Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor
With the publication of this edition of Highlights, we are within the month in which we will vote on officially becoming a WISE Congregation – Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged with mental illness, substance abuse, and brain disorders. It has been quite a process.
It began at the General Synod in Baltimore in the Summer of 2017. Information about WISE was shared there and I brought that to what was still called Consistory then. Consistory was supportive of beginning the work and endorsed a plan to move forward with the formation of a WISE Leadership Team. We were able to pull together a Team made up of various mental health professionals, mental health consumers, and advocates. It has been a very strong Team indeed – a uniquely expert group, that has overseen our course of preparation. To further inform our efforts, Michael and I attended a national WISE Conference in Andover, Massachusetts in the Fall and were able to bring back resources and ideas as well as to begin networking with others interested and involved in the WISE movement.
Our congregational preparation process has included worship services dedicated to WISE-related topics, monthly whole-church conversations about WISE that have covered a broad swath of territory and featured powerful personal testimonies to help us think through what WISE might mean for us, periodic presentations in worship services, intensive Men-tal Health First Aid training led by the Carroll County Health Department (sixteen people were certified!), and vari-ous other activities, both formal and in-formal. Those certified in MHFA join the large group that was trained last year in the administration of Narcan/Naloxone to counteract opioid overdose. And St. Paul’s long tradition of generous support for Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon groups is utterly in line with WISE.
Along the way, we have had a few people train with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and we have both begun hosting a NAMI family support group and are preparing this month to start a peer support group to be led by Michael and Jamie. They and I will now be joining the NAMI Carroll County Board which will have St. Paul’s as its ongoing meet-ing place. Relatedly, I have started serving on the board of the national United Church of Christ Mental Health Network. In all, I think the entire preparation and study process has been a thorough and solid start. And it has been a source of great joy that so many people have so actively and meaningfully participated in some or many or all aspects.
In our April WISE Congregation Conversation we talked together about a draft covenant the final version of which will serve as the centerpiece of our upcoming vote. We will come back together to review a revised version of that draft in the Congregational Conversation we will have from 9:30am until 10:30am in Fellowship Hall on Sunday, May 12. All are invited and encouraged to participate. (That revised draft is published on page 3 of this edition of Highlights, and I hope you will read it and think about it.) We will make final edits as needed.
And on Sunday, May 19, in a Special Congregational Meeting, we will vote on whether to officially declare ourselves to be a WISE Congregation. Pending the vote, we will be, I think, the twelfth UCC congregation in the country to become WISE. And the UCC leads all other denominations in this work, with many just starting to think about what they might do and looking to the UCC WISE model for guidance. WISE is a growing movement, and if we affirm our WISE Covenant, we will be an early leader in the wider church and specifically in our broadly defined region. (For perspective, the nearest current WISE Congregations are in Rochester, New York and Hendersonville, North Carolina.)
As I have talked about this work in our community, and as the word has gotten around – and it surely has, it has been truly humbling to hear how many people and local agencies support us in all of this, and how many people are longing for a church to take the lead around issues related to mental illness, substance abuse, and brain disorders. On May 23, I have been asked to be the key-note speaker at a NAMI Baltimore conference for inter-faith leaders at Sheppard Pratt to talk about how religious organizations can prepare to intentionally address related issues.
Becoming WISE continues and extends St. Paul’s extravagant welcome and it is a way for us to continue faithfully following Jesus’ example as best we can, tending to and loving people who are too easily and often marginalized in society, knowing full well that in many ways we are them and they are us. WISE will make us a stronger congregation, better able to be supportive of each other, and better equipped to help others in our community.
Thank you to all who have been part of this very important work! And thank you to all who will stay involved or will become involved as we live into the awesome possibilities of this ministry. Indeed the vote is but the next step on what promises to be a long and wonderful and meaningful journey together.