Category Archives: Take action

Rate Your Church

Is Your Faith Community Responsive to Persons with Mental Illnesses?

  1. Does your congregation make a deliberate attempt to welcome and integrate persons with mental illness and their families into the total life and work of the church (without being obvious and setting them apart) by:
    • Being accepting, friendly, understanding and genuine?
    • Praying for those who are experiencing a mental illness the same as for other illnesses?
    • Visiting and calling on the individual experiencing mental illness and by offering to help in little ways (remembering to follow-through with commitment)?
    • Offering support and love to the parents or family of the individual, by inquiring about their family member’s health as one would for anyone who is ill?
    • Listening and talking with the individual experiencing mental illness?
  2. Does your congregation use every opportunity to educate themselves and others about mental illness by:
    • Encouraging clergy, lay staff and congregational members to learn about mental illness?
    • Raising awareness of mental illness in sermons, bulletins, and newsletters?
    • Adding books and other publications tot he congregation’s library?
    • Becoming familiar with local mental health services and support groups?
  3. Does your congregation offer its facilities and/or resources to individuals experiencing mental illness and their families by:
    • Hosting a group of people from a local residential facility?
    • Sponsoring support groups for individuals experiencing mental illness and/or families?
    • Offering employment opportunities?
  4. Does your congregation advocate for people experiencing mental illness?
    • Working with other churches and organizations, such as the Mental Health Association and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
    • Supporting efforts to obtain appropriate housing and jobs?
    • Not letting false, stigmatizing and discriminatory statements about mental illness go unchallenged?
    • Supporting adequate state and local budgets for mental health services?
    • Giving money for research into the causes and cures for mental illness?
  5. Does your congregation undertake a ministry to, ministry with, and ministry by persons experiencing mental illness and their families? Are they invited to serve as leaders and committee members?

(Sources: HopeAllianz Counseling and Healing Center. Adapted from criteria established by the Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network, NAMI-MN: “Information about Mental Illness and NAMI-MN for Faith Communities and Religious Leaders,” 2001; FaithNet).

Starting a Mental Illness Ministry

Basic Ingredients Required:

A Need
Every congregation has this basic ingredient. Mental illness affects one person in every four in our pews. A large percentage of the population of every church is made up of persons who have a brain disorder or who are close to family members and loved ones with a mental illness. Most remain silent about their problems because of shame and stigma.
A Person with a Passion
A mental illness or mental health ministry needs just one person who wants to help his or her congregation become more caring and welcoming to persons with brain disorders and their loved ones.
A Rector/Vicar/Pastor with an Open Mind
A person feeling a call to start a mental illness ministry needs to approach the their clergy and talk about their vision for such a ministry and how it might work.
A Team
A team is necessary to make plans for educational and supportive projects. There are many ways to put a team together, and this will be unique to each parish.
A Commitment
The team should set annual goals for awareness activities, education, and becoming an information source for the congregation on community resources. How can the team encourage the congregation to become a compassionate presence and a safe place to talk about mental illness?
A Clear Mission
The team and the congregation need a clear vision of what the mental illness ministry is and is not. This should be shared with the congregation. An open discussion is necessary to air concerns, fears, and hopes about the ministry.

What One Congregation is Doing to Create a Caring Community

By the Rev. Bean Murray

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, is the home of several members of the EMIN steering committee. We are continually trying to show how to create a caring congregation by implementing our own suggestions in the life of our own faith community. We want to recommend activities in EMIN News that are not just ideas, but activities we have put into practice.

Creating an atmosphere where having or talking about a mental illness is not met with stigma or the need for feeling shame is accomplished in incremental steps. Results are often small and low key, but parishioners have come to understand that St. Michael’s is a faith community where mental illness is not ignored, but met with compassion and solid information.

General Awareness Education

Our educational activities include the following:

  • Promoting Mental Illness Awareness Week and the National Day of Prayer for Mental illness recovery and understanding during the first week of October each year
  • Incorporating mental illness concerns in the Sunday sermons during Mental Illness Awareness Week in October or Mental health month in May
  • Making sure that announcements on mental illness related activities and issues are included in the parish newsletter, in the weekly e-mail congregational update, in the service bulletins, and in bulletin inserts
  • Making sure that at least one adult education forum each year addresses an aspect of mental health
  • Including mental illness concerns in the Prayers of the People
  • Including The Episcopal Mental Illness Network in the parish outreach ministries prayed for on a rotation along with other ministries

Mentioning mental health issues frequently:

  • In Ministry Moments
  • As a ministry to sign up for on the annual Time and Talent pledge sheet
  • Advocating for mental health social justice issues such as health care parity and the plight of incarcerated persons with mental illness
  • Making books on mental illness and spirituality and information on mental health resources available in the church’s library

Conducting Book Study Groups

Study groups on books relating to mental illness and spirituality are excellent ways to provide reliable information about mental illness and questions of faith.

In 2007, St. Michael’s hosted two book study groups.

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by the Rev. Kathryn Greene-McCreight was the basis of a group that met weekly on Thursday nights for eight weeks. The steering committee sought the advice of St. Michaelites who are mental health professionals to help in setting up a structure for studying the book. Norms for the study were agreed to by the group participants. The norm of group confidentiality was extremely important.

The book study series ended with a Service of Healing and Eucharist.

In addition to the material in the book, book group members received local resource information so they could follow up with qualified professionals if desired.

Several members of the congregation were interested in the book, but were not able to attend because of other obligations or the current status with their own mental illness. The deacon leading the group made sure anyone who was interested in the book got a copy regardless of their ability to come to the group.

Advent book Study

Advent is a good time for providing emotional support. EMIN distributed a brochure prepared by the Mental Health Ministries to the clergy and deacons of the diocese.

At St. Michael’s, EMIN had an adult formation session on the realities of cultural Christmas pressures versus the “Hallmark” ideal.

This was followed by five Sunday morning sessions of study on depression using In the Shadow of God’s Wings, by the Rev. Susan Greg Schroeder, a personal accounting of depression by a Methodist pastor who now heads a vital mental health ministry. This book has an accompanying study guide.

An encouraging word

As you begin your mental health ministry, many times your events will not draw much of a crowd and you might not get a lot of feedback, but the activities are critical for those who do come. For those who don’t come, you are planting the seed that yours is a faith community where brain disorders are not regarded with stigma or shame, but all are welcomed as beloved children of God. You are planting seeds that if and when a member of your faith community has to face such a challenge, a supportive faith family is ready to assist.