by Joanne Kelly
At its fall congregational meeting on Oct. 19, 2014, the First Congregational Church, UCC, Boulder, Colorado, unanimously voted to become a WISE Congregation for Mental Health. The new covenant affirms the church’s intention to create a welcoming environment for persons with mental illnesses and their families; to include them in the life, work and leadership of the congregation; and to support them in a variety of ways. It also affirms the church’s commitment to engage with other organizations in this arena.
Senior Pastor Martie McMane articulated her vision for a thriving Mental Health Ministry six years ago. A core team responded and began sponsoring monthly adult forums on mental-health-related topics to educate the congregation. The Mental Health Ministry team also helped plan annual Mental Health Sunday celebrations and developed a Spiritual Support Group for Mental Health and Wellness that has been running biweekly for 5 years.
Two years ago, the church’s Accessible to All (A2A) team joined forces with the Mental Health Ministry. The joint team wrote the WISE covenant and solicited support from the congregation’s councils, boards and small groups.
“The most common question we got from the boards and councils was why we needed another covenant when we were already committed to welcoming people with disabilities,” said Rev. Alan Johnson, who leads the team. “We explained that accessibility isn’t the main issue for people with mental illness. Stigma is the big stumbling block. Our A2A covenant does an excellent job of addressing the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in our congregation. But most people with mental illnesses do not consider themselves disabled. Yet they face such huge barriers, many hide their illnesses from fellow congregants.”
The explanation struck a chord with the congregation, which passed the covenant unanimously.
Rev. Johnson expressed hope that other churches will use First Congregational Church’s covenant as a template or starting point for developing similar initiatives tailored to their congregations.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.