Faith community responds with prayer

Published 10:45 am Saturday, October 24, 2009

FRANKLIN—Many in the community have likened the closure of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill to the death of a family member. The community’s grieving process could be similar.

“The emotions that we all feel are like a death in the family–shock, grief and mourning,” said Jarvis Howell, a site supervisor at the Western Tidewater Community Service Board’s Franklin Mental Health Center. “This death is going to trickle down and affect all of us.”

The Western Tidewater Community Services Board is a publicly funded system of services for mental health, intellectual disability and substance abuse. It serves residents in the cities of Franklin and Suffolk and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

Howell isn’t the only one concerned about the effect of the mill’s closure on the region’s citizens. A group of Franklin clergy gathered at Franklin Baptist Church on Friday to discuss what their response should be to the devastating news.

“I think that we can all pretty safely say that this is a very close-knit community, both Franklin and the surrounding areas,” said Rev. Ed Pickup of Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

The group will hold a community service Thursday at 7 p.m. at Barrett’s Landing, weather permitting. In the case of inclement weather, the event will be held at Franklin Baptist Church.

They chose Barrett’s Landing for the service because it lies in the shadow of the paper mill.

“We have been through a whole lot together in the past and we want to invite people to come together again for mutual love and support during this challenging time and to offer one another hope for our future,” Pickup said.

True Word Christian Church, located just down the street from the mill in the Airway Shopping Center, is also looking to help soon-to-be jobless mill workers cope. Starting Monday, the church will offer free coffee and refreshments to mill employees and their families from 7 a.m. until noon on weekdays.

“It’s just one way we’re going to step up,” said Chuck Worth, the church’s senior pastor. Although only two of his church’s members are affected by the closure, it doesn’t affect the church’s response, according to Worth.

“This is going to be a very stressful time for a lot of folks,” he said.

Worth said he is working to have pastors from different churches around the community come in and talk to mill employees.

“It’s not about our church,” he said. “It’s getting people the help they need.”

True Word is also planning an interdenominational prayer service in their parking lot Sunday at 2 p.m. The entire community is invited, Worth said.

Howell said that the WTCSB was setting up its crisis stabilization efforts.

“There’s not much we can do about finding jobs,” Howell said. But the staff can “listen, that’s one of the main things.”

Howell pointed out that some people may not immediately experience depression, but it could set in later.

“We may not experience the grief and depression until six months or maybe even a year later,” he said. “We’re preparing for the long haul.”

While he doesn’t want to anticipate a spike in suicides, Howell said that suicide is an extension of severe depression and is often a result of financial turmoil.

Howell said the Franklin mental health center isn’t anticipating an increase in staffing, but they will have counselors available to talk with anyone who needs to talk about their problems.

The mental health center’s hotline is manned 24 hours a day, and can be reached at (757) 562-2208.

Worth said it’s important people don’t lose hope, despite the challenges the community faces.

“One of two things can happen — despair can take over and the town can collapse, or we can instill hope in the people and the town can survive. We choose hope,” Worth said.