We saved a person last Thursday night at church and it’s not what you think. After the tears stopped rolling down their cheeks, they said, “thank you for saving me.”
This person was at church for a program and was feeling suicidal. They left the program in the church basement and sat upstairs alone in the church parlor, alone with thoughts of suicide.
That’s when a church member saw them and paused. She wondered what to do. Does she keep walking and pretend she doesn’t see the person crying? Does she nod in recognition of the pain, but keep moving away to give the person privacy?
Earlier that same week we hosted the author Rachael Keefe and learned about how churches can actively prevent suicide based on her new book The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention. Since this church member attended the training, she knew what to do and what not to do.
Pretending not to notice, to look the other way, to politely distance herself could have been fatal.
Instead, she sat down next to them and said, “I noticed you are having a hard time. Can you tell me about it?” From there the person opened up, was able to experience support and to de-escalate the suicidal feeling.
The church member came and got me. Sitting with them, we talked together through a safety plan. They were texting their mom, planned to go to see their therapist the next day, and let their roommate know. We sat together until they were ready to live again.
I stayed at church with them until they went home. By the time they left, the wave of suicidal urges had passed. Turns out, this experience was not uncommon for this person. What they had to learn was how to ride out the wave of suicidality. As a church, we knew how to help.
I thank God that they got saved that night at church. The church member who was the first responder said that she never would have stopped before she had the training. It was only because she knew the signs of someone in distress and she knew what to do that a life was saved.
Every church can be a Lifesaving Church. What would it take for your faith community to provide suicide prevention training for your leaders and members?
Keefe, Rachael. The Lifesaving Church: Faith Communities and Suicide Prevention (Chalice Press, 2018).