Taking Laurel Ridge Home

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BY CARTER GENTLE |

Laurel Ridge

Laurel Ridge

It occurs to me that the place where I most experience God is at Laurel Ridge. It’s the place that taught me how love works, and what it means to be a Moravian and a Christian. Surrounded by God’s holy mountain and my Laurel Ridge (LR) family, it seems that my faith is elevated and life’s responsibilities seem far away. At LR, “regular” life stays at the camp entrance. Here, I can feel God’s presence with every sense. Faith seems to be less foggy, but is intensely clear. But as camp ends, the euphoria of the experience fades away and the “mountain high” dims as you pick up life at the camp exit. We talk about what we’re going to do when we come down the mountain–but it’s hard. So how do I keep the flame of the Spirit burning in me when I get down the mountain?

For me, RYC inspires me to keep that feeling alive. In helping plan future camps and Provincial activities like the Children’s Lovefeast, I am able to reconnect with old and new Moravian friends. As this year’s RYC president, I can help insure that others have the wonderful experiences that I have had.

Trinity Moravian

My home congregation, Trinity, sustains me by the Wednesday night LOGOS program. Bible study, reading scripture at worship and singing in the choirs reminds me of Christ’s presence in my life. And of course, you can’t forget the potlucks–physical food is just as important as spiritual food!

My family is very important. They support me, love me, and encourage my gifts 24/7. They’ve taught me how to lean on God in good and bad times. And no kidding, the second you walk in the door, you know you’re in a Moravian home!

Moravian candles

These three areas remind me of my faith, even down the mountain. It’s all fine and dandy to keep that great feeling in your heart. But I’ve learned that my response to God’s love has to show in the way I serve God and God’s people. Service is important to my faith because it is the outward sign of my belief. I am a Boy Scout and serve with my Troop. I help feed the homeless at the Overflow Shelter, and I’m fortunate enough to help serve Meals on Wheels with my Mawmaw, just to name a few.

These things remind me of the mountain and I remain connected to Jesus when I’m not up there. It also reminds me that whatever we do, no matter how difficult, it is to be done in love. And when things are really hard, I retreat to my “inner mountain” and remind myself to let the light that I experience at Laurel Ridge shine in and through me.


Carter Gentle bio pic

Carter Gentle is a junior at North Davidson High School. He attends Trinity Moravian Church in Winston Salem, NC. He currently is serving as the Regional Youth Council (RYC) President. 

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Reflecting Christ Online: The Antidote to Poisonous Internet Trolling

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BY ANDREW DAVID COX |

Preview image - post about trolls

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been harassed online. If you were in a room of 100 people, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, 40 people would raise their hands.73 would raise their hands to say that they have witnessed someone be harassed online. Of 100 young adults (18-29 years of age), 65 would raise their hands to say they’ve experienced online harassment.

Reading these numbers may evoke empathy in you, but not as much if you were actually in a room and saw these people raise their hands.

How negative harassment affects different individuals varies quite a bit, but no amount of harassment is acceptable. The majority of it occurs on social media along with less hurtful disrespect and blatant rudeness. This behavior, both the kind that rises to the level of harassment, and the kind that is just petty ugliness, is often referred to in 21st century colloquial language as “trolling.” It can cause a range of feelings from annoyance to fearing for one’s life, as Bloomberg Businessweek shows in its story involving a Reddit employee who tried to shut down fat-shaming trolls.2

“Trolls” are people who have no interest in having a rational, respectful, and meaningful discussion online. It’s less about “winning” a discussion, and more about getting a reaction out of someone by repeatedly hammering them with negative comments and content. As Pam Ramsden notes in her opinion piece for Newsweek: trolls desire attention and an audience.3 They’re somewhat different from cyberbullies. Rather than selectively choosing their target, they go after whoever reacts and gives them the most “fun.”

There are multiple ways to handle trolls, perhaps the easiest is blocking them. Most or all social media platforms have some setting by which you can completely revoke someone’s access to your profile. This method is an effective solution for the individual, but has no impact on the prevailing culture. If you block a troll, they’ll just find someone else to harass.

We can’t blame social media or the Internet for our predisposition to be imperfect people. Fortunately, we are blessed to have grace and forgiveness on our side.

Social media icons

I am not suggesting you refrain from blocking those who harass you. But blocking is the easy short-term solution. The long-term solution is challenging. We as Christians are called to reflect Christ in all aspects of our lives. This includes social media and the Internet. Christians, myself included, seem to frequently fall short when it comes to reflecting faith, love, and hope on an individual level online.

