UCC Church Adopts Covenant on Welcoming People with Mental Illnesses

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.

In 2010, First Congregational Church adopted a covenant to become Accessible to All (A2A), with the intention to better serve the needs of people with disabilities. Two years ago, the church’s 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 swayed the congregation, which passed the covenant unanimously.

This covenant becomes the sixth covenant on which the whole congregation has voted over the past several decades. It gives credence to the Spirit’s working through the church with and for persons who have a mental health challenge and their families and gives practical guidance for becoming even more WISE in the future.

The church’s Mental Health Ministry team encourages other UCC congregations to become WISE Congregations for Mental Health.