“No more silence, end gun violence!”

By Rick Wolcott*

Resolution 3428 in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2016 urges “congregations to advocate at the local and national level for laws that prevent or reduce gun violence.

The General Board of Church and Society Board of Directors stated at its March 16 meeting that, “Our hearts are broken at the number and frequency of mass shootings, and for the victims and families whose lives have been forever altered by these tragedies. We also know that in addition to mass shootings, gun violence in many forms impacts communities every day in the United States. Young people have been stepping forward leading a movement to end gun violence. We, as the General Board of Church and Society Board of Directors, encourage our churches and conferences to be supportive of this movement.”

A student makes her feelings known at the Cleveland rally with a sign that reads. "I want to read books not my friends' eulogies."
A student makes her feelings known at the Cleveland rally.

“Gun violence is one of the biggest issues that affects our daily life.  Nothing has been done for the past 19 years and we think that has to change,” said Andrea, an Olmsted Falls High School senior and a member of Strongsville United Methodist Church (North Coast District).

She and thousands of others gathered in Cleveland’s Public Square on Saturday, March 24 to participate in a March for Our Lives rally, one of more than 800 such rallies held across the country on that day.  The rallies took place only 10 days after thousands of high school students across the nation walked out of class on the one-month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

March for our Lives Rally in Cleveland, youth speaking at podium
March for our Lives Rally in Cleveland

“When will it be time to talk about gun control?” Kevin, a Shaker Heights junior, asked the crowd in Cleveland before reciting how much time has passed since shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University, Chardon High School, the Aurora movie theater, Sandy Hook Elementary, the Pulse night club, Las Vegas, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  “It has been time for far too long.  It is never too soon to talk about gun violence, only too late!”

“I’m tired of growing up in this world where we are just used to these shootings happening.  It’s the norm, and that’s just not right,” said Eric, a Normandy High School junior and member of Strongsville UMC.

Younstown marches and by-standers
March for Our Lives Rally in Youngstown

Carson Markley was one of the organizers of the Youngstown March for Our Lives rally.  The Youngstown State University student and member of Canfield United Methodist Church (Mahoning Valley District) said, “Throughout my Christian upbringing I have been taught to love my neighbor and take care of my fellow Christians but I can’t do that if we’re letting our neighbors, and our friends, and our kids die from gun violence.”

Mahoning Valley District Superintendent the Rev. Abby Auman wore her clergy robe in the march and carried a sign that read “Prayer Leads to Action.”

“Marching today felt like the beginning of Holy Week,” she said.  “While we often and rightly celebrate Palm Sunday as one when people proclaim Christ’s kingship, we should remember that it was also political street theater protesting oppression and brutality.  ‘Hosanna!’ does not mean, ‘praise the Lord!’ – that’s ‘hallelujah.’  ‘Hosanna’ means ‘God save us.’”

Auman marched with her daughter.

Rev. Abby Auman with her daughter and friend with sign "Prayer leads to action" at the Youngstown rally.
Rev. Abby Auman at the Youngstown rally.

“I took her in the hopes that this is the moment when we turn from ‘thoughts and prayers’ to ‘prayers and actions,’ so that I never have to make the choice of removing her life support as Jaelynn Willey’s parents did after last week’s shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland.”

“Kids are genuinely scared,” Andrea said at the Cleveland rally.  “I can’t remember a time at school when we haven’t practiced lockdown drills, or had a teacher say, ‘if it comes down to it, I would take a bullet for you.’  Not only should teachers not have to say that, but students shouldn’t have to think about it.  There is so much to learn in school and we genuinely want to focus on that.”

At the March for Our Lives rally in Akron that drew more than 1,000 people, Conference Council on Youth Ministries (CCYM) Secretary Anna, a member of Wadsworth United Methodist Church (Canal District), said she doesn’t think adults understand what it feels like to go to school every day and be afraid.

“Every time I hear a loud bang, I jump,” she said.  “When I walk in a room, I look for an alternate exit, survey the room, and look for items I can use in self-defense.  Adults do not understand what that feels like, they need to understand we do know what we are talking about and we are asking for safety in our schools.”

“It warms my heart to see teens standing up for something they strongly believe in,” Kaye Wolfinger East Ohio Conference director of Young People’s Ministries said at the Akron rally.  “The church needs to see that teens will stand up and take action for something they believe in.”

