Tag Archives: interview

Interview with Barbara Crafton

An interview with the Rev. Barbara C. Crafton on her 2009 book Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet. (Published by Jossey-Bass, ISBN 97-0-470-37195-4)

EMIN: What prompted you to write Jesus Wept? Did an event or something specific prompt you?
Barbara: I have been a lifelong sufferer [of depression.] In thirty years of doing retreats, there has always been someone with depression who was seeking help. I have knowledge from a religious aspect and personal information about the illness.
Sharing both aspects has worked well, and I thought others would think so too. I was in a place with the Geranium Farm to ask readers to share their experiences of coping with depression. A large number of eloquent stories came in. I was delighted with the response.
EMIN: Please say something about facing the hard reality that having a mental illness is a long-term situation?
Barbara: It is difficult for us to come to understand that it [a mental illness] is chronic. We can control and manage it. Having a mental illness is part of life, an unfortunate part of life. We want a cure. Ordinarily, you don’t get a cure, but you do get help. We are blessed today to have something with which to manage it.
EMIN: What do you have to say to people who have depression, but want to get off their medication?
Barbara: I would say that the time is long past when any Christian needs to hesitate to seek professional help. It is no sin to have this disorder. It is not helpful to not do what you can do. It is your disease talking when you think you can’t do anything about it. It’s been a long time since thinking like that made any sense at all.
People think having a mental illness is shameful – nonsense! It is a source of major suffering. I’m on a bit of a crusade. I want people to serve God with everything they have. If they are bleeding inside, they can’t do that.
EMIN: Why do you think we feel shame when we have a mental illness?
Barbara: The Bible has a lot of ancient belief that illness is a result of sin. Fundamentalist see it as one’s own fault or we have no right to do something about it. We have chosen what we decide to believe from scripture. It is time to be discerning and careful about what we want scripture to do. It is not a recipe book. The ancient teaching about suffering being from sin has been thoroughly discredited, but it is easy for us to fall back into that.
EMIN: What are some tools our faith offers us when we face mental illness?
Barbara: We do have healing resources in scripture. We have reliance on God, We have hope in hopeless situations. We have our communities, a powerful sense of community for wholeness.
In prayer we have a resource and honesty; truth in prayer is powerful.
We have the teaching of resurrection from the jaws of death.
We have tools sufficient without leaning on those which are not.
EMIN: Do you have any suggestions for family members and friends of persons facing mental illness? What helps? What hurts?
Barbara: Recognize that the sufferer has a God too, and it’s not you. We can’t take responsibility for someone else’s journey, for their walk with God.
We have no duty to help them stay sick, but we can’t do it for them.
Part of depression is thinking that we don’t have any lines in our own play. Our power is limited, but we do have lines. We have to find courage to find and speak them. That will go a long way toward our own healing. We can get out of God’s way.
Call 911 if someone threatens suicide. If he does resist, it is not your fault. His death is his own. Depression is a Disease that kills.
EMIN: Since writing Jesus Wept, have you had any strange or negative reactions from people who weren’t aware of your illness?
Barbara: People have been surprised, maybe naïve, a little shocked. This plays into my hands. If they are shocked, I’ve got their attention. I can point out that they have never known me not on antidepressants. Then they can know that the drugs don’t make me a zombie. If a religious leader can be candid, it is very helpful. This is a Call within a call that I didn’t know I had.

Barbara Cawthorne Crafton is an Episcopal priest, spiritual director, and author. She is the founder and head of the Geranium Farm, www.geraniumfarm.org, an online institute for the promotion of spiritual growth, which publishes The Almost-Daily eMo from the Geranium Farm, read by thousands of people worldwide.

The Reverend Chet Watson: Warrior and Saint

By Barbara Justus

To describe the impact the Reverend Chet Watson has had on mental health ministry in this country is a daunting task.

Since his son was diagnosed with a serious mental illness 17 years ago, Fr. Chet has been both warrior and saint on behalf of those with mental illnesses and their families.

Whether he is soothing the battered hearts of those with mental illnesses or challenging policymakers or fellow clergy to open their eyes to how critical mental health issues are, Fr. Chet leaves a big wake wherever he goes.

Perhaps author, colleague and friend, the Reverend Jim Stout, has summed up the impact of Fr. Chet’s ministry most eloquently. Reverend Stout, a Presbyterian pastor who has served churches from 300–4,700 members around the nation, was diagnosed with a mental illness many years ago.

