Historically, churches haven’t always been all that comfortable discussing mental illness. But times have changed, and many congregations have shifted their attitude, welcoming discussion on mental illness and its impact on the community, and even developing ways to support parishioners as they struggle with their mental health or the mental health their of loved ones.
For several years, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Minneapolis congregation located in SpringHouse Ministry Center at 610 W. 28th Street, has been on the leading edge of this issue. On Nov. 11-12, the church will host “Mental Heath and the Faith Community’s Response,” a conference designed to help members of religious communities — or anyone who works in a faith setting — to focus on issues surrounding mental health. The conference is one in series of issues-focused gatherings hosted by the church. Admission is $25 and the event is open to the public.
Dan Adolphson, First Christian Church associate pastor, said that conference-series planners wanted to focus on topics that were often ignored by mainstream church communities. For the fall conference, they selected mental illness, he said, because it affects the lives of many people but is too often ignored.
“We saw a need for a conference series that addressed issues that people of faith are not usually all that comfortable talking about in church,” Adolphson said. “One of the issues that stands out for a lot of different treasons was the topic of mental health and mental illness. It is an important real-life issue that people struggle with talking about in faith settings.”
That reluctance to talk about mental illness in church is the very reason communities of faith should talk about the issue, Adolphson said.
“There are wonderful nonprofit organizations in the larger community like NAMI that are doing great work, but in churches, it is still one of the topics that you talk about in hushed tones,” he said. “We need to open up in faith settings, to demonstrate that there should be no shame associated with mental illness.”
Author to set tone
The conference, which will include a resource room, a number of workshops and panel discussions, will feature three talks by the Rev. Sarah Griffith Lund, author of “Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family and Church.”
Adolphson, whose adoptive mother struggled with bipolar disorder for most of her life, said he is excited to welcome Lund to Minneapolis. Her book is built from her own experiences living with a father and brother who struggled with mental illness and filtered through her experiences as a minister serving large and small congregations around the country. Today Lund is vice president for seminary advancement at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
“When we were doing the initial research about who might be a good speaker on this topic,” Adlophson recalled, “I reached out to a friend who works at Chalice Press, our denominational publishing house. Right away, he told me, ‘You need to ask Sarah Griffith Lund.’ I did my research and learned that she has written this amazing book that fits the theme of the conference perfectly.”
Lund’s talks, which will open the conference on Friday evening and Saturday morning and close the event on Saturday afternoon, will focus on different topics, Adolphson said.
“She will tell her personal story on Friday. On Saturday morning, her second keynote is titled, ‘The Myths and Truths We Tell.’ Her final talk is going to focus on how faith communities can become WISE, or Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged [PDF], while still working to end stigma around mental illness.”
Conference panel discussions and workshops will feature many leaders of the Twin Cities’ mental health and faith communities, including Katie Perzel, director of clinical mental health services for Volunteers of America – Minnesota; T. McKinley, co-founder of My Spirit Community; the Rev. Rachael Keefe, senior pastor at Living Table United Church of Christ; and Tracy Hilke, community mental health integration manager for Amherst H. Wilder Foundation Community Mental Health Services.
Discussion themes will range from trauma-informed mental health care in a congregational setting to creating welcoming church spaces for LGBTQ+ youth.
Conference planners, “really wanted to tackle topics that were tough to talk about,” Adolphson explained. “We wanted to provide a safe place, a church space, where participants can come and talk about these issues with knowledgeable people who are providing services or doing work in the community.”
The conference’s resource room, which will include topical books for sale and tables staffed by representatives from a range of local mental health organizations, is designed to provide useful information for all participants.
“Our goal is for people to be able to walk out of this conference with a variety of tools that can help them and their congregations do a better job of addressing these issues,” Adolphson said.
Space is still available at the conference. Registration is available online.