Pastor Kyle Gould of Oak Chapel United Methodist Church (Mid-Ohio District) attended the Ashland March for Our Lives rally.

“I was there because I know God to be a God of life and love,” he said.  “I’ve grown incredibly concerned over the senseless violence we’ve seen in our world, and, especially with a son of my own, I had to do something. Our youth should be supported in speaking out for their own safety.”

Rev. Jon Priebe prays to a large crowd at the Ashland rally.
Rev. Jon Priebe prays at the Ashland rally.

Rev. Tom Snyder, retired, also attended the rally that began at Ashland Christ United Methodist Church.

“I realize that there are strong feelings on all sides of the gun issue, but the choice to participate in an event like this, knowing the opposition it might engender, reminds me of a favorite quote by the 19th Century English novelist, Samuel Butler: ‘People are equally horrified by hearing the Christian faith doubted and seeing it practiced,’” he said.

Rev. Paige Boyer speaks to marchers
March for Our Lives rally in Avon Lake, one of the featured speakers was the Rev. Paige Boyer.

At the March for Our Lives rally in Avon Lake, one of the featured speakers was the Rev. Paige Boyer of Lake Shore UMC (North Coast District).

“‘No more of this,’ that is what Jesus said as he healed the Roman soldier’s ear that had been cut off by one of the disciples the night Jesus was arrested,” she told the hundreds who lined Route 83 outside of Avon Lake High School.  “Today, we are marching against gun violence and saying ‘no more of this!’”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

“Enough is enough!” Students Protest to Change Gun Control Laws

By Rick Wolcott*

“Alyssa Alhadeff, student, age14
Scott Beigel, teacher, age 35
Martin Duque Anguiano, student, age 14”

Outside Berea-Midpark High School, one by one the names were read of the 17 people killed during the Valentine’s Day shooting inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

massive group of students bow heads for moment of siklence
Moment of Silence Prior to Walk at Berea-Midpark HS

Berea-Midpark students joined thousands of others from schools across the country when they walked out of class on the one-month anniversary of the deadly shooting to protest the current gun control laws.

Berea-Midpark HS Walk for Change

Gathered near the memorial garden before their march around the school, Ben, a Berea-Midpark senior, told his fellow Titans, “take out your phones, take pictures, take videos, use the hash tag enough is enough, show people that we are no longer sitting back and letting things happen.”

“Today is all about the students and has been organized by them,” said Berea-Midpark High School Principal Vincenzo Ruggiero.  “Ben and the other students have been phenomenal in the planning of this march.  This is a student movement and our role has been to support it.”

“Nicholas Dworet, student, age 17
Aaron Feis, football coach, age 37
Jaime Guttenberg, student, age 14”

Berea-Midpark HS Students Walk for Change
Berea-Midpark HS Students Walk for Change

Clergy and laity from the United Methodist Church of Berea (North Coast District) stood in the school parking lot, watching the protest and praying for the students participating in it.

“The issue of gun violence that prompted today’s walkout is one that our community and our congregation is concerned with and I think it’s always important for the church to show up and be a witness for what we believe when there’s an issue that impacts our neighbors,” said UMC Berea Senior Pastor the Rev. Nathan Howe.

Rev. Nathan Howe, Don Moody, Rev. Carrie Antczak, and Claire Powell
Rev. Nathan Howe, Don Moody, Rev. Carrie Antczak, and Claire Powell

“As a former educator and school principal, I feel this is a really critical issue for our students to undertake because of their safety,” said Claire Powell, a lay member of UMC Berea.  “Hopefully they can be able to make a statement to the country and to the lawmakers and the NRA that there needs to be tighter gun control laws so that these incidents of gun violence will stop and children can feel safe when they go to school every day.”

“I think there is value in supporting the youth of our community and the causes that they believe in.  I think we need to stand with them and to pray for and with them,” said UMC Berea lay member Don Moody.

Ben was encouraged that members of the community were present for the walkout.

“It makes me happy that people have come out and are supporting what we are doing,” he said.

Student Protest at Youngstown Chaney HS
Student Protest at Youngstown Chaney HS

Outside Chaney High School in Youngstown, students also began their walkout by reading the names of those who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting.