Christ’s light is not limited by any given communication method. It is we as fallible human beings who are susceptible to indulging in the faults of a given communication method. We can’t blame social media or the Internet for our predisposition to be imperfect people. Fortunately, we are blessed to have grace and forgiveness on our side. Making a conscious and pointed effort every day to spread Christ’s love online is perhaps one of the best ways to fight the proliferation of online harassment.* This will also keep ourselves from emulating troll-like behavior.

I asked the Rt. Rev. Sam Gray for his insight on reflecting Christ on social media. I remembered him sharing on Facebook about a test of sorts to determine if something should or shouldn’t be posted.

Sam shared, “It is always good to try to apply the ‘Philippians 4:8 test’ before posting something or replying to a post online. That’s the verse that says:

‘Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, post these things.’

OK, it actually it says, ‘think about these things,’ not ‘post these things!’ But I think the rule can apply to things that we post (and, hopefully, think about!).”

Sam’s Philippians 4:8 test, builds a criteria that content should meet before sharing, posting, or the like. He breaks it down by what he calls the six “test words” of the verse.

  • Is it true?
    • Is the source verifiable as trusted? Are the facts proven to hold up?
  • Is it honorable?
    • Sam shares that while this means our behavior should reflect depth and substance, that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with posts like cute animal videos
  • Is it just?
    • This means avoiding picking sides
  • Is it pure?
    • Is your point untainted by your personal prejudices or biases?
  • Is it pleasing?
    • Sam notes that the original Greek word for “pleasing” is more similar in meaning to “loving affection”
  • Is it commendable?
    • After meeting the first five criteria, does it still avoid harshness?

Man sitting at computer

Before I conclude, I want to add another layer to to this: specifically being mindful of the faults of online communication and the best ways to combat them. These are ideas to be considered prior to Sam’s Philippians 4:8 test. Implementing these ideas and Sam’s test can help us make progress in reducing online trolling culture.

Wait before responding to a comment or a newsworthy item. Don’t let the heat of the moment get the best of you.

See a comment or a news story and immediately feel affronted or angered? Wait. You can go ahead and write your reply or reaction. But do not hit that “post” button. Go get a coffee, go for a run, walk the dog, or watch some TV. Then come back to your phone or computer. Your mind will likely be clearer and you’ll be able to better spot the words that wouldn’t pass the Philippians 4:8 test.

Imagine the person you are talking about or responding to as physically in front of you.

One of the faults of social media and other online communication forms is that you can’t see someone else’s body language or make eye contact with them. Being free of this is known as the “online disinhibition effect.” Newsweek’s Pam Ramsden explains that other people’s gazes are known to “inhibit negative behavior.”3

“Eye contact increases self-awareness, empathy and the awareness of other people’s reactions to what is being discussed.” This is the same reason why museums have security officers and don’t rely solely on cameras.

Take time to deliberately do good for others online, and flood those who have been trolled with good vibes and encouragement.

Inspire in others good deeds and amicable behavior by setting an example with your online presence. Serve and surprise others with acts of kindness. However, keep in mind Matthew 6, in which Jesus cautions against doing good deeds for show or to rack up kudos.4

What are some ways to do this? Some ideas:

  • Make a dedicated post to one of your best friends on their birthday
  • Write positive and encouraging words to a public figure that you know has been heavily trolled, as they receive some of the worst trolling
    • Do this even if you don’t always agree with the person
  • When a friend shares uplifting or sad news, write a personalized comment that expresses how much you care and do it consistently
  • Share a link to a nonprofit you are passionate about and ask others to consider giving to them
  • Simply post a status asking your digital community what you can help them with
    • Amy Jo Martin did this and experienced some uplifting results, as acts of kindness can boost serotonin levels5
  • When you see someone acting like a troll, approach them about it in person, and let them know, kindly, that their behavior is hurtful and/or unhelpful
    • If that’s not possible, try sending them a polite private message… however, only do this if they have a clear identity (don’t try to reach out to someone who is hiding behind anonymity)
    • Be patient and forgiving of those who exhibit troll-like behavior, as it can be an indicator of certain psychological conditions, Australian Broadcasting Corporation notes6
  • In general: spread lots of positive vibes and encouragement to everyone
  • Reward positive behavior and ignore trolls (except to reach out to them personally)

The Internet and social media can be a black hole into a realm of ugliness and hatred. But they can also be the single most powerful influencers for social change, positivity, and kindness. Our digital lives, while intangible, are just a real part of our lives as anything else. We are called to live in faith, love, and hope, and to be a safe and encouraging community on the Internet. Let’s do better by that.

