Thursday, 14 August 2014

Faith and Therapy

Compared with when I first came into contact with Mental Health Services in the 1980s there is a growing openess to the benefits of faith in recovery. Recent studies on Suicide have demonstrated that the most significant protection factor is finding hope and meaning in life. It is rare for therapies outside of addiction to even discuss spirituality in its broadest sense.

It is in this vacuum that faith communities and particularly churches in the UK can offer something to recovery from Mental Illness. My own therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is one of the few to significantly include beliefs in its treatment model. During my time in DBT I was actively encouraged to become involved in my church, to pray as a means of combatting emotional distress. One of the most significant summaries of the treatment model which we were taught is the 'Serenity Prayer' - I actively shared encouraging Bible verses with my individual therapist and she in turn passed them on to others she felt shared my beliefs. Such openess to faith in treatment seems to be too rare. However, this morning I came across the following link to a blog exploring the relationship between faith and recovery from mental illness. It makes interesting and challenging reading to those of us involved in seeking to engage our churches in mental health issues: Advice about Therapy, Religion and You (

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Learning from the Wounded Surgeon

"The Wounded Surgeon plies the steel that questions the distempered part." T S Eliot, The Four Quartets.

Eliot's image of Christ as the wounded healer struck a chord with me when I first encountered this collection of poems centred on the passion of Christ. Through his imagery, at the time of my first 'breakdown' in my final year of study, I began a life time study of what is means to live out the reality of 'sharing' in Christ's suffering: 'For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.' (2 Cor 1:5, NIV).

Too often some of the current teaching in churches focuses on the comfort and blessings of faith in Christ, whilst neglecting the condition of this and other passages in scripture - not only are we to share in his sufferings, but we are to share 'abundantly' in those sufferings. Take a moment to absorb that. The sufferings of Christ. From his rejection when he began his ministry, to the hatred from those in authority, and the total rejection of the crowds who had followed him for three years. From the emotional and psychological suffering of Gethsemane to the total isolation and loneliness of the cross. From the stripping away of the skin and muscle from his back as he was scourged, to the final asphyxiation and collapse of death by crucifixion.

Instead of a faith of comfort and ease we are confronted with the challenge to not only accept, but share in suffering, abundantly. If suffering did not have a purpose in God's hands such a challenge would verge on those masochistic practices of some extreme sects. Instead, suffering is not the end for the Christian. There is a world of power in that little word 'so'. 'So also our comfort abounds through Christ.' We know that the cross was not the end, Christ triumphantly came through to new life, having even tasted death. In practice what this means for me as a Christian, is that I shouldn't be surprised when life is hard. Just because I am a Christian I am not exempt from the pain of living in this world. What pain and suffering allow me to do is to test my faith, to have my character and faith tempered and strengthened. The process is painful and I really would have rather not had to live what I have lived sometimes, but, in God's hands I can trust that those experiences are not wasted.

'Romans 5:3-5New International Version (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.'

We have a choice about how we use our sufferings. Our wounds mean that we have a sensitivity to the pain of others, they mean that we can offer comfort from the comfort we have received from God as we have 'gone through' our times of pain. When we have been freed finally from our 'crucibles' we have a choice about whether we hide our wounds, or share them with others:

"Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers. Henri Nouwen"

Monday, 16 June 2014

'Doing Love' by Henri Nouwen

This reading spoke to me this morning, especially as I have been speaking with someone from the local community wanting to know if the church is interested in caring for those with Mental Health problems. The answer by the way was 'absolutely - where do you want us to start?':

'Often we speak about love as if it is a feeling. But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well. The feeling of love is beautiful and life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling. To love is to think, speak, and act according to the spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and called to make that love visible in this world.

Mostly we know what the loving thing to do is. When we "do" love, even if others are not able to respond with love, we will discover that our feelings catch up with our acts.' Henri Nouwen

Thursday, 12 June 2014

What's in a Name? (Or Should that be Pay Packet?)

Labels. We love them. We hate them when they are applied to us, but we can’t help but try to stick them on others when we get the chance. One of the most interesting aspects of labelling in Church is in regard to the care of the congregation.

