A Sign Of Hope
In these socially distant times, it may be hard to find someone to confide in, especially those who live alone.
That’s why Jon Becker, senior minister at Concord Presbyterian Church in Gulf Breeze, decided he would reach out not just to his congregation, but the community.
On the church’s marquee, by the side of U.S. 98, are the words “Nervous? Afraid? Just need to talk? Call my cell,” followed by Becker’s personal number.
“Some have just called to say thank you,” said Becker. “Some people just need someone to talk to. I’m mostly listening.”
Becker has received several calls since he put the marquee message up a month ago. All of them have been strangers.
One woman has made regular calls to Becker and now they’re on a first-name basis.
“She moved to this area from New England a year ago and has no one around,” Becker said. “We’ve talked about four times in the past month. I even saved her number in my phone.”
And as the world struggles through the pandemic, so has Becker. He’s been in quarantine for the past week in Connecticut after visiting his father who passed away Easter Sunday (not from COVID-19). Those occasional calls from strangers have been a saving grace for him.
“Nobody is more special or more worse off,” he said. “I lost my dad who had a wonderful life, but I know there’s people that can’t be with their loved ones. I’m reminding people about hope and they’ve been just as encouraging.”
The need for help isn’t just a community problem, but nationwide. According to a new report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, a mental health crisis is growing in the United States. Maintaining social contact — like a phone call — is one way to help people who are marginalized and isolated.
Dr. David Josephs, clinical director at Baptist Health Care’s Lakeview Center, says Becker’s outreach is “tremendously helpful” for those who don’t have family, or don’t want to overburden their family.
“We are communal people,” he said. “Not being able to be social can impact people. It would be unusual for any of us not to be out of sorts. It doesn’t mean we are unhealthy, but it does mean it’s uncomfortable.”
If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or sad, the most important thing you can do is take care of yourself, said Josephs. That can mean 30 minutes of exercise or simply taking a break and not squeezing in another Zoom meeting.
And when it comes to helping others, small gestures go a long way.
“When you go for a walk in the morning, smile at somebody,” said Josephs. “Listen — the biggest value of therapy is a person who hears you. (The pandemic) may help us reconnect with some of the things we aspire to be.”
In the past month, Becker said he believes he’s become a better pastor. He didn’t have any expectations when he put his number out on the sign, but he ended up learning an important lesson.
“I’ve learned how important it is to really listen,” he said. “You don’t always know what someone really wants or needs.”
Like many other ministers, Becker has been navigating the tech world to deliver his weekly sermons and meet with Bible study students. He even celebrated Holy Communion from his father’s hospital room using coffee and saltines.
“It was a very unusual sermon, but one I won’t forget,” he said.
Before quarantine, Becker and his wife cleaned out the toilet paper rolls from the church to prepare special care packages for those in need. The packages included toilet paper (with an extra roll to give to a neighbor), gloves, a mask and a devotional magazine. With the package was the message “When the roll is called up yonder,” a reference to an old hymn about eternal salvation — and a funny play on words.
Ultimately, Becker said he hopes to encourage others to expand their reach when it comes to good deeds.
“It’s about redefining what a neighbor is,” he said. “You’ll find you have a lot more neighbors than you thought.”
For more information about Lakeview Center, or to make an appointment call 469-3500