*If any online harassment you witness or experience seriously worries you, please contact your local law enforcement and report the offender to the site on which the harassment occurred. 


Sources:

1Duggan, Maeve. “Online Harassment.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center, 22 Oct. 2014.

2Stein, Joel. “It’s Like Reddit, Without the Trolls.” Bloomberg Buissnessweek, Bloomberg, 7 Dec. 2016.

3Ramsden, Pam. “Here’s How the Internet Generates Its Trolls.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 5 Mar. 2017.

4Matthew 6 – – Bible Gateway. Bible Gateway.

5Martin, Amy Jo. “I Set aside 30 Mins to Spread Some Serotonin Manually, Here’s What I Did:” Be Yourself, Be Yourself, 25 Apr. 2016.

6March , Evita. “Trolls Understand What Hurts People but They Simply Don’t Care.” ABC News, ABC News, 12 July 2017.


Questions? Comments? Or need assistance with your church’s
communications and social media efforts? Contact Andrew David Cox at ACox@MCSP.org or call (336) 722-8126 Ext. 404

Andrew portrait

Andrew David Cox is the Communications Project Manager for the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). Andrew is a driven creative person with established experience and skill in a variety of fields. A storyteller, his main interest is creating visually and emotionally interesting creative content for the Internet.


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The Invisible Congregant: the Church’s Relationship with Mental Illness

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BY DEWEY MULLIS |

A friend once shared with me, “when someone came home from having knee surgery, half of the church brought food and sent cards. When my husband came home from the hospital after a suicide attempt, our fridge stayed its usual empty.”

Mental health and illness have always been a one of society’s greatest curiosities and infatuations. With popular films and show such as Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, and Criminal Minds, or infamous killers the likes of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, one can barely escape the enchantment of psychological drama.

Spoiler alert; mental illness is not as exciting as it looks on the big screen.

Empty pews

The church’s history with mental illness is rocky at best. In her book, Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Health, Dr. Heather Vacek, associate professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, explores the successes and failures of addressing mental illness from colonial times through modern means of today.

At the core of the church’s mishandling of mental illness is the belief in a relationship with sin. Great sin must be the event preceding complex psychological or demonic infestation. Biblical passages offer this same terminology and etiology. In Matthew 9, Jesus rids a man of physical paralysis by proclaiming the forgiveness of his sins, and similarly whilst casting out demons.

But while popular verses like Philippians 4:13 bring many of us strength and peace, do they also protect us from having to interact with the complex and often taboo nature of mental illness?

Exhibit A: While completing an internship in an adult and adolescent psychiatric hospital, I took on a patient who will go by the pseudonym Dillon. Dillion is a male in his mid-20s and struggles with intellectual disabilities, schizoaffective disorder, substance abuse, homelessness, and incarceration – a mental and social Molotov cocktail. Born to parents who also struggle with addiction and instability, Dillon had few constants in his life.

His one crutch – attending church every Sunday.

When it was time to seek intensive care, only a faith-based program would suffice. Dillon traveled to an unfamiliar area to seek the support and structure needed to survive.

A local pastor who ran a half-way home took Dillon in. Thinking this would be where is problems would end, Dillon soon faced the harsh realities of stigma in the church.

After a mild increase in psychotic symptoms, Dillon appeared on the psychiatric unit, and after some adjustments to his medication, it was soon time to leave. I called the pastor to tell him he could pick Dillon up, but was informed that he was no longer welcomed.

“Why?”, I asked. With too much ease, the pastor told me Dillon had been relying on prescribed medication for his illnesses, which went against the church-based program’s philosophy.

Dillon’s one last chance, the one place where he always felt at home, had turned their back on him.

After pleading with the pastor to reconsider – even diving deep into Matthew 25’s call to shelter the homeless – Dillon and I were left to face the reality that the church just made him homeless yet again.

Dillon’s case may be extreme in diagnosis and experience, but allow me to return to the opening paragraph. Why does the church struggle with even the most common materializations of mental illness: depression, bipolar disorder, self-harm and suicide?

