Comfort My People: Mental Health Ministries in Healthy Congregations
The Presbytery of St. Augustine has received a $10,000 grant to fund a year-long initiative that we are calling, “Comfort My People: Mental Health in Healthy Congregations.”
As a focus of our initiative, Susan Lee, LCSW, a member of Highlands United Presbyterian Church, will serve as a consultant/coach with congregations in our Presbytery. Susan will be available to lead programs and intergenerational activities, provide workshops for congregational leaders, meet with resource people and identify appropriate referrals for mental health support near you. More details will follow in November.
As it develops, this work will focus on three areas with a goal of including as many of our 58 congregations as possible:
- To expand mental health awareness, understanding of mental issues and advocacy for mental health services.
- To eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness, and especially serious mental illnesses.
- To become more welcoming, inclusive and supportive faith communities for people living with mental health challenges.
If you’d like to help break down the stigma of mental illness, or for more information about implementing this new ministry in the presbytery, you can contact Chris Lieberman (Relationship Coordination Director) at email@example.com. Or, call 502-475-8025.
This will begin with one person at a time and one congregation at a time as we share our stories and open ourselves to God’s power for compassion care. We are inviting you to help educate, equip and empower one another to be who we are – Christ’s communities of care – to (and with) people living with mental health conditions and their loved ones.
Pam Parker gave one expression to this ministry of creating safe spaces in churches to honestly be herself in an article she wrote for the March 11, 2019 issue of Presbyterian Outlook. In this excerpt Ms. Parker relates a stewardship presentation which turned into an opportunity to share a fuller part of herself in church – which is a true gift:
I am fortunate to belong to Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our co-pastors, Jim Rand and Brett Swanson, have nurtured a supportive community of faith. Our tradition is to have members speak for a few minutes in the weeks before we turn in pledges about why we give. I was asked to share my story one Sunday. After meeting and listening to Anne Lamott who was touring for her book “Almost Everything: Notes on Hope” I was preparing to share an optimistic, hope-filled testimony. But that morning I woke to the news of the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Like so many others, I found myself asking: How can this happen again? Why?
I plunged from the high of Anne Lamott’s hope-filled words to the darkness of violent deaths. I had difficulty praying. An optimistic, hopeful account of why I give to my church was no longer possible. Instead, I shared that sometimes I give for my own hard times – for the awareness that when depression clouds my thinking, I know there are others in my faith community who will be praying for me. I felt safe sharing authentically and sincerely from my heart. Thanks to the trust our pastors have sustained for us, I know my ability to be open in my church has helped others.
Listen and learn
Depression is hard to understand if you have no experience with it yourself. It can manifest in different ways at different times. If you try to speak with someone who does not understand depression, the divide can seem unconquerable. It is not.
My favorite resource to share with people who want to better understand the struggles some face with depression is a podcast created by two sisters, Terry and Bridget: “Giving Voice to Depression.” They offer a comfortable range of topics shared with guests that present a wide spectrum of experiences with depression. As they say on their website:
“We’re not therapists or experts. But we battle depression and have lost family members and friends by suicide. It’s in their honor that we began this project. It is our hope and commitment to increase awareness and reduce the stigma and isolation of depression, one story at a time. These stories could truly save lives.”
Terry and Bridget understand only too well the connection between depression and suicide. Like them, I believe that sharing stories can save lives.