Rev. Stout says:

I’ve known Chet Watson for over 15 years. He has been a strong and sensitive mentor to me. His influence has extended to his community, county, the state of California and the nation… via his leadership and service on various boards such as NAMI CA (National Alliance on Mental Illness), NAMIFaithnet, antistigma and various other community activities, including the establishment of a 80-bed facility in a residential neighborhood. While he is unapologetically Episcopalian, he has worked extremely effectively with believers of all faiths, across denominational lines… and with nonbelievers as well.

I don’t know how this truly humble man has done so much for those affected by mental illness in his church community, state and nation… He is, above all, a man of great faith and a man who deeply cares for the people with mental disabilities and their families!

If we could clone Fr. Chet and plant him in every diocese across the country, the state of mental illness ministries in the Episcopal Church would be much healthier. However, since we must bring the mountain to Mohammed, Fr. Chet was kind enough to share his experiences and advice with EMIN readers.

So enjoy the interview and show it to your fellow parishioners if you want to start or enhance a mental health ministry in your congregation.

EMIN: Did you ever dream that your life’s ministry would ultimately focus on advocacy for those with mental illness?
Fr. Chet: No. However, I do remember when I was 12 years old and my younger brother was deathly ill, I made a promise to God that I would give my life to Him if He would save my brother.
My life has been a good lesson about making (and keeping) one’s promises, particularly to God!
I was ordained to the Diaconate in 1980. Nine years later, I entered seminary and was ordained a priest in 1991 by the recently retired Bishop William Swing. Bishop Swing has been a great supporter of EMIN and other mental illness ministries. The Rev. Richard York, my predecessor, encouraged Bishop Swing to create one of the few Commissions on Mental Illness (COMI) in the Episcopal church. This was to fulfill the General Convention Resolution in 1991 on mental illness.
After the Rev. York died in 1994, all eyes turned on me when the question of leadership was raised at the next COMI meeting and that’s how I became chair of it.
EMIN: What are the most important things you think a congregation can do to make their church a welcoming place for those with mental illness?
Fr. Chet: From my answers to your questions, you will be able to tell that I consider the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) a critical resource for any mental illness ministry, secular or religious.
So here are my candid recommendations.

  • If you wait for the vicar or rector to bring the subject up, think again.
  • Know that you are not alone. Save your energy and use all the resources your local NAMI chapter can provide—mental illness is their business 24/7. Have someone from the congregation attend a NAMI meeting to get a feel for the ministry you are about to embark on.
  • Rate your church. You can find a checklist at the EMIN website: www.eminnews.org. (Click the tab on the left hand side of the homepage that says “Take Action.”)
  • Plan events in May, and which is Mental Health Month, and during Mental Illness Awareness Week in October.
  • Write an article about mental illness in your church publication. EMIN has a section on its website, www.eminnews.org. Click on “Take Action” and follow the links to “The Printed Word.”
  • Add this phrase to the Prayers of the People, “We pray for those who live with mental illness, their caregivers and their families.”
  • Call the local NAMI and offer space for a support group. This is known as “walking your talk.”
  • Prepare yourself for stigma. You will be shocked. Be gentle in your education efforts; remember, at one time you were not very aware until someone shared with you.
EMIN: How can one person jumpstart a mental illness ministry at their church?
Fr. Chet: First, I would get as many people involved as you can. Put together a written plan, get the support of your clergy, and then present it to your congregation’s governing board. Again, I suggest turning to NAMI for ideas. The Family to Family class is a good start, a turnkey program you can put on at your church.
Publicize mental health issues in bulletins, minutes for mission. NAMI has a powerful program called “In Our Own Voice,” a speaker’s bureau of persons with mental illnesses who are able to articulate their experiences eloquently.
Learn about stigma and how to combat it. Join NAMI StigmaBusters. And, perhaps most important, be patient. People only know what someone has taught them and mental illness is a scary topic for lots of people.
EMIN: What do you feel families need most when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness?
Fr. Chet: Friendship. Empathy, not sympathy. Understanding, not judgment or advice. Mental illness is not a “casserole disease.” And please watch your language. You may mean well, but stigmatizing language surrounding mental illness is rampant and it is very hurtful. A touch on the arm or shoulder speaks for you.
Those of us who have family members with mental illness have had enough advice from family and friends. True friends know it is okay not to speak.
EMIN: What would you like to see the National Church do differently concerning mental illness?
Fr. Chet: Many things come to mind but the foremost is to remove the page in The Book of Occasional Services, concerning exorcism. The Diocese of California submitted a resolution to General Convention 2003, Resolution C038, concerning stigma and abuse by clergy towards persons with mental illnesses, but it got referred to a committee where it will never be seen again.
The Church has been silent much too long. A good example is the lack of funding for the EMIN, the only publication and voice in the entire church advocating for the mentally disabled. We have a long ways to go to catch up with other faith communities.