Much of what the church does – or doesn’t do – is in response to its leadership.

A 2016 study conducted by LifeWay Research and published in ChristianityToday revealed the horror and reality that only seven percent of church pastors discuss mental health with their congregations “once a month” or “several times a month.”1 Meanwhile, 92 percent of pastors reported talking about mental health in sermons or church functions “once a year, rarely, or never.”

It is imperative that pastors speak openly about mental health – their own trials or in general. Fear of speaking on tough or taboo topics in church is profoundly counter to the church’s objective of being a safe and welcoming place for peace-seekers and those in need of care.

Famous mega-church pastor and author, Rick Warren, was compelled to speak to his massive congregation and followers around the world in the aftermath of his son’s suicide.

Warren said to his congregation, “There is no shame in diabetes, there is no shame in high blood pressure, but why is it that if our brains stop working, there is supposed to be shame in that?”2

So how do churches tackle the topic of mental illness?

It starts with the acknowledgement that depression, suicide, addiction, and the like are common realities. While they differ from other ailments in their physical location, the experience is as painful and inconvenient as a stroke, heart attack, fall, or hip replacement.

Once we see psychological ailment in the same light as physical ailment, only then can we grow. This happens through large and small group conversations, and allowing those who struggle to struggle openly.

It is as simple as opening the church doors to regular Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA) meetings. This shows the congregation and the community that those with psychological angst can find respite within these walls.

It is as simple as having guest speakers who can inform and lead if it is out of the pastor’s wheelhouse.

It is as simple as not being afraid to visit or call. The common response is, “well, I don’t know what to say.”

From someone who has dealt with personal mental health trials for over a decade, I will let you in on the secret: just have a normal conversation as if they were experiencing any other ailment. “Get well soon” and “thinking of you” mean the same to the depressed congregant as it does to the one who broke a leg. We – and I say “we” because I’m in the box of Christians with mental illness – just want to feel supported.

Photo by Matthias Zomer

And finally, talk to the young people. Our younger generations are the most accepting, understanding, and inclusive among living generations3. They are exposed, either by experience or knowing someone, to the realities of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

The church’s youth hold the answers and the drive many churches seek, and it is time to tap into that as well.

The conclusion is simple in that, though mental health is complex, the response is contrarily simple. It boils down to basic actions of care, compassion, and understanding. It doesn’t – or shouldn’t – require a bold awakening.

We, the church, have the power and the resources to change stigma surrounding mental health and medication. We just have to use them.

As Ellen DeGeneres always reminds us, “Be kind to one another.”


1 Stetzer, Ed. “The Christian Struggle with Mental Illness.” The Exchange. May 23, 2016.
2 Kaleem, Jaweed. “Rick and Kay Warren Launch Saddleback Church Mental Health Ministry After Son’s Suicide.” The Huffington Post. March 28, 2014.
3 Scott, Ryan. “Get Ready for Generation Z.” Forbes Magazine. November 28, 2016


Questions? Comments? Contact Dewey Mullis at DeweyMullis@Gmail.com 

Portrait of Dewey Mullis

Dewey Mullis is a life-long Moravian with roots at Friedland Moravian Church. He studied criminal justice at Appalachian State University, and is currently a graduate student of clinical counseling and social work at Moravian Theological Seminary and Marywood University. Dewey has worked with adults and adolescents in correctional and psychiatric facilities, and currently researches re-entry and mental health services for jail populations.

Disaster Response Update from PEC President David Guthrie

Moravian seal

 

Disaster Response Update (Harvey & Irma)

For most recent news and info on how you can help, visit the Moravian.org website [LINK]

Friends,

We invite your continued prayers for the people in the Caribbean impacted by Hurricane Irma, those who are first-responders, and those who are preparing for potential effects in the next few days.

The island of Antigua, home of the Eastern West Indies Provincial offices, has been impacted.  We are awaiting an update from Cortroy Jarvis, President of the EWI Provincial Board.  The storm’s projected path includes other areas where Moravian brothers and sisters live: the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba and Florida.   Our church in Cuba is scheduled to begin its first Synod as a Mission Province on Tuesday (12th), with Sam Gray and representatives from the Armando Rusindo Mission Foundation traveling to attend.  Plans for the Synod are currently being evaluated.