How often are we told ‘Nobody’s been to see me.’ Only to find that several members of the Church community have not only ‘visited’ but offered help in very practical ways, chores taken care of, shopping done, making sure the person in need is feeling part of the community though ‘laid aside.’ The problem is that for many they have not been ‘cared’ for because the Vicar/Pastor (Senior or otherwise)/Minister/Rector has not been to see them. For many in Churches there is a long way to go to embrace the idea of ‘body ministry’.

For too long, we have allowed a ‘professionalisation’ of pastoral ministry. To so many church members, caring for the Church Family belongs to those with the label and (perhaps more importantly, for us,) the pay packet.

Why has this happened? I’m sure church historians would have a comprehensive answer linked to the development of hierarchy and organisational structure. I think it goes further than that, to the heart of what we believe the Church to be.

We have become earth bound in thinking about what Church is. In the same way that we have developed our thinking about evangelism I believe that we need to radically return to Biblical principles when it comes to caring for the ‘flock’. After all, we are encouraged to: ‘Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.’ (Eph 5:19) and ‘Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ….Let us not become weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’ (Gal 6: 2, 9-10). I do not see the words ‘let the Church Leaders and those on our payroll ‘do good to all people’’.

As Churches grow, there is a wealth of experience, training and expertise that is wasted, not by leadership teams, but by members of churches themselves, as people insist on seeking advice from the ‘ministry professionals’ in church.

I don’t think I would be comfortable having the Chief Executive of my local NHS Trust take my x-rays, however well paid and in charge he or she is, I do not think that I could trust them to do as good a job as the radiographer. This is because regardless of pay grade, or status, an aptitude and gifting in radiography is preferable in this situation, no matter how flattering it may be to have the Chief give up his time to see little old me – he would not be the right person for the job. Rightly, his focus and gifting may lie elsewhere, so I need someone who is there; the right person, at the right time.

God doesn’t make mistakes, he places us in Church families and provides us with one another, not because we are a random collective of misfits who have no connection to one another, but because he chooses to work in partnership with people who are willing to place their gifts and lives at his disposal. When we do that, differences fade into the background and we discover a wealth of talents and gifts, which, when committed to God’s Will for our Church Family can be woven together in relationship first with God and then with one another, to create a movement of purpose and vision.

The problem being, a lot of churches and therefore, members of churches, have grown used to Church being something that is ‘done’ to them rather than something that is an essential part of their ‘being’. Our necessary organisational structures often bypass the relational aspect of being ‘Church’.

Christianity unlike many other religions is primarily about relationship. God first loved us and initiated relationship with us through Jesus. Jesus’ ministry on earth was carried out, not in isolation, but in relationship with a bunch of men and women with vastly diverse backgrounds and experience. Through the Holy Spirit, Pentecost extended the offer of relationship with God to the whole world. We are told that the newborn Church was radically different from the religious structures many of the new believers were familiar with: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer….All the believers were together and had everything in common….they broke bread together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts….’ (Acts 2: 42-47) There was leadership; the apostles, but the emphasis is on the equality of the family of believers when it comes to sharing and encouraging one another. The primary function of the Church community is to bring glory to God as we learn from God’s Word, build one another up and to practically care for one another.

As Church we have a responsibility to make Christ known to the world, but equally we have a responsibility to make Christ’s love known to one another. I have a few thoughts about how we might go about this:

1) Caring for one another should be as natural as caring for any of our loved ones. It is a vital part of growing in relationship with one another. Therefore most pastoral care should be happening as naturally as caring in a loving relationship.
2) Identify those who have a gift of encouragement and coming alongside people.
3) Be clear that the responsibility for pastoring the Church lies with everyone. I can reach the people that other parts of the Church cannot reach and vice versa.
4) Allow pastoral work to be something that grows out of genuine relationship with one another. I am more likely to be receptive of care from someone with whom I already have developed a relationship of trust.
5) If we have a need of ‘professional’ pastoral care and advice, consider building on the relationships and friendships already established. However, efficient and proficient a ministry team may be in attending to the pastoral needs of a Church, they are unlikely to be able to sustain the ongoing care of congregations that are larger. One pastor would have a hard time sustaining the workload with 50 people if he were the only one seeking to manage ongoing needs, let alone those who are leading growing churches.
6) Consider what skills, talents and leading already exist among the church members. Are some not being fully used because of a perception of what pastoral work could/should be?
7) Keep repeating the message that we each have responsibility to care for one another, over and over – after all, we are trying to undo over 300 years of ecclesiastical structure and congregational expectations!

