Eighth annual Blue Christmas evening

The Helena United Methodist Church Blue Christmas service is held to let anyone who is hurting know that there are those willing to take time to care and listen. Music was provided by Music Director Deb Scott. During the service each person lit a candle, symbolically taking the light of Christ home with them. (Contributed)

By LAURA BROOKHART / Community Columnist

The Helena United Methodist Church offered their Blue Christmas evening for the eighth year on Dec. 1, though many in our town beyond their congregation may not have been aware of it.

Roxanne Edsall is the person who first presented the idea. It was during a time of personal struggle for her — her first Christmas after her mother passed away.

“We all have family traditions created through the years and when a person is missing from that tradition, it is not a happy time. Sometimes people struggle with guilt, as well, and it should be OK to feel guilt,” she said.

Helping people identify with what they are struggling with and find some hope is the goal of those who are part of Helena’s Suicide Task Force called Hands Across Helena.

It is made up of city officials, church leaders and concerned people.

“In 2010, there were around 25 suicides in Helena, and we had averaged 20 per year over the past five years,” said Detective Sgt. Chris Rollan. “In 2011, there were four.”

Police officers and a pastor from each Helena church attended a 40-hour course in Law Enforcement Chaplain Training to develop their counseling skills and for the non-law enforcement participants to be trained on what to expect at the scene.

The two designated personnel on 24-hour call are Officer Kenneth Plemmons and HCPC senior pastor, Brother Tommy Johnson.

Roxanne Edsall said, “Our approach is to validate the feelings people may be having, whether it is grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, financial problems and to encourage them not to isolate themselves.

“So often we don’t know others are hurting; how do you know? You have to put yourself out there,” she added.

“If we are going to do the job we truly want to do, we have to get the message out community wide, which we have tried to do with advertising and posters,” she said. “This recent suicide tells me we haven’t been able to reach out within our community enough.”

Depression is a disease, not a personality fault, and when people get depressed, they generally don’t want to talk about it with strangers or family. Men are less willing to talk than women. Edsall said that in this day and time we are expected to grieve faster but grief is not time-sensitive — it is not something to check off your to-do list.

Helena residents should know that, no matter the season, there is help available through our local police department and our churches.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by email at labro16@yahoo.com.