How can the church positively engage with the community on mental health issues?
Bob Bartindale, an engineer turned Methodist lay minister, decided to make that question the focus of his dissertation while studying for a master’s degree in practical theology. But he was shocked to find that people often put up “a whole range of barriers” toward such engagement.
Still, some congregations were able to overcome those barriers and Bartindale cited Cleggs Lane Methodist Church as one of three case studies where that occurred.
The Cleggs Lane congregation had dwindled to a tiny group of faithful disillusioned people in a crumbling building. “They assume that they’re all going to die really, and the church is going to die with them,” he explained. “And then, something astonishing happens.”
When a lay worker who came to oversee the church said yes to the men’s group who wanted a place to meet, “this train of events followed that dragged the church along with it,” Bartindale said.
“To me, that’s a spiritual thing. I’m absolutely convinced it’s got to do with prayer, in the sense of just simply listening to what the Holy Spirit is doing around you.”
He’s seen a similar narrative of despair played out at other churches, but the ending is different because they’ve “closed off the possibilities.”
There is no rulebook on how a church can go about providing the human and the physical resources needed to promote the social and mental health of a community, but Bartindale said it’s essential to try. “This is core business for the church, this is really where we should be at.”
When he worked in Stockport, Bartindale said he found the local National Health Service “was bending over backwards” to get involved with faith groups on mental health issues. After all, he pointed out, the faith groups had available facilities for programming, good connections, an excellent volunteer base, “good cups of tea” and the right ethos — compassion as a mission.
So, with a level of basic awareness and by demystifying mental health issues, “the church actually can be a fantastic base of support and Cleggs Lane demonstrates that,” he added.
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Bloom is assistant news editor of United Methodist News Service and DuBose is a photographer for United Methodist Communications. Contact them at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.