Toward a Stronger Community

 on April 11, 2024

Strengthening the Sense of Community in West Lincoln

In recent years, mental health awareness has become a critical issue globally and here at home in our local community many of our residents struggle with loneliness, addiction, and even mental illness. Recognizing the need for a compassionate and inclusive response, the community of St. Luke’s, Smithville, through our Mission Action Plan identified the need to become the soul of the community, not by expecting people to come to us, but rather, us going out to them.

Under the leadership of Stephen La Salle and Faith Bell, we developed a collaborative approach to working with other faith communities, community organizations, and the Township of West Lincoln. Calling this joint initiative, “Unified West Lincoln,” our collective goal is to foster a “safe, secure, and supportive” community within West Lincoln, regardless of faith, belief, culture, or identity.

At the same time, we have begun to take significant strides in raising awareness about mental health. As a parish community we have worked together to address and break down the stigmas and barriers associated with mental health disorders. Our sermons, regular workshops, and even community events have become platforms for discussing mental health openly, while encouraging parishioners to challenge their own biases and seek to create a community without fear or judgment. In doing so, we, as a church, aim to reduce the stigma associated with mental health challenges and be an example for other faith communities.

Lauren Clark instructed the eight-week Sanctuary Mental Health Program to the community each week at the church this past fall. Using videos and group discussions, the goal of the program has been to raise awareness and start conversations in the community regarding mental health. For St. Luke’s, Lauren is using this as a stepping stone towards a larger goal of offering mental health first aid courses in the spring of 2024. According to Lauren, “the more we can do to foster the discussion about mental health and reducing the stigma from it, will allow people to become more comfortable about sharing their own struggles with mental health.”

To help foster a stronger sense of community within West Lincoln, we have also begun offering regular programming for residents including exercise classes, social events, and other programming. These all have the same goal of bringing people together and allowing them to feel safe and secure in who they are and not for what they think others want them to be.

For Faith, Lauren, Stephen and the community of St. Luke’s this is just the beginning in a much larger plan for the parish to become a beacon of hope within the community. Through partnerships with community organizations, such as the Jeff McKillop Mental Health Foundation, we are laying the foundation for St. Luke’s to continue and expand the work that we are doing in the community to help make it a safe, secure, and supportive place for all to be a part of.

In Smithville the results of our efforts are being noticed. Over the last year, St. Luke’s has seen a resurgence in attendance, with both new and familiar faces visiting the church each week. On social media, our presence continues to grow, as well. When people are asked what they like most about the church, the most common answer given is “the strong sense of community.” For Smithville and the surrounding area of West Lincoln, the growing sense of community we are helping foster will not only strengthen the community, but most importantly allow each other to embrace vulnerability. Ultimately this will foster an environment where people are able to walk alongside others in their life journey, no matter where they are in the moment.

St. Luke’s, Smithville has embarked on a transformative journey to address the pressing issue of mental wellness within the local community of West Lincoln. The hope is to create and foster a safe, secure, and supportive environment for all residents, irrespective of their belief, culture or identity. St. Luke’s aims to continue to expand their network by teaming up with local organizations and collaborators.

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