I knew it would be an emotionally heavy week. Recently, I participated in a Mental Health First Aid training offered by Mental Health Canada. In a similar way to a Red Cross first aid course, this course is designed to equip first responders with information, skills, and resources needed to identify and provide care to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. I highly recommend this course for those who are in the Canadian context and can access it.
Each morning we walked through a variety of mental health situations, identifying common signs and symptoms, and learning appropriate ways of responding. Throughout we heard personal stories – some through the course videos, some from fellow course participants – on how their lives had been impacted by mental health situations. Through their stories, I gained a deeper awareness and appreciation for how profoundly people and communities are shaped by various mental health disorders. In the process, the disruptive ways our human fragility diminishes our quality of life and of the lives of those around us came through clearly in this course.
You might be wondering at this point, how does my experience with this training relate to worship? Let me share briefly three of the thoughts about worship and mental health that have come to my mind since the training.
I am thankful. Over the last decade or so, there has been an increasing openness and awareness about mental health issues that has entered worship. One of the tangible places I have seen this happen has been in our congregational prayers. Where these prayers were once dominated by requests for physical healing, they have steadily expanded to include prayers for those who are experiencing a variety of mental health situations. In my congregation, those prayers have included praying for people and families living with depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. We have also had a few people share parts of their own stories – some planned in connection with a sermon, some more spontaneously as part of an open mic prayer time. I am thankful to see these signs in worship of how the stigma around mental health is decreasing.
After four mornings immersed in this dialogue, I had a renewed sense for how important deliberate lament is within communal worship. There is something powerful, cathartic, and even healing in giving voice to the this-is-not-the-way-its-supposed-to-be, gut-wrenching, sleep-stealing experiences of people, families, and communities who endure mental health crises and disorders. That guttural and public crying out to God by God’s people has a way of affirming that we are not alone in the midst of our suffering. As we practice lament, we experience both an expanded awareness of God’s presence with us now and a deepened longing that God would bring about the fully restored, fully flourishing kingdom promised in Jesus’ return.
Though not a primary goal of the course, a consistent message emerged that people living with mental health disorders have gifts, skills, and perspectives to offer that can contribute to the well-being of others. It comes through the little phrase, “more than”. We are more than our limitations. We are more than our crises. We are more than our brain chemistry. We are more than recipients of care.
More than. That little phrase has been present with me as I’ve returned to my normal pastoral rhythms this past week. Admittedly, I have more questions than answers at the moment. How do we recognize that each person living with a mental health disorder as being more than their disorder, as more than the various behaviours, crises, and complications that accompany their disorder? What could worship look like that makes room for the expressions of faith and doubt, joy and sorrow, dreams and fears of people and families living in and with mental health crises and disorders? How can the skills, gifts, and experiences of people with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bi-polar, etc. enrich our communal worship, our continued growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?
As I consider these questions, I would love to hear how your congregations are responding to mental health disorders and situations.
- How are you seeing the stigma of mental health situations overcome within your worship contexts?
- How is your community learning to communally lament the absence of shalom experienced by persons and families involved with mental health crises?
- How is your community making room for people and families living with mental health disorders to contribute their gifts, skills, and experiences to enrich your community’s worship?
You can send me your suggestions and ideas through Reformed Worship at firstname.lastname@example.org.