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Mental Health and Spirituality
Listening for God at the Crossroads
There is a growing need in faith communities to integrate the experience and wisdom of those who struggle with mental illness into the whole life of the community. The stigma associated with mental illness is greater than those with other disabilities; this reality, combined with the resulting sense of shame and its lack of physical signals, result in a form of invisible alienation within bodies of faith.
Society’s response to mental illness is most often centered on treatment rather than meaning-making; faith communities have an opportunity and call to respond to the longing for meaning in order for its members to discern where the fullness of life God desires for us all may be found.
Many clergy and congregations feel moved to support members in their mental health struggles but lack a sense of direction or feel ill-equipped to provide sources for such a group. As this need grows, more churches will be looking for guidance and support. Dealing openly with mental health issues is a matter of social justice. Through the community’s modeling of full inclusion, members are transformed, carrying that experience with them into other aspects of their lives within society.
The aim of this Mental Health and Spirituality ministry is to increase awareness and provide guidance, support, and resources for communities of faith and their clergy who hope to meet the needs of congregants struggling with mental illness. This group ministry impacts congregations as a whole and brings new members into the church.
There is a new sense of the Spirit calling us to spread this good news within our congregations and to those outside their walls. The groups bring together people living with questions concerning their mental well-being within the context of their, exploring how mental illness experiences and lives of faith inform each other.
The aim is not group therapy for mental health issues but a faith practice for greater spiritual wholeness; we momentarily set aside the exhausting struggle to rid ourselves of these heavy burdens for the counter-intuitive movement of directly entering these very painful burdens to awaken our yearning for deeper relationships with God.
The fundamental question concerns how experiences of faith are shaped by the experience of mental illness, contemplating questions such as, “How do my faith and my struggles for mental wellness inform each other? Where can God be found directly in this experience, not simply despite it?” These questions are best answered not by group counseling but rather by keeping an overtly prayerful space center of gravity.
What are the implications for the faith community itself? What spiritual wisdom is offered to the community through the experiences of those members struggling with mental illness? At its heart, what this group does is model mutual vulnerability within that community. This is a form of ministry to each other that—in its modeling—ministers to all members in the community of faith.
The Ministry and the Hope for Partnership
Goals of the ministry:
- Advocating increased awareness of the need for this ministry
- Visiting churches to promote Mental Health and Spirituality groups
- Contacting clergy and churches for advocacy, planning and guidance
- Providing guidance to congregations who seek to establish their own groups
- Proposing and coordinating multi-church partnerships for groups where single-church leadership is impractical
- Partnering with other agencies such as the Danielsen Institute to identify faith communities in need of Mental Health & Spirituality Groups
- Leader training for new groups in faith communities