Can We Share Communities Or Are We Part Of The Same Community
The Black Church is very community oriented. Fighting poverty, discrimination, etc., often in an urban setting, the Black Church has been an anchor to the community reaching out to the lost, the unfortunate, the hurting. It has become a way of life. Churches use to be community anchors in rural areas too, with the little corner church, or the church with the community cemetery. With America’s society becoming so mobile, I hardly know anyone who goes to the church the closest walking distance from his or her home. Christians pass each other on their way to congregations dotted throughout the county in which they live. Today Christians opt to go to bigger churches that have more opportunity to meet “their needs” (ie. good children’s ministry, youth group, with same musical genre of their choice and comfort) rather than stick with a small church in their community where they might have to minister rather than be ministered to.
With this mentality, no wonder the Church is fragmented when trying to understand the Mental Health community where there is such a demand for help, where the need is great, where the pain and conflict of constant trauma may exist. Working with the mentally ill is often considered as “high maintenance”, thus the Church’s reservation to effectively reach out. Community is all about relationships, and relationships require time and effort to establish.
Personal Note: When my wife faced a bipolar manic attack and was returned from the hospital in comatose state on high dosage of three medicines for five months, not getting any help from County Mental Health Services nor from my local church, I became desperate. Upon the advise of my cousin, I emptied out my email address book inviting anyone to come on Monday to a meeting to help support me in getting back to work as a teacher and helping my wife in recovery. Nine people showed up, and a community was formed. Only one participant had ever had any contact with the mental health world. The rest of us were novices, but each had a gift: one a listener, one staying with an elderly lady, one to make phone calls or do some paper work, another with a contact to help financially, etc. Everyone added to the effort, and I ended up back at work and my wife moving ahead. We reached our goal.
Churches often have small groups, many very diverse. It is the perfect setting to prevent isolation and loneliness, a common theme with depression and other mental disorders. A “caring”, “loving”, “supporting”, often “sacrificial” community of friends and family in a small group setting is far more personal and effective than any government social agency can be. People who know nothing about mental illness learn from the experience and reach out with their giftings. The group I formed was not a support group of people of like experiences sharing from those experiences, but a group of people very diverse, who may not have experienced mental illness before in their life, but have a common bond of faith, love, and service.
My wife would rather stay home then go out; relationships then become a premium. A community of believers reaching out to her but also the caretaker, me, would help alleviate that problem. Depression needs hope; guilt needs forgiveness and acceptance; isolation needs fellowship; trauma needs stability, struggle just needs a helping hand, and the Church can offer all these with faith, hope, charity, and love.
One who is mentally ill is very fortunate if they have a loving spouse or parent, and a loving accepting family around them. They are blessed if they have on top of that a loving, supporting, faith based community.
If one doesn’t, then they can easily fall into the grips of homelessness, despair, isolation, and even jail. We will look at that aspect and the church’s responsibility in yet another blog.