Suicide is always a tragedy. In recent months a number of what appear to be suicides have been reported by the media as having taken place in Bridgend, South Wales, among teenagers and young adults.
Since I am a minister in Bridgend, ET has asked me to write something on the situation. I wish to stress that I am writing only in response to this request. Furthermore, none of the deceased or their families are personally known to me.
In roughly an eighteen-month period, seventeen young people, aged between fifteen and twenty-nine, have apparently taken their own lives in the Bridgend area. I say ‘apparently’ because, although there are grounds for believing that they did not die of natural causes, the police are not treating the deaths as suspicious.
Bridgend is the name both of a town and of a county borough. Some of the deaths were of people in the town and some of people outside the town but in the county borough. The media reporting has not always drawn this distinction.
There has been a lot of unhelpful and insensitive speculation as to whether there are links between these apparent suicides. The proper forum for getting at the facts will be the coroner’s inquests, not the newspapers. The Coroner is appointed to hold inquests into certain types of death and we should judge nothing before the time.
In these tragic cases the proper time to form an opinion as to what has happened – and whether any of the suicides are linked in any way – will be once the coroner has heard all the evidence, given his direction to the jury, and the jury has returned its verdict.
Bridgend is not a spiritual desert. It is well blessed with numerous gospel churches. Furthermore, there is good gospel unity amongst us, involving joint prayer meetings twice a year and joint gospel work. Most of the gospel churches have regular input to school assemblies, as well as to Religious Studies lessons.
Quite a number of these gospel churches are partners in Affinity. One of them has a worker, formerly a drug abuser, who is now a fine Christian man. He visits schools to speak on the subject of drugs.
There are also numerous gospel churches in the county borough, churches which seek to reach into their communities with the life-changing Christian good news.
Naturally, prayer has been offered by the churches for the families of those recently bereaved, as well as for the youth of the area generally. As commanded in Scripture, prayer is also regularly made for those in authority, including those who have responsibilities for mental health and social welfare in the region.
Prayer, however, is not something to be paraded and advertised publicly, so I hesitate to mention these things. It has been singularly unhelpful to receive phone calls and e-mails from well meaning but misguided folk from outside the area, who have wanted to conduct ‘prayer walks’ around the town and pray to bind ‘the spirit of suicide’. This has nothing to do with New Testament Christianity.
There is also a ‘street pastors’ initiative in the town. Set up by a local pastor under the auspices of The Ascension Trust, and endorsed by the police and other agencies, ‘street pastors’ are on the streets each Friday night (and, recently, each Saturday night) from 10.00pm to 4.00am.
Many of these ‘pastors’ are from gospel churches in the town and they are available to listen and to talk to the considerable number of young people pubbing and clubbing at night. There is also a cafe and ‘drop in’ in the town centre run by Christian volunteers from the town.
No doubt more could be done, but it is certainly not true that young people have nowhere to turn in their troubles. It should not be difficult for those who need help to find a sympathetic ear.
I have had no personal contact with any of the bereaved families. One teenager in our church knew one of the youngsters who died. It is possible that various Christian professionals are involved with these families but the nature of professional confidentiality is such that I would not know if this is the case.
Where Christians are directly involved with bereaved families in a personal capacity, one would hope that they will ‘weep with those who weep’. Job’s three friends did far more good when they simply sat in silence with him than when they gave their well meant, but ill advised, counsel.
One would also expect that any Christian professionals involved would display the likeness of Christ. One of the local gospel churches has been the venue for the coroner’s court for the last three months and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.
The good news
The Bridgend gospel churches are committed, in obedience to God, to show the love of Christ to all and proclaim the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. To those who are without hope or are contemplating suicide, the Christian message is what it was to the Philippian jailor in Acts 16.
As the jailor, fearing that his prisoners had fled, prepared to kill himself, Paul called out, ‘Do yourself no harm’. That is essentially a negative message, but is nonetheless the first necessary step.
Then, having discouraged folk from harming themselves and from taking the ultimate step of suicide, the gospel goes on to offer hope for the hopeless, help for the helpless, pardon for the guilty, and newness and fullness of life in Jesus Christ – ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory’.
Thank God for such a gospel in such a world as this! Let us make it widely known, not least among the disillusioned youth of our materialistic age.
Minister of Freeschool Court Evangelical Church, Bridgend