“Chris Hixon, athletic director, age 49
Luke Hoyer, student, age 15
Cara Loughran, student, age 14”

Rev. Abby Auman, Mahoning Valley District superintendent, was in attendance offering prayer and showing her support.

“It is important to show the students that adults care about them and their safety, and that The United Methodist Church stands with them in calling for reform,” she said.  “I don’t know how Columbine wasn’t enough.  I don’t know how Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, or Chardon, or any of the other mass shootings enabled by AR-15s.  So if these high school students are ready and willing to stand up and say that gun ownership in America does not have to be an all or nothing proposition, and that their lives matter more than unlimited and unfettered gun ownership, I’m willing to stand with them and support them however I can.”

“Gina Montalto, student, age 14
Joaquin Oliver, student, age 17
Alaina Petty, student, age 14
Meadow Pollack, student, age 18”

“It was amazing to see so many students stand up for something,” said the Rev. Kelsey Orosan, pastor of Richard Brown Memorial and Trinity UMCs in Youngstown, and associate pastor of Boardman UMC.

Lucy Smith and Rev. Kelsey Orosan
Lucy Smith and Rev. Kelsey Orosan

She and Auman credit Richard Brown Memorial UMC members Penny Wells and Lucy Smith with organizing the Youngstown walkouts through their work with Sojourn to the Past, which takes students on a journey along the path of the Civil Rights Movement through the American South.

“The Sojourn students led the charge at all three Youngstown high schools with thoughtful and thought-provoking speeches that called students to take specific actions.” Orosan said.

In Youngstown and in Berea, students sent many messages on this day.  With their feet, they walked in protest of current gun laws.  With their hands, and the stroke of a pen, they registered to vote, giving them the power to make a difference at the polls.

“I’m encouraged by the students wanting to use their voice to share what’s on their hearts in the ways that they are peacefully protesting and making their concerns known to lawmakers,” said the Rev. Carrie Antczak, pastor of Christian formation and outreach at UMC Berea.  “I want to support that the students are doing what they can to change the world that they live in.”

“Helena Ramsay, student, age 17
Alex Schachter, student, age 14
Carmen Schentrup, student, age 16
Peter Wang, student, age 15”

 

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. 

Church Offers Help and Hope in Fight Against Opiate Addiction

By Rick Wolcott*

The Addiction Policy Forum reports that 144 people died in the United States every day in 2016 from a drug overdose.

“This is an epidemic unlike any other,” said Elaine Georgas, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Addictions Services (ADAS) Board of Lorain County.  “If more than 52,000 Americans died last year from any other illness or disease, communities would be outraged.  We have to change the conversation and understand what addiction is and how it impacts individuals, families, and communities.”

Elaine Georgas moderated the town hall meeting
Elaine Georgas moderated the town hall meeting

Georgas moderated a town hall meeting at Lorain Faith UMC (Firelands District) to address the opiate and heroin epidemic that has gripped Lorain County. The evening, co-sponsored by the ADAS Board, included four panelists and a resource fair that featured nine agencies.

Pastor Karen Hollingsworth welcomed community members to Lorain Faith UMC
Pastor Karen Hollingsworth welcomed community members to Lorain Faith UMC

“As a church in Lorain, we care very deeply about this city and we feel we can no longer be silent while families are being torn apart by heroin,” said Pastor Karen Hollingsworth.  “We believe that every life has value.  We believe that every life is worth saving and we are speaking up to let people know that they are not alone, that there is help and there is hope.”

“I came here tonight because of the hurt that is in our city because of drug addiction,” said Kyriece Brooks.  “I was very excited to see that this town hall meeting was taking place because you don’t normally see too many churches opening their doors to host a platform such as this.”

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans told the 82 people in attendance that the introduction of heroin caused opioid deaths in the county to jump from 20, in both 2010 and 2011, to 60 in 2012.

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Steven Evans
Lorain County Coroner Dr. Steven Evans

“For the first time, deaths were across the entire spectrum of inner city, suburban, farm country, and they were 50-50 between male and female.  Prior to that time people dying from drug overdoses were predominantly male,” he said.  “The youngest overdose death I’ve had was a 2 year-old who got ahold of a family member’s drugs.  The oldest was a 75 year-old man who was sharing a hit of heroin with his grandson.”

