by Anne Weiher
I must admit that I approached the recent conference on Mental Health and the Church with a bit of trepidation, for I grew up in a very conservative and fundamentalist church. I was pleasantly surprised by the opening words of Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church and Bishop Kevin Vann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. There was a clear and consistent call throughout the day that the time is right for the church to take the lead in providing good, educated support to those who struggle with mental health problems. This was clearly to be a day of hope. The message to churches everywhere was that Jesus had a ministry of healing. A third of his ministry centered around healing. Much research has shown that the first person one seeks out when they are in a mental crisis is the clergy and most of them are ill-equipped to handle such a situation, hence the need for education of the church staff and lay leaders is essential. The churches need to publically stand with those with mental illness. It was a powerful beginning.
Almost every speaker spoke to the need for a four-pronged approach to mental health: spiritual, medical, psychological, and relational. The emphasis was that we are all broken in the sight of God, but that our chemistry does not equal our character; illness is not our identity; and our struggles do not define you. I may have struggled over some of the words used, but the concepts could be translated into words I understand. Those of us who live with mental illness are not our illness. We are indeed persons first.
The conference was sold out. Three thousand-two hundred people filled the main worship center and there was an overflow crowd. The webcast was expected to reach another 30,000 people around the world. We have put into practice many of the ideas presented in the conference at the church I attend, First Congregational Church in Boulder, Colo., but I was blown away by the magnitude of this outreach. If people in faith communities take even a small nugget or a seed gets planted in their faith community about the need for the church to embrace those with mental health challenges and their families, it can truly change the world.
INMI board member
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.