) brutality, lawlessness, sadism, and other graphic violence. We have not yet reached the end of our curiosity about our human dark side.

Our faith has given us another story, though it seems hard to wrap it around the violence of much of our culture. In the story of Jesus and in the Easter story, we know the capacity of the human to cause suffering and pain, but we also know of the God-given human capacity for life and love.

As Americans, it seems unlikely we will give up our love of guns or the stories that glorify them. But the death toll is too high, and many of us do not feel safe. Far too many young men end up in prison. Far too many die at their own hand. The collateral damage (the death of bystanders) caused by guns continues. What to do, what to do…….

Afiya Apartments – A Ministry of Patience and Compassion

by Laurie Power, First Congregational UCC, Eugene
Published on June 27, 2011

A new 16-unit affordable housing facility, Afiya Apartments, was dedicated on June 10, 2011, in downtown Springfield, Oregon.  The housing complex helps adults with psychiatric disability live on their own.  Residents at the Afiya Apartments benefit from counseling, skills training, and medication monitoring on site.  First Congregational UCC of Eugene has faithfully supported this project for some time.  What a blessing to reach this milestone!

Years ago, the Church of the Brethren, a tiny church in Springfield that has served special needs adults and families with grace and dignity, launched a project to use its one acre site for housing for individuals with psychiatric disabilities.  The church helped found a small nonprofit, Brethren Community Services, and invited First Congregational UCC, Eugene, to join its Board of Directors.  Other Board members represent the Eugene Mennonite Church, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Springfield, ShelterCare, and the mental health profession.

The Board volunteers patiently worked to clarify a vision for the site and eventually hire a dedicated (and thrifty) architect and grant writer to secure the funds necessary to plan and construct the project.  As the project grew in scope and complexity, Brethren Community Services wisely turned over the grant application process to ShelterCare.  ShelterCare is a nonprofit based in Eugene that provides housing and support services to families who are homeless and adults who have a psychiatric disability or brain injury.  Their experience and successful track record in helping move people toward greater levels of independence and stability were key in securing the federal, state and local funds needed to build the housing facility.  What a joy (and relief) to complete the project on time and on budget and have it fully occupied by the end of May, 2011.

We know homelessness is extraordinarily disruptive, especially for people with disabilities.  We know about the enormous need for safe, decent, affordable housing for people in need.  What a privilege, then, for First congregational UCC to join with others in this ministry of patience and compassion.  “Afiya” is Swahili for wellness, a fitting name for this place of healing and stability.

Laurie Power has been a leader in social justice issues at her church for years.  She brought farm-to-table to her church along with Community Sustainable Agriculture (CSA).  She led the education effort to involve dozens of church members in buying “farm bucks” for shopping at the farmers market, as well subscribing to weekly boxes of fresh farm produce (CSA).  Laurie also led her church in the cooperative build of a Habitat for Humanity house, coordinating all phases of that endeavor. 

 As a Board member of Brethren Community Services, Laurie was instrumental in bringing the Afiya Apartments project to fruition.  Laurie is the recipient of the 2011 Justice & Witness Award, Central Pacific Conference UCC.