Equipping Churches for the Mental Health Crisis
By Jenna Hanger
The challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis have been immense. Life has completely changed, and it will be a while before things become ‘business as usual’. We are at the beginning of an economic crisis on top of the health crisis. But there is another crisis happening in our midst—one that actually was happening long before COVID-19 shut everything down—but it is rapidly growing now. That crisis is around mental health.
Thanks to our evolving culture, mental health is being talked about more now than ever. We have learned more about the complexity of the brain in the past twenty years than in our entire human history, and this has resulted in mental health being more effectively understood and accepted in society. However, as a church body we still have a long way to go. While some churches do a great job on this front, many are still ill-equipped to properly handle the issues around mental health. This is where Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, out of Vancouver, comes into play.
Sanctuary was developed to help churches engage in the mental health conversation, with the goal of making the church a much safer place for someone in the midst of a crisis. One of the ways it does this is through an interdisciplinary approach. It looks at how we can understand mental health—psychologically and theologically speaking—and how we can understand it through our experience as a person.
One of the key resources that Sanctuary provides is a course which facilitates conversations in churches around the topics of faith and mental health. In the end, the congregation comes out with a shared language and framework on how to think and talk about this subjected, and in doing that well, a lot more people will feel cared for, heard and understood.
Daniel Whitehead, Executive Director of Mental Health Ministries, shared one outcome of the course, which is to understand the difference between mental health and mental illness.
“Rather than thinking of this idea that someone has a mental illness or not, we need to think more of the various shades of grey, and depending on the seasons and what’s going on in our lives, all of us are susceptible to having diminished mental health,” says Daniel.
“We tend to talk about flourishing mental health or languishing mental health. We all live in that spectrum, and we move up and down it. We can move up and down it in a day, let alone within seasons. It’s about acknowledging simply that we all have mental health and all of us depending upon our biological make up, our circumstances and what’s going on in our lives and in the world will dictate whether our mental health is flourishing or languishing in any moment.”
One of the reasons the church seems to be so far behind the conversation is that there are lingering stigmas attached to mental health; oversimplification probably being the main one. Daniel says that they often get people coming to them and saying that mental health issues are all linked to spiritual issues, and that ‘prayer is all you need’. The general thought is that happiness and faithfulness are linked.; if you aren’t displaying outward happiness, then you must be lacking in faithfulness. When, in reality, it is a much more complex issue than that. This type of thinking is not new. In fact, Daniel points out that you can see examples of it in the Bible.
“It’s the same that happened in Jesus’ day. You know, there’s the man born blind and what do the religious leaders and Pharisees say? ‘Oh, was it him or was it his parents, who’s to blame?’ They just want to find someone to blame. And that’s born out of our own insecurities. We think if we can find someone to blame, we can just name it and deal with it, and we don’t have to think about the complexity.”
The truth is, we are complex holistic beings, and a holistic approach is what is needed to effectively help our mental health. This means that a person’s recovery often needs to incorporate all areas of emotional, spiritual, physical, relational, etc. This includes eating and sleeping well, brain health, maybe medication, talking therapies, as well as reading your Bible and praying. All these things are needed to help a person experience wellness.
So, what should the role of the church be in all of this? The answer is actually quite simple. The role of the church, when it comes to mental health, should be a focus on supporting people relationally, a huge need for someone struggling with their mental health.
“When you have a way of framing it, you quickly realize that the church is the perfect place to be a support to people, because what people need is unconditional love. They need friendship, but genuine friendship,” says Daniel.
The key to doing this is to have empathy.
“Very often the key to helping someone find recovery, and walk that path of recovery, is with empathy. Are we people who just say, ‘I see you as you are. I’m glad that you are here, and I want to support you. I’m not an expert, but I want to support you’? And I think if we could all say that to people in the midst of a mental health crisis, then a lot of good will be done. A lot of people will be finding a place of flourishing more quickly.”
The Sanctuary Mental Health course has grown in popularity since it was started in 2018. First Baptist Church in Vancouver is one of many churches who advocate for the course. Their goal is to get 20% of their congregation to go through the material. John Tsang, Minister of Congregational Care, says he can’t speak highly enough about the benefits of the course.
“Our experience with the Sanctuary course surpassed our expectations! From the feedback that we received after the course, participants really found the videos deeply moving and the material in the manual very informative. The spiritual practices included in each session were also well received, as they helped us to process the content in light of our faith. All three of the group facilitators found it extremely rewarding to take part in the Sanctuary Course,” John said.
