Welcoming and Supportive Churches
by Yolanda H. Ortega
If only my daughter had Faith and Hope, I thought, as I was trying to console her four years ago. She was sobbing uncontrollably. She wanted to take her life. Prior attempts had failed. What was holding her back this time, she said, was her baby girl. She loved Juliet so.
A church can be the well of Faith and Hope for someone with a mental illness and their family. A welcoming and supportive church can offer the hope of brighter tomorrows and the belief that, "God will not let me down." The well may also be the source of faith and hope that treatment works.
During my daughter's first psychosis, a minister offered me hope: "Psychiatrists say there is no cure, no hope that your daughter will get better. Turn to the Great Healer," he said. "He can do anything."
Three years ago we launched an effort in San Antonio, TX, to transform churches into welcoming and supportive places and to have them become part of the safety net. Now, we are working with about 20 churches.
Here are other highlights:
- Faiths involved include Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Evangelical, Presbyterian. (I had been warned that I would never be able to get people of different denominations together.)
- We've held numerous "Meshing Faith and Mental Health" trainings for clergy, lay leaders, community service providers, seminary and college students.
- More than 10 faith-based support groups formed, about five are pending.
- Volunteers include NAMI members, consumers, clergy, college students, professors, and mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, researchers, psychologists, counselors and administrators.
- Two pastors advocate for their ill church members and have led support groups. One makes home visits, day or night, and prays with people in crisis.
- Two priests, one Catholic and one Episcopalian, announced from the pulpit that they have chronic depression.
- Faith-based mental health ministries refer members to NAMI classes and vice versa. Some ministry leaders teach NAMI classes, and out of these classes have emerged ministry leaders.
- The region's state-funded mental health agency is developing its own faith-based effort.
Our goals include:
- To transform churches into welcoming and supportive places as part of the safety net.
- Have pastors speak from the pulpit about mental illness and provide more effective spiritual counsel based on a basic knowledge of mental illness. (Pastors have a key role in transforming churches into welcoming places.)
- To advocate and provide support, education, and resources to consumers and their families.
- To educate clergy, church personnel, lay leaders and whole congregations about mental illness, its treatment and about resources for treatment and daily living.
There are more churches than schools, right? Churches could transform America into a more welcoming and supportive nation. A faith-based, pro-mental health voting block may be possible, too.
After 25 years of episodes that included suicide attempts, self-injury, substance abuse, homelessness, and more than 50 hospitalizations, my daughter is now a content wife and mother. She is a licensed certified nurse's assistant. I counted on Faith and Hope.