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.