Church plans ministry on family stress Hope Family Center to hold open house in Westminster tonight

A 'spiritual dimension'

St. Paul's program will offer seminars, network of support

September 19, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A Westminster church is starting a center to help families with the everyday stresses of child-rearing, adolescence, aging and anything in between.

The Hope Family Center will have an open house at 7 p.m. today at St. Paul's United Church of Christ. The church is providing the money and space for the first three years.

The open house is for the public and other church leaders to learn about seminars, discussion groups, classes and case-by-case help that could be available at the center.

Organizers have hired Terri Miller, a former mental health and disabilities coordinator for Carroll County schools, as a part-time executive director. She will help other churches in the county to develop family programs and create a support network, said the Rev. Bernie Zerkel, a retired executive with United Church of Christ, and a member of St. Paul's Church.

The center will be open to everyone, said Zerkel, whose 43 years as a minister have included work as a pastor and regional administrator for United Church of Christ.

"It will be for the churched and the unchurched," said Zerkel, who was one of the founding members of the Carroll County Human Relations Commission six years ago. "We want to be inclusive."

Zerkel said the center was his idea, and a steering committee of religious and civic leaders, social workers, educators and therapists helped shape and implement it.

"As a pastor, I just became so acutely aware of the pressures families have, and how difficult it is to respond to that, to lift up the spiritual dimension in helping them," Zerkel said.

He said he expects people to seek support to deal with adolescence, divorce, disability, grief, work and school transitions, moving, illness and addictions.

Because isolation makes these problems worse, Zerkel said, families could connect with each other, perhaps by pairing stronger ones with those that are struggling, a kind of family "mentoring."

"It's not a family counseling center -- our objectives are broader than that," said Zerkel, although a family needing counseling jTC could be referred elsewhere.

He hopes that families receiving help from other social services organizations could be referred to the Hope Family Center if they also need spiritual guidance to deal with their problems.

Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc. operates a family center on Distillery Drive in Westminster, but Zerkel sees that organization and his new venture to be complementary.

That private nonprofit organization, which relies on government contracts, grants and donations, doesn't discuss religious issues.

"We can work with the family to help them think about their family goals with a faith perspective," Zerkel said.

"It's a society that is so secular, that a spiritual dimension is often neglected or ignored."

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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