“When we decided to run this course, we thought we would get enough for one group of 8 or 10 people. We ended up with 20 people who signed up, and we had to cap our registration. I think this showed how much people are hungering for something like this. Everyone knows a neighbour, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker who has experienced mental health issues. The Sanctuary course gave us an excellent framework to understand mental health and in particular, how spirituality and community can play a crucial part to someone’s mental health.”
Besides the main course, Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries is offering a free course titled “Faith, Grief and COVID-19” to help support people during this time. For more information, visit https://www.sanctuarymentalhealth.org.
For additional resources check out Timothy Colborne’s Book: Directions For Getting Lost- The Spiritual Journey Through the Wilderness of Mental Illness
Summer is Cancelled? No, it’s not!
With government restrictions slowly starting to lift in many of our provinces, there is hope that we might be able to emerge from our homes and be able to enjoy the summer months. However, there is no doubt life will not look like it used to. All major summer events have been cancelled, group gatherings still have strict guidelines, weddings and reunions have been post-poned and most vacation locations have had their spots reduced so significantly that only a few have been able to book a spot.
But there is an undercurrent of positivity beneath it all. The way in which we have all been forced to slow down and communicate differently has challenged many to think outside the box and be more intentional about investing in relationships. There are many creative ways that people have come up with to respect the current rules and enjoy life to the fullest.
Many CBWC camps for example are adapting as new information arises. While it is almost certain that the usual summer camp experience will not be happening (though many camps stand ready to go if the rules change to permit it), many camps are offering alternative programs to reach out to kids.
For the past few weeks Gull Lake Centre has offered some online camps with great success. There is a possibility of that continuing in the coming months. With the latest changes to Alberta, they are also seriously considering running day camps. The guidelines for these camps would be ten people including leaders. Gull Lake is set up so it would be possible to run seven of these groups at once (in different buildings). They are also determined to still run their LTD program, though it will look at little different.
Miller Creek Camp out of Pincher Creek, AB is also planning on running some online camps, and are putting together ‘Camp in a Box’ care packages. They are also hoping to open their grounds for campers to come, one at a time, so that the property will be used.
Keats Camp from Burnaby, BC is another camp who is being creative during this time in their effort to reach kids. They are using their social media to share devotions, challenge kids with camp activities that would help them get outside and be active. They also have their merchandise store open online. They are hoping to facilitate small work parties and use this time to pour into the grounds accomplishing work on some projects.
Katepwa Lake Camp in Fort Qu’Appelle, SK is hopeful to run their LIT program later this summer, under Saskatchewan’s phase 3 and 4 plan reopening plan. They are also seriously and optimistically looking at doing a “Staff Camp” this year, and taking what would be a “Sabbath Summer” of sorts to spiritually invest in and mentor their staff while also working on some property projects.
There are also reports of churches who are going to be running VBS programs online, which involve sharing devotions, songs, crafts and even providing care packages to be sent out to families who have signed up.
For more information, visit your local camp website to keep up to date on activities being offered and the latest rapidly changing news.
- Katepwa Lake Camp, Saskatchewan: http://www.katepwalakecamp.com
- Quest at Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan : http://www.questnet.ca
- Gull Lake Centre, Alberta : https://gulllakecentre.ca
- Mill Creek, Alberta: https://millcreekcamp.org
- Camp Wapiti, Alberta: http://campwapiti.ca
- Keats Camp, B.C: https://keatscamps.com
The Gathering 2020
By Esther Kitchener
The CBWC seeks to be good stewards of the resources held in our care for ministry, and one of the cost-saving measures implemented in 2014 was to begin holding our Assemblies online every second year. Who would have known that this forum for holding AGMs would be the only available option for registered charities in 2020? We are blessed to have had the practice of four such online assemblies now!
The CBWC Online Assembly was held on Thursday, May 21, 2020 with more than 211 in attendance, including 171 delegates and pastors representing 79 churches, as well as 27 staff and several non-voting guests. The meeting opened with a creative video montage of Psalm 8 with submissions from church members across Western Canada, followed by an opening prayer by CBWC President, Sam Breakey. Victor Ku (Director of Administration and Finance), Herb Ziegler (VP of Finance), and Colin Godwin (Carey President) brought reports, with motions put forward and carried as part of the business of the CBWC.
We also enjoyed a ministry initiative update on Kurios, and a compelling address by Rob Ogilvie, Executive Minister of the CBWC. Rob shared some of the myriad ways CBWC churches and ministry leaders have been able to think outside the box in caring for their neighbours while living out the hope and love of Christ during this pandemic. You have found ways to be the church, and your resourcefulness and discernment has been profoundly encouraging to us as CBWC Staff!
