Tag Archives: congregation

Guidelines for Addressing Mental Health Emergencies

Editor’s Note:

Some parishes are reluctant to reach out to people with mental illness because they do not feel competent to handle emergency situations. The protocol given below is a proactive measure developed by one parish to help its members be prepared if an emergency arises.

The Rev. Mike Tanner, who worked for a number of years with a parish known for its inclusion of people with mental illness, the Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta, reminds us that having to use such a protocol is a rare event. He believes that Holy Comforter has been somewhat successful in fostering an environment in which people feel that they belong to the community. He believes “Once there is a feeling of belonging, there is investment in the community that tempers the behavior even of people with mental health issues. The key to inclusion must start with the will to embrace the difficult, disruptive, and disconcerting other. That doesn’t guarantee a happy or fully satisfying outcome, but there can’t be one without it.”

Guidelines for Addressing Mental Health Emergencies From Christ Episcopal Church, Toms River, New Jersey

The following guidelines are to be used by clergy and staff in the event of a Mental Health emergency.

  1. Whenever possible, try to involve the assistance of another adult who is present (fellow clergy person, staff member, or parishioner). There is safety in numbers.
  2. The primary goal is to stabilize the situation and de-escalate heightened emotional states.
  3. Remember, NEVER use any form of physical restraint on the agitated person. NEVER physically intercede with any type of physical altercation between two or more people.
  4. Speak to the person calmly, slowly, and compassionately; try to understand what has caused this person to suddenly become so upset. At the same time, you need to clearly establish limits and boundaries. It may become necessary to advise the person that the police may need to be called if the person becomes violent, threatening in any fashion, or is unwilling to follow your directives.
  5. Whenever it is safely possible, try to relocate the person away from a crowded situation. If the emergency were to take place in Church or the Chapel, ask the person to step outside of that space to a hallway or other unoccupied area. Removing the person to a different space is very helpful in the de-escalation process.
  6. If there is a verbal altercation/conflict between two or more people, it is very important that you take control of the situation quickly by firmly instructing each of them to physically move away from each other. Speak to each person separately; give them equal opportunity to tell their side of the story.
  7. Remember, never hesitate to contact the police (particularly if you are dealing with a situation alone). Safety is always the primary concern. Whenever possible, you should carry your cell phone in a concealed place (i.e. your pocket) and have it turned on and set to “vibrate.”
  8. If the person appears to be too irrational to reason with, appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is violent, or seems out of touch with reality, the police should be contacted immediately and advised that there is a Mental Health emergency that requires hospitalization.
  9. Following any type of Mental Health emergency, Mother Joan should be contacted immediately (555-555-5555) and advised of the situation. You will be asked to write a brief narrative of the event, which will include your signature and the date of the incident.
For more information contact:
Christ Episcopal Church
415 Washington Street
Toms River, New Jersey, 08753

Trinity Episcopal Parish in Wethersfield, Connecticut, Receives Community Award

On behalf of his parish, The Rev. Scott Lee, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Weathersfield, Connecticut, received the Phyllis Redfield Award in July, 2013, from Common Ground, the Social Rehabilitation Club of InterCommunity, Inc. According to the Wethersfield Courant, Fr. Scott is a five-year member of the InterCommunity Board of Directors and has actively supported the social club and opened the doors of the parish to welcome the group for its coffeehouse social gatherings—all with the full support of the Trinity Vestry and congregation. The award is named in honor of Phyllis Redfield who served InterCommunity for more than 30 years, first as a volunteer and later as a member of the organization’s staff.

“The award reflects the sincere appreciation of the club’s members and comes directly from them,” said Kimberly Beauregard, InterCommunity president and CEO. “It is awarded annually to someone who has consistently shown support of this important social group.”

“Individuals with mental health issues face challenges on a daily basis,” said Paul Acker, Common Ground coordinator, “and valuable assistance comes most especially through interaction with community. Fr. Scott and Trinity Parish have provided a community in which club members can interact and hone their social skills in a comfortable and welcoming environment. As this award recognizes outstanding contributions to the club, Fr. Scott and Trinity Parish are deserving of this recognition.”

