Simple Forum 8.1 - Being a Caring Congregation
Consider the list of possible actions suggested to create a Caring Congregation. In what ways does your congregation seek to welcome and care for those with mental health conditions? What might be first steps for your church to improve its ministry in this area?Share your thoughts in this simple forum, replying to this original post. You will receive 5 points for adding your input.
I think we have a long way to go with this one. While we are a caring congregation in general and are friendly and welcoming to visitors, with many members as well as the pastor and his family making it a point to greet people, we aren't really doing much of anything listed on that Caring Community brochure to specifically address the needs of people with mental illnesses in a widespread way.
I think awareness is one of the biggest steps we could take. I suspect there are far more people with mental illnesses attending services every week than most of us realize. The stigma mentioned in the brochure is a large obstacle, so people with these illnesses are often reluctant to bring them up, and a lot of these mental illnesses go completely undiagnosed, especially when the illness isn't too severe and a person doesn't want that stigma attached to them. Yet, those persons still need care that they aren't getting.
We have been made aware of several members of our church who suffer from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression and suicidal feelings. Each of these individuals have received treatment and have been willing to talk openly about their experiences.
Unfortunately in NC a lot of the funding and established programs have been reduced allowing a great number of individuals with mental health issues to go undiagnosed or treated.
We have been fortunate to establish a weekly celebrate recovery program which is a faith based program for any addiction.
Like other posters, I am not sure of the extent that mental health presents challenges to the congregation. There are several members of the congregation who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. One member finds it difficult to attend Sunday worship, but enjoys visits. Another will sometimes take a break from attending and return when it feels less stressful.
Unless someone presents a condition, I find it difficult, not to mention presumptuous, to evaluate a person's mental health. The congregation at Manns Harbor is especially empathetic and convivial. We hold a long peace, or meet and greet, early in the service. While I believe that this can provide a very attractive moment, I also wonder whether it would be overwhelming for someone who didn't feel like socializing.
Several members in the congregation are intentionally outgoing and welcoming, and yet not meddling. A few are talented at pastoral care and grief counseling, and they've been good friends to other community members in distress. I think this disciplined practice of welcoming, which was here before I arrived, is good for the mental health of the congregation.
But, I think that the more information people have about mental health, the readier and more able they are to live together. I certainly think we could learn more. I also think we could work toward creating small supportive groups, especially focusing on grief, that benefit our community and the larger population.
As far as having something formal in place to be welcoming to those with Mental Health Issues, our church is behind the times of perhaps larger churches. However, over the last 6 years I have been witness to the caring that they provide. Out of the 30 or so people that attended when my husband first started at this church, I can identify 5 that have had Alzheimer disease that continued to be loved on and supported with visits inclusion in services when they were able to attend. Each was fortunate to have a family member that continued to bring them as long as they were physically able to make it. Another issue we see in our church is PTSD. One lady brings things to crochet during service. It's how she handles being in a large group. The act of crocheting gives her a single focus for her hands, while she listens to service. She says it's very calming and she doesn't focus on the number of people there.
What I think we could do to improve the things we already do is to learn more about mental health and ways to be more understanding of the things that can be a part of that type of issue.
Their first step was to accept me as their pastor while I was in the midst of working toward my degree in mental health counseling! They gave me time and space to work and study, but their is a great secrecy/privacy over issues of mental health. And we live in a counseling desert as are most rural areas of NC.
My issue is typical - now I see it EVERYwhere in our life together as a community. I think our next step will be support group gatherings - and not the kind that begin and never end! Short term, informational sessions.
I have also just been made aware of a family dealing with severe mental illness who is indirectly related to the church in great need of home repair and transportation. How we handle this opportunity will be very telling! So far the one who brought it to my attention has been very supportive and inspired by the way we are working together to honor the needs of the family for privacy. We both are approaching it as a physical issue, a mental complication, and a spiritual opportunity.
I like the way you worded "approaching it as a physical issue, a mental complication, and a spiritual opportunity."