Because of our years of Online Assembly experience, and as part of our Kingdom work together during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been able to effectively partner with our sister denominations in sharing resources, encouragement and support for our churches and leaders across Canada. One of the ways CBWC was able to contribute was to resource CBOQ, CBAC and the French Baptist Union in exploring how to transition their in-person Assemblies to an online format for 2020, due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions. We are grateful for this opportunity to collaborate.
We look forward to the possibility of seeing you in-person next year at The Gathering 2021, which is scheduled to take place in High River, Alberta, May 27-29, 2021. Save the date!
Below are links to three videos shown at the Gathering:
Psalm 8: Praying Across Western Canada https://vimeo.com/421709046
CBWC Life Together (30 minute Pre-Gathering Show) https://vimeo.com/421707790
Kurios Update from Steve https://vimeo.com/421714234
The Mustard Seed Street Church’s Chris Pollock Presented with Leadership Award
Last month Chris Pollock, the Hospitality Pastor at The Mustard Seed Street Church and Food Bank in Victoria, BC, was honoured to receive the Belonging & Engagement award from the 2020 Victoria Community Leadership Awards.
Chris said that when he heard he had won, he was surprised—as he didn’t even know he had been nominated. This award was well-earned. Chris has been working with The Mustard Seed Street Church for almost twenty years and is passionate about the ministry.
“So many pour their hearts and lives serving Christ, sharing in love and life, through the ministry of the Mustard Seed. So many, over the course of the last 40 plus years, have been involved and found belonging within the community of the Mustard Seed Street Church. Some for the entirety of that time. I am another one of those who call themselves ‘Seeders’, who has found hope and belonging in community here,” he said.
Chris runs several programs including The Urban Hermit, an evening for people to come and share their way of being creative. Some bring poems they’ve been working on, some describe their artwork, others will sing a song that has significant meaning for them by Karaoke. The Urban Hermit is a bridge for all walks of life to come together, respect diversity and learn from one another. For a period of time, the community of the Urban Hermit was stopped, and for the duration of that time, the hope that the community would rekindle to life again never ceased.
Another ministry is the Street Café. Started over 10 years ago by a group of students at UVIC, the Street Café is also a bridging point for people from all walks of life. The tables are open for anyone to come and enjoy an outstanding, nutritious, thoughtful meal—candle-lit and with great dinner music being played in dim lights. Volunteer cooking teams, connecting with their Viewfield Food-Distribution Center in Esquimalt, prepare wonderful meals with options. A restaurant experience is produced on Friday evenings with a Maître-D calling names to open tables from the waiting area, waiters and waitresses to seat and serve, as well as bussers for cleaning up. It is a safe place; a refreshing place where people find rest after a tough day or week. Sometimes, the candlelit tables of Street Café can be a nice option for a couple to have a romantic dinner together.
The third ministry Chris runs is called Beyond the Streets. These are day excursions for groups of people to trails and beaches and mountain tops for fellowship and soul care. The city can be like a desert, suffocated by concrete and noise; Beyond the Streets has become an oasis of hope for those needing a break from the pressure and tension the streets can bring. Often, by a fire or during a picnic, transformative conversations will ensue, relieving aloneness in a moment of real togetherness and leading the group into prayer. There is time for quiet walks as well as adventurous hikes. Going Beyond the Streets is becoming a part of the community culture at the Mustard Seed Street Church.
In his teen years, Chris attended Royal Oak Baptist Church while Tom Oshiro, Executive Director and Senior Pastor of the Mustard Seed Street Church, was serving as a pastor there. Chris states that Tom is one leader he most looked up to growing up because of his undefended compassion and presence with people. Another leader he admires is Gipp Forster, founder of the Mustard Seed Street Church, for his poetic encounter and inspired empathy for those struggling, unknown and alone, on the margins of society.
Chris shared one of his favourite quotes is from Gipp Forster’s, “1987 Rambling Number Seventy-Eight”:
“Each of us is given an opportunity… be it great or small… to make some difference in this world we live in. To sow a seed of peace and of love… of concern and caring for the stranger as well as the appreciated. We are surrounded with such opportunities in our roller coaster world… and need only to reach out and touch them. But the blindness of ‘self’ prevents us, most of the time, and we are so busy defending what is ‘ours’ that we forfeit those treasures that do not rust or corrode. But, tomorrow is another day. A day to give a smile to the stranger on the street, to invite the enemy home to dinner, to forgive a wrong suffered. What shall we store up for ourselves. Tomorrow? And, how much is each of our lives worth?”
To learn more about Chris’ story, watch for the #weareallcbwc post coming this week on Facebook.
Copyright © 2019 Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, All rights reserved.
Making Connections is the monthly newsletter of the CBWC.