By Marla K. Laney*
Our United Methodist heritage is rooted in a deep and profound understanding of God’s grace. This incredible grace flows from God’s great love for us.
Because we want to find new ways to share God’s love, the leadership at Trinity United Methodist Church and at Columbus Avenue United Methodist Church (Firelands District) in Sandusky have been praying about the potential of joint ministry opportunities.
We believe God is leading us to collaborate on two new ministries: The Village, a multi-faceted ministry at Trinity UMC that supports young mothers; and a faith-based mental health support group that meets Wednesdays from 6:00-7:30pm at Columbus Avenue UMC.
Mental health is an essential part of the overall health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities. A person’s mental health determines how they: handle stress; manage emotions; relate to other people; make decisions; and perceive the world and their purpose in life.
Misunderstandings about mental health can lead to negative attitudes and stigmas. These can prevent people with mental illness from being accepted and supported. They also can make it harder for them, and their families, to get help and to lead productive lives in their communities.
Nearly every person sitting in the pews has been touched in some way by mental illness. According to the Surgeon General, one in every five Americans experiences a mental disorder in any given year; and 50% of all Americans have a mental disorder at some time in their lives. These illnesses of the brain affect all of us, regardless of age, gender, economic status or ethnicity.
Our faith community can be a caring congregation for persons living with a mental illness and for their family members. Each of us can help by understanding behavioral health and the many pathways to recovery that can make it possible for people to achieve their full potential.
The second joint ministry of our churches is The Village, which was created in response to efforts by the Erie County Health Department to deal with the high infant mortality rate in Erie County for minority babies. In fact, we have the highest rate in the State of Ohio.
The health department has identified co-sleeping – parents bringing babies to sleep with them in bed or on a couch – as a major problem. This sleeping arrangement can lead to parents rolling over on and accidentally smothering their child.
The Village ministry connects with new mothers on the maternity ward, presenting them with a baby box. The rectangular Village Box provides a safe sleeping space for newborns.
“At the bottom of each box there is a small mattress and a fitted sheet,” said Nicole Schmidt, who helped create The Village ministry. “These boxes will also be filled with information about The Village ministry center at Trinity UMC.”
We are creating a dedicated space upstairs at the church for The Village. We envision a place where mothers will come and find positive support for themselves and their children. Mothers will be able to participate in Gospel-centered parenting and educational classes, as well as find support for issues like postpartum depression.
We plan to partner with various programs in Erie County to enhance what is already available to families in our area. It is our hope that mothers would find “a village” within the walls of this church and that lives would be changed eternally.
Both churches are excited about these endeavors and hope to partner in other areas in the future. The response from parishioners and community members has been phenomenal and many people are donating their time, money, and energy to make these projects a success.
We believe this is an excellent example of churches working together for the betterment of their congregations and the community.
*Marla K. Laney is a certified peer specialist in mental health, and a member of Columbus Avenue United Methodist Church