Lorain Police Narcotics Detective Chris Colon
Lorain Police Narcotics Detective Chris Colon

“This drug epidemic does not discriminate, it impacts everyone,” said Narcotic Units Detective Chris Colon of the Lorain police department.

“For every person who dies there are 130 people who are addicted and there are more than 800 people using drugs inappropriately,” said Evans.  “In Lorain County, 1 out of 6 people is using drugs inappropriately.”

Evans told the crowd that opiate addiction is not a new problem.  “Three thousand years before Christ people were using opium,” he said.

What is new is how people are getting the drug.

“Eighty percent of our children start their drug habits from old prescription drugs that are in the home medicine cabinet.  That makes us as parents our child’s first drug supplier,” he said.  “This is not a criminal problem.  This is a medical problem.”

He encouraged those in the crowd to clean out their medicine cabinets and take old and unused pills to any police or fire department, which will accept them with no questions asked.

All of the panelists highlighted the partnerships that exist in Lorain County with police departments, fire departments, EMS and politicians working together to end the opiate epidemic that has placed the county in the national spotlight.

In 2014 Senator Gayle Manning (R) of Ohio Senate District 13 helped pass legislation that made Lorain County a case study for the Deaths Avoided With Narcan (DAWN) program, which enabled emergency personnel to administer the FDA-approved nasal spray Narcan to those suffering from a drug overdose.

Evans reported that police officers in the county have saved more than 300 people by administering Narcan.  Because of the program’s success, the State of Ohio made it possible for all police officers to carry the life-saving drug, and departments from across the country and around the world have asked that Lorain’s policies and procedures for the program be shared with them.

Thirteen people were trained on the administration of Narcan during the resource fair at Lorain Faith UMC.

“The DAWN program stabilized the death rate in Lorain County from drug overdose deaths, keeping deaths in the 60s in 2014 and 2015,” Evans said.  “It started a paradigm shift.  Police realized the benefit of saving lives and people were less hesitant to call in drug activity because they knew that police may be able to revive someone who was overdosing.”

But the introduction of fentanyl into the county caused drug overdose deaths to double in 2016 and Evans says that, “2017 is on pace to have more overdose deaths than last year.”

He explained that fentanyl is 50- to 100-times more powerful than morphine and heroin, and because it is a synthetic opium it that can be manufactured in a home lab without needing the opium plant.

“Users don’t know that dealers are mixing fentanyl into the heroin that they buy,” Evans said.  “So they take the same dose of heroin that they took before but because of the fentanyl that is in it the effect is much greater and the body can’t take it.”

Kim Mason addresses the crowd
Kim Mason addresses the crowd

Kim Mason has been with Lifecare Ambulance Services since 2005.  “When I started we hardly ever received calls for an overdose but in the past three years we have been overwhelmed by them.”

“We’ve lost the war on drugs,” Evans said.  “We need to change our approach and start funding prevention and treatment programs because that is the only way we are going to get out of this.”

One such agency in Lorain County is The LCADA Way, which cares for individuals and families struggling with drug and alcohol addiction by focusing on Leadership, Compassion, Awareness, Dedication, and Advocacy.

CEO Thomas Stuber said, “Drugs are more powerful and more addictive than any I can remember in my 37 years of trying to work myself out of a job in this field.  In my first year as CEO here in 1999 we had four people seek help for opiate addiction. Now it’s four people per day.”

Charlene Dellipoala is part of the team at the Lorain County Community College CARE (Caring Advocates for Recovery Education) Center, a recovery/addiction center that works with students, faculty, and staff who have addiction issues.

“When I started out I was working with students who had issues with alcohol or marijuana but now I see so many who are addicted to harder drugs,” she said.  “It breaks your heart when you think of young people who are just starting out on college careers having something like that impact them.”

“Addiction is a scary problem because it doesn’t matter what race you are, what class you are, or what gender you are,” Mason said. “It impacts not only the addict but also that person’s family, friends, and co-workers.”

“After the meeting I spoke to a man in fellowship hall who said, ‘When you help me, you help the community.’” Hollingsworth said.  “His words have stayed on my heart.  We often think that if we only help one person we are not making much of a difference.  His statement sheds a whole new light on the difference helping one person can make and how it ripples into the community.”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.