What does the Episcopal Church feel like to a person with a mental illness?

Part of the mission of the Episcopal Mental Illness Network is to find ways to bring people with mental illnesses into the full life of the church. This means understanding their perspectives and perceptions as church members.

The following is one woman’s account of finding the Episcopal Church a place of healing as well as a place of rejection as she struggles with her mental illness.

EMIN: Tell me in general about your experience with formalized religion as a person with a mental illness.
A: I was raised in a conservative evangelical denomination, not Episcopal, that interpreted my strange thoughts and behaviors as some sort of demonic possession. It was frightening and shameful. No one expressed the possibility of my having a chemical imbalance. They just thought I was bad, and I absorbed that judgment, too.
Later, as an adult, I joined the Episcopal Church and continued to turn to religion for a solution to my problem. I latched onto the idea of “confession.” If I could just confess my sins, if I could just be sorry enough, I could be purified and get better. The priest I sought three times for private confessions simply could not relate to my level of pain. Although she was a highly educated woman, she was not trained to recognize a mental illness.
Years later, when I was finally properly diagnosed and got on a treatment plan, my symptoms became manageable. Now that I was “cleaned up,” I could go to God’s house and be embraced. I did and I was.
But, as you can probably tell, my level of social trust is as conditional as the love I received when I was “unlovely.” I still don’t go to church when I’m exhibiting symptoms, although that is the time when I most need support.
EMIN: How is it to be a person with a mental illness in the Episcopal Church?
A: The good definitely outweigh the bad, so let’s swallow the bitter pill first.
People in the Episcopal Church are generally more “upper crust” and have a narrower definition of what “acceptable behavior” looks like. Many churches have pretty tight social codes of conduct.
It’s not like in some African American churches or churches in Latin America that I’ve attended where you have more latitude as to what is acceptable. On the other hand, it’s also been my experience that the Episcopal Church is generally more liberal and open-minded than other mainstream religions. They’ve been on the forefront of acceptance movements for racial, gender, and sexual equality.
But, frankly, I have to say that, if you have a mental illness, it is a lot easier to find acceptance in a bar than in a church—even a church as loving and open as the Episcopal Church. There’s a lot more wiggle room as far as how you can behave and still be accepted, and I find that really sad. In a bar, flamboyance is cool, misery is common, and everyone has a story to share.
EMIN: Sounds like you are a bit dubious about how helpful church can be to persons with mental illnesses.
A: I guess it depends on the church.
I think the Episcopal Church has a deep approach to spirituality and I appreciate that. There is more privacy and reverence in faith matters. Silence and waiting on the Lord are encouraged.
I had many years of symptoms prior to diagnosis so “watching and waiting with expectation” was an excellent concept to have embraced!
Doubting is seen more as an opportunity for exploration than as a faith failure. The people I’ve known well in the Episcopal Church don’t wear their piety on their sleeves but their faith seems to resonate through their bones.
The quiet and meditative depth and predictability of the service is appreciated by someone with an over-stimulated nervous system.
EMIN: What advice do you have for people in the Episcopal Church about how to help bring people into the total life of the church?
A: To the clergy, first I have to say, God love ’em-they have a tough job. But the clergy absolutely cannot, intentionally or unintentionally, turn their backs on people with mental illnesses because they don’t know what to do.
As part of your continuing education, ask to interview some mature mental illness survivors. Ask them how their symptoms exhibit in the various phases—emerging, moderate, and critical. Ask what they want done and said in each stage. Collect an inventory from as many participants as you can about what is most helpful and most offensive. Learn how to sneak in concerned caring without making the person feel like a freak.
To people in the congregation, as I said before, just because someone has a good game face, don’t assume that all is okay.
If you suspect something might be going on with someone you go to church with, don’t politely tiptoe around them. Distancing only exacerbates the shame most of us have absorbed from culture of silence that surrounds mental illness. Ask open-ended questions. “What do you like to do? Can I come along?” You might be surprised at what emerges if you don’t probe too obviously.
EMIN: Overall, how do you feel about the Episcopal Church in terms of ministering to persons with mental illnesses?
A: I’m proud of the Episcopal Church for its strong voice on social and political issues. Jesus came to set us free. That’s comforting to me because, in my experience, there is no more isolating prison than mental illness.
Maybe the next frontier of the Church will be truly freeing people of the stigma of mental illness. What a lovely legacy that would be!