By Conference Minister Diane Weible
“When I learned that my son was living with bipolar and substance use disorder, I was so clueless. This was 31 years ago. Since then I have learned much. However, talking about mental illness in the church was just not a subject that was raised. It was stigmatizing and just downright misunderstood.”
These are the words of The Rev. Alan Johnson, chair of the UCC’s Mental Health Network. On March 2 the Network will host a WISE Conference on mental health in our Conference, at City of Refuge Church. This is the fourth time that MHN has hosted such a Conference and we are blessed that it is in our community this time. It is an opportunity for all of us in the church to spend time learning and talking about the important issue of mental illness and our role in supporting individuals and families affected.
I heard a quote recently that has stayed with me. Those of us who do not currently have a physical or mental illness are not able-bodied; we are temporarily able-bodied. Illness is a fact of life. Learning how to support one another in times of illness, physical or mental illness, is a gift not just to those we support but also a gift to us. It also is a way to build up resources and strength and support for when it is our time, or time for someone we love, to face illness.
Alan continues: “Over the years, I have taken educational programs offered by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), read articles on the web, gone to conventions and conferences, and even attended support groups for those who are affected by mental illness/brain disorders. But even to this day, in many congregations the serious mental illnesses such as severe depression, schizophrenia, anxiety and panic attacks, eating disorders, and more have not been named in the prayers of the people, nor have many congregations held a Mental Health Sunday as so designated by the UCC. I believe that spirituality and faith can be resources in one’s recovering in mental illness and congregations can be contexts in which such resources can be helpful for those who are living with mental health challenges as well as their loved ones.”
This is our chance; our opportunity to learn and grow and be part of a ministry that we do not always recognize is a sacred part of the work we are called to do.
You can learn more at www.mhn-ucc.org and can register HERE.
“Our goal is for our congregations to be Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged (WISE) about mental health for all who are affected. Please consider attending. All of us on the UCC Mental Health Network are volunteers offering this conference so that as I was clueless those years ago, now all of us can become aware and know how to take action.”
(Alan had been on the national staff of the UCC, 1979-1995, and retired as chaplain at The Children’s Hospital, Denver, 2006.)