I was baptized, with my parents and two younger siblings, at Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church in Rupert, Idaho, (population 3000? at the time). Trinity Memorial is now St. Matthews and is still one of those picture-perfect, small town Episcopal Churches of old, complete with a shake roof. I was fourteen years old when I joined the community of Christ.
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? People I will, with God’s help. Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? People I will, with God’s help.
I remember obligingly repeating what I was instructed to say, but this 14-year-old wasn’t a real deep thinker at the time. I loved the building and I loved the people who attended there, but the words were many and confusing. In retrospect, the highlight of the day for me was opening the neat gifts my god parents brought. Thirty-four years later, the experience was much more meaningful when I renewed those vows after a conversion experience.
Mine was a later life “conversion”, (realization?) and following a life-threatening illness I was literally “born anew”, as Hatchet discusses on page 251 in Commentary on the American Prayer Book. I made my Cursillo and studied to become a worship leader. I continued to enjoy my life with my wife of 35 years and my three beautiful daughters and, along the way, donned a Magistrate Judge’s robe.
With that judge’s robe, I am publically challenged on a daily basis to “strive for justice and to respect the dignity of every human being” This is especially easier said than done when dealing with the mentally ill.
Several years ago, I was involved in founding a misdemeanor mental health court in our home county. This is a sentencing option for the mentally ill involved “minor” crimes that may include substance abuse, medical problems, unemployment, a housing problem or family disputes. Often this is the person who has gone into the library to get warm and has fallen asleep. These individuals attract attention because of their disheveled appearance and unpleasant smell. In Idaho, the misdemeanor mental health court is also called a problem-solving court. In other jurisdictions these courts are called “therapeutic courts” and yet others are called “accountability courts.” With this model, a treatment plan is formed and the defendant appears in court on a weekly basis, usually with a Psychosocial Rehab Worker. Achievements are lavishly praised and relapses or other deviations from the plan are treated with varying degrees of sanctions.
In the worst cases, the defendant will serve jail time. With the most difficult cases, the individual is dismissed from the program and serves the entire jail sentence. With the most successful cases, the person “graduates” with a job or disability benefits. The person’s mental and physical health is stable, the family has been reunited and the person has a year of sobriety under his or her belt. If all of that can be accomplished then the criminal charges are dismissed and the case is closed.
Rather than arresting and jailing as the solution, we are finding that simply treating mentally ill people with same the respect and dignity we do anyone else can make their day and make for a brighter future. Such a simple act can also go far in answering that most difficult of baptismal vows. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Daily I am reminded that I will – with God’s help!