“This award is truly for all of Trinity Parish who support and enable our ministry with InterCommunity,” said Fr. Scott. “We are very pleased to be able to share our building with them from time to time and to provide the opportunity for community service for Common Ground’s members. They have my great admiration for the courage and strength with which they face life’s challenges.”

For more information about InterCommunity: http://www.intercommunityct.org/

Trinity Episcopal Church serves the faith community of Wethersfield and surrounding towns by offering open and welcoming religious and social services for the purpose of serving all people who seek friendship in an embracing community. More about Trinity at www.trinityepiscopalweth.org.

Editor’s note: Arkansas readers will recognize The Rev. Scott Lee as a priest who served the diocese of Arkansas before being called to Wethersfield.

Holy Comforter Lives the Mission of Its Name

This article comes from the Rev. Mike Tanner, Vicar of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Atlanta (mtanner@bellsouth.net)

Holy Comforter is a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. About 60% of the congregation live with mental illness, and most of that number are very poor, receiving only a small disability check.

Holy Comforter opened its Friendship Center in 1997 in response to reduced availability of day programs for people living with mental illness. It now serves from 90 to 125 people each Tuesday and Thursday. Through the Friendship Center, Holy Comforter offers day programs for persons with mental illness or other disabilities. These programs include a variety of activities, such as painting, music and movement, ceramics, weaving, woodworking, gardening, and games, as well as lunch.

The Friendship Center has recently added a Wellness & Recovery Coordinator to manage and enhance its various wellness and recovery activities, such as its foot and hand clinics, flu-shot and eye clinics, yoga, and support groups.

Holy Comforter is supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and by various parishes, foundations, and individuals. The Georgia Mental Health Consumers’ Network provides funds for our art and gardening programs, and Woodland Hills Baptist Church provides space for our art studios.

Holy Comforter has recently received good publicity on national TV with an episode on PBS’s Religion and Ethics.

Rev. Tanner was interviewed on the PBS program. Here’s what he said about the participants in its programs: “What I see coming to us and joining us is a group of people who have been knocked down all their lives and who are just remarkably joyous and remarkably full of faith. They get it that God loves them and that their suffering is just part of life, and God loves them through it, and they love each other through it.”


For more of the PBS episode: PBS – Holy Comforter

Blue Christmas at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

The December holidays are not all joy and light. For many, it is a hard time. Some loved one will be absent from the Christmas table. Our lives don’t live up to the idealistic Christmas scenes of hearth and home. We don’t look like figures in a Norman Rockwell painting. Some suffer from seasonal affective disorders. When it seems like the whole world is happily stringing decorations, we can feel sad and out of step with the festive emotions.

A Blue Christmas service can be a holy container to honor those emotions and losses. We hold our service in the evening, near the winter solstice, when the days are shortest and the nights are long. We use the lections for St. Thomas (Dec. 21). St. Thomas was the apostle who missed the resurrection appearances of Jesus on Easter. While the other disciples were rejoicing, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas’ mind was filled with the all-to-real images of his friend’s death on the cross. “Until I see…” something as real as that, “I will not believe,” Thomas said.

We start in a darkened, quiet church. We use the Order of Worship for the Evening, BCP p. 109, as a Liturgy of the Word, lighting candles at the altar and in the windows. The sermon tries to allow people to honor the difficult work of grief and disappointment in the midst of a festive season. During the Eucharist, we invite people to light vigil candles for remembered loved ones or other appropriate intentions. We have a place for laying on of hands with prayer.

The mood is contemplative — quiet, accepting, healing. We’ve found this gentle, dark space, held within the December bustle, is a treasured holy space for tender things. For some, it is a space to place deep loss so we can open more fully to the coming joy of Christmas.

Contributed by The Rev. Lowell Grisham, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas. lowell@stpaulsfay.org

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).

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.