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People Who Care: Lemons to Lemonade: Advent Lutheran partners with Monarch during the holidays

2--People-Who-CareIn the 1980s, Advent Lutheran Church, located in the University City area of Charlotte, was still a new congregation focused on church growth and becoming part of their community. At the time, they never expected to be faced with mental illness or to embrace those living with it.

That all changed one morning when a young man who lived close to the church walked into the empty sanctuary with an ax and began destroying everything he could reach. He chopped through thick hymnals and the church organ and destroyed much of the furniture in the worship area.

Luckily no one was hurt, but parishioners and the community were badly shaken and the man was taken to receive help. The incident left the church faced with some hard decisions. Should they- press charges, ignore the need of the young man or reach out and help?

The pastor at the time, Richard Little, took the lead in forgiveness, deciding not to press charges; and to the surprise of many, said the church needed to learn more about mental illness. So he reached out to the family of the young man, inviting them to be part of their church community and asked those in the congregation to begin a journey towards a better understanding of how mental illness affects those living with it and how they could help.

This incident is largely how the church’s outreach ministry became involved with Monarch, and began volunteering with the people Monarch supports in Charlotte by creating a Christmas gift exchange.

We looked at the incident and saw it as an opportunity to “make lemonade out of lemons,” explained Kay Griep, a member of Advent’s social ministry board.

Each year, Monarch Operations Director Melinda Pompey supplies the church with a list of names of people supported and Advent hangs them, along with a wish list, on the “Giving Tree” at the church.

Debra Efird, a member of the social ministry board, said during Christmas “everyone wants to help children, but there aren’t many people who will open their hearts and pocketbooks to the mentally ill.” This, in her opinion, is what makes Advent different.

Griep agreed. She said the ministry is unique because it reaches out to people that are often overlooked in society. “I enjoy going out and finding something for someone on the list. My husband and I go shopping together.”

Cheri Strickland, another member of the social ministry team, said the ministry also helps get everyone at the church involved, from children and teenagers to people who don’t even like to shop, like her husband. She explained this year he went to Kohl’s on Thanksgiving night because he had seen the exact gift the person he was buying for wanted. The line was terrible, but he waited and got the item.

This ministry has always been receptive to embracing the mental health community, explained Strickland, and this year, parishioners are excited to have collected gifts for 70 people Monarch supports.

The three women on the ministry team emphasized their commitment to supporting those in the mental health community, and Strickland said “rather than getting over it [the incident at the church] we wanted to try to understand it.”

That is something they have continued to do for more than 15 years.

Advent Lutheran Church is a Christian community of the ELCA Lutheran congregations located in the University City area of Charlotte, NC.   Led by Pastor Ward Misenheimer, Advent demonstrates the many ways to “Love God, Serve Neighbor”.

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