Tragedy pushes Bookwalter to host 'Suicide Prevention Day'

Tragedy pushes Bookwalter to host 'Suicide Prevention Day'

Pat Newman, outreach chair at Bookwalter United Methodist Church, was so haunted by the death of a local teen, she organized "Suicide Prevention Day" on April 29.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Newman has attended a lot of funerals in her lifetime, she says, but the most painful funeral of all happened about six years ago.
“That one just gored me. It just never left me. I couldn’t get past it. I said, ‘I’ve got to do something. If I don’t do anything, I’m just as guilty as someone who looks at this and says it’s not a problem.’”
The risk of suicide is a “serious problem" in our communities, says Newman. Her deep concern as a retired schoolteacher and church outreach chair led her to organize “Suicide Prevention Day” at Bookwalter United Methodist Church in Knoxville on April 29.
The event, designed to raise suicide-prevention awareness and teach people to detect warning signs, will feature speakers including Clark Flatt, founder of the Jason Foundation.
“The day will offer guidance for parents, educators, youth leaders, or anyone who is willing to make a difference and save lives,” said Newman. “Suicide is preventable, but it will take all of us to stand in the gap.”
The educational event was originally planned for March 2020 but was canceled and delayed due to the COVID pandemic. Newman says she relied on the guidance of her friend, Candace Bannister, to help her plan the all-day workshop.
Bannister's son, Will, age 16, committed suicide on April 17, 2017, after alleged bullying incidents. Will was one of several Knoxville high school students who died by suicide in recent years.
Witnessing the pain experienced by students and family at Will’s funeral was excruciating, Newman said. “It was so intense. You’re so touched by somebody so young doing something so fatal, so final."
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Suicide is a major contributor to premature mortality as it ranks as the second leading cause of death for ages 10–34 and the fourth leading cause for ages 35–54.
A National Institutes of Health study showed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are more likely to report suicide-related thoughts, plans, and attempts within the past 12 months compared with heterosexual adults.
As a former schoolteacher, Newman says she’s witnessed the mental anguish that young people, especially those struggling with their sexual maturity and orientation, experience in their formative years. “To me, the church is responsible to care for these individuals and love them, irregardless of what label has been attached to them.”
The keynote speaker for Bookwalter’s “Suicide Prevention Day” on April 29 is Flatt, a father who lost his own son to suicide and subsequently founded the Jason Foundation. The foundation is “dedicated to the prevention of the ‘silent epidemic’ of youth suicide through educational and awareness programs that equip young people, educators/ youth workers, and parents with the tools and resources to help identify and assist at-risk youth,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

The event will be attended by Helen Ross McNabb Center staff. Knoxville Mayor Idya Kincannon is expected to attend.
The event is free and includes breakfast and lunch, beginning at 9 a.m. and concluding at 3 p.m. Register on the Bookwalter website. For more information, email Bookwalter is located at 4218 Central Avenue Pike, Knoxville, TN 37912. 

Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.