The pastor of St. Joseph Church wants those who suffer to feel support. “When we are hurting, physically, emotionally, mentally, there is isolation, which increases and compounds the pain and sickness,” Father Greg King told The Tidings.

To address this concern, Father King brought the Clergy Academy to his Hawthorne parish in 2014.

The Clergy Academy offers free instruction on effective ways to care for individuals coping with bullying, domestic violence and substance abuse, among other difficult situations. Oct. 17 marked the beginning of the program’s second year with an orientation and guest speakers. Courses are held about once a month in both English and Spanish and are taught by mental health clinicians.

“The idea is to build supportive communities of faith that enable the community to respond to each other — not as counselors, not as doctors, not as surgeons, but as people who give compassionate care,” said Father King.

Dr. Marvin Southard, director of the Mental Health Department of Los Angeles County, organized the program with Father King. Southard told the July 2015 graduating class, “You are not only setting an example for other parishes but also for diverse congregations in Los Angeles County.”

Father King says the partnership with the mental health department works because they both agree that faith is essential to healthy living. This shared principle, he says, has made for a “wonderful partnership.”

Father King references Dr. Southard’s example of a town in the Midwest whose residents enjoy extraordinarily long lives. After researching the cause of such longevity, Father King says, “They discovered that everyone knew each other and there was a sense of support, a sense of family, a sense of community. If someone was hurting, they all responded.”

The academy, says Father King, gives participants “the confidence to recognize the symptoms of sickness and the means of finding resources for authentic healing.”

When someone shares that their son is an alcoholic, many people don’t know how to respond. This class teaches ways to respond with compassion and by directing the person to helpful resources, he says.

This year’s class members were individually invited to attend the program. Father King wanted participants to already be part of a church group — such as a prayer group or charity ministry — so they could bring compassionate care to members of those groups once they had completed the course.

“In each group there should be two people that are in the thick of the class: they are spiritual, they have a theological understanding of health and they are commissioned as a minister,” Father King says.

Father King says that the most rampant problems he sees within his community are addictive behaviors and sexual abuse.

“And when a teenager is sexually abused there is a sense of being dirty. ‘You can’t love me’ — tremendous embarrassment comes in. Personally, I associate people cutting themselves and suicide with this sexual abuse.”

Suffering tells us there is a problem so that we look for a solution, Father King says. He encourages those who are suffering to turn to God. “We need to be one with Jesus in our suffering. Through suffering we are called to depend upon the Lord.”

Catalina Rivera graduated from the first Clergy Academy class in July. She was initially interested in the class because she had a friend who was a victim of domestic violence. After attending a few classes, she realized that the program could help in all areas of her life.

“I got a lot of information for myself and for my family,” she says. She also found the information helpful to her work as a receptionist at St. Joseph Church, since so many people come to her looking for help.

The program provides wonderful resources, but the most important thing, says Rivera, is that it teaches you to listen. “They want someone to listen to their problem. And we tell them that they are not alone.”

Rivera believes that the class can benefit everyone.

“I think everybody should be taking these classes no matter what kind of work you do. At one point in your life you are going to face something like this.”

She adds, “In this crazy climate that we live in, we have to be knowledgeable of all the resources around us that can help people who face difficult situations.”

For information about the academy, please call Adrienne Cedro Hament at (213) 738-4395 or email [email protected].