Please continue to pray for everyone recovering from Hurricane Harvey and the extensive flooding in Texas.  Our friends in the Unity of the Brethren Church in Texas are responding to needs in the Houston area and among their members and congregations.  Pray especially for the Good Shepherd Moravian Church, in Port Arthur, TX, which is part of the UBC.  Its members are predominantly Moravians who formerly lived in Nicaragua. The pastor is Adolfo Ugarte.  As reported from TX: “The church had about 3 feet of water in it and they have lost their piano, organ, pews, carpeting and probably walls.  Many of the members also had water in their houses and are presently staying in shelters until other arrangements can be made for temporary housing.”

 The Board of World Mission will be sharing further news and developments including response plans as information is received from these places and more is known about what is needed.

“For all who are in danger, trouble, or anguish, we ask the presence and strength of your Spirit.”  (Intercessions in Time of Crisis)

For most recent news and info on how you can help, visit the Moravian.org website [LINK]

+  +  +

The  Rev David Guthrie, President
Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church in America, Southern Province
459 South Church Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101-5314
(336) 725-5811  (888)725-5811


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If You Do it, it Will Happen…

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BY AMY LINVILLE |

"Buck passing" graphic

In the church world, we categorize ourselves into boards, committees, subcommittees, and circles. We have fellowship groups, small groups, Sunday school classes, and age-based activity groups. We are teachers, pastors, lay members, bishops, provincial leaders, church staff, and so many things. These categorizations are useful and community-building in so many ways. They are meant help us interact with each other, delegate the work of the church, and serve others more effectively.

But what these can sometimes prevent is real action. We can get lost in a circular system of passing a task between committees. Or, we might be too afraid to step on toes or take away a task that we feel is traditionally the “turf” of someone else. We wait, talk, vote, evaluate, affirm, legislate—we do everything but act. It can be infuriating to watch and experience. All the while, a need or passion is left in limbo. The things we care about are not getting done because we are too afraid or reticent to act.

Do you know what this sounds like to me? We don’t care enough. If we truly cared, we would make it happen. I know we are all busy and have many obligations. We are all obligated to outside forces and live in a world where our actions impact others. BUT. But, we are also all (most who read this blog) adults, who make our own priorities. If you truly make something a priority and dedicate yourself to something, you will see it through to some kind of fruition. It might not be your original vision, but something will happen. Sometimes that’s better. If you make the good and bright future of your church a priority, something will happen! If you dedicate yourself to the renewal of your church that you love, not just improvement of the same things that make you comfortable, it will happen. I’m certain. Yell at me in 20 years if it doesn’t, but at least you will have done something that you care about in the mean time.

"Just do it" graphic

Joel Osteen is under a great deal of criticism lately. He did not immediately open the door of his megachurch and its network to stranded residents of Houston searching for a place to rest after hurricane Harvey displaced them. I don’t want to defend him, and he doesn’t need defending, but there is something more there. A friend of mine made me realize that there are thousands of members of that church. Any one of them could have started a grassroots movement to utilize the gifts of THEIR collective church. The church doesn’t belong to the pastor or staff, but all of the members and brave souls who call themselves members of the church community. The pastor and staff support, respond to, and are at least partially beholden to you, the rest of the church. They can be powerful leaders in the church, but they cannot do it all by themselves. We cannot expect them to do it all, and especially not to everyone’s ideals. We need to be leaders and do-ers, too!

Quote graphic

This is not a blame game. We already know that gets us nowhere. This is to remind all of us that we are excitingly responsible for what happens in our church. We have the power to enact change in your church; we can be the revolution! We don’t need to wait on our pastors or staff to do something, we can do it ourselves (they are too busy figuring out the fickle church printer, anyway).

photo of hand reaching out

Now, disclaimer, this is not a free pass to bypass all church protocols, committees, and leaders (paid or otherwise) to do whatever you want. Conferential systems are good (yay checks and balances) and these processes were set up for a reason. All I’m asking is that you don’t let these things stop you from taking ownership of and action for your church and your passions. If you care about something, then take constant action towards it. And if we do it, it will happen. And, hopefully, God will look down at us and our work, declaring “it is good.”


Questions? Comments? Contact Amy Linville at Amy@MoravianBCM.org or call (336) 722-8126 Ext. 404

Amy Linville

Amy Linville is the College Age Ministry Coordinator for the Moravian BCM. She spends her time outside of work taking classes to become a librarian, serving Rural Hall Moravian with her husband the Rev. Aaron Linville, and snuggling her puppy and two cats.