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Long Road to Forgiveness

Trigger warning: this blog deals with my personal journey through childhood trauma to forgiveness and may bring up some difficult issues - if this is likely to affect you please give this one a miss:

"You know what your problem is? You've never learned to forgive."

For a start, when someone's opening gambit is to tell what your own problem is, you know the conversation is not going to be going anywhere positive. Secondly, the person speaking had never actually talked to me in sufficient depth to know if I had anything to forgive at all, let alone the real story. The most difficult fact to accept was that this was said by my Pastor in the middle of a conversation when I had decided to share with him my diagnosis with a complex Mental Health Disorder.

The reality is that I am learning to accept that I suffered physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse from a number of people in my childhood. Because it has been my journey, it has taken me a long time to accept that what I took to be a 'difficult childhood' actually was full of traumatic events. When you are the one living through and surviving trauma, then 'normality' very quickly becomes a distortion of other people's reality.

Forgiveness is a huge subject, for me it is central to my overcoming my past. However, no matter how I have found the process of forgiveness I don't believe that I can prescribe the 'how to' for anyone else, no matter how closely our stories may resemble one another. That is because I have learned that just as my experience of emotional and mental instability is unique to me, so my journey to forgiveness is equally unique.

I do not think that I would have begun to understand forgiveness outside of the context of my Christian faith. In Jesus we find an example of the best of humanity - he was also fully God, but the Bible tells us in Hebrews: 'For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.' (2:17) and 'For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.'Hebrews 4:14-16.

Even as he endured unimaginable physical and emotional torture and pain (Gethsemane, show trial, mob justice, scourging until the skin and flesh hung from his back in strips, then crucifixion) Jesus did not choose to die until he had forgiven his tormentors. 'Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”' Luke 23:34 and 'Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.' Luke 23:46. His final acts before dying were to 1) forgive his tormentors and 2) to give hope to the dying thief.

I would say that forgiveness is a crucial process on the road to recovery from trauma caused by other people's abuses. I do not believe forgiveness to be a single act (or determination) of the will, but it is a long and, often painful, process.

First, I have to acknowledge that I have been the victim of a wrong done to me by someone else. For me, that meant allowing that at the age of 4 or 5 I was not the author of my own physical and emotional scars. I have had to learn to view myself with compassion; often the same compassion I usually reserve for the pain of others. For some traumas this has taken me my whole lifetime, due to the depth and extent of the scarring.

It does not help to compare my wounds with those of others. I do not know what someone else has had to endure or is able to tolerate compared to me. I am not able to feel the physical pain of another person. In the same way with emotional scars and pain, I can never truly say 'I know exactly how you feel'. I may be able to say 'I think I can understand where you've been....' No one has lived my life, or survived what I have survived, so no one can know what I feel I need to forgive. It is only I who can decide who and what to forgive. And only I know when is the right time for me to forgive and 'let go'.

Second no one can decide what Justice means for me. For some, there is a need for retribution, for the validation of going through the full formal justice process. I am not able to tell another victim or survivor of abuse what Justice is for them, I only know what my need for justice is and whether I feel I need to go through a formal court process for me to feel I have achieved it.

My decision has been that if I am serious about calling myself a Christian and I say, as a result, that Jesus is my example, then I need to consider what my forgiveness can do for me, in helping me to come to terms with the pain of my past. If my faith means anything then, it must mean that I have to try to forgive others. I would like to say, though that this is different from 'letting' perpetrators of childhood abuse 'off the hook'. My forgiveness frees me to move on, but there must be consequences for wrongdoing - when we hurt others there is an impact on our own souls which is the burden each one of us must carry and face before God. If I have hurt another person and I want to move on, then there needs to be an acknowledgement of damage done and an acceptance of consequences for my actions. Forgiveness does not stop me from wanting justice, particularly if there is a legal consequence. However, whether I pursue that justice is entirely up to me as a victim and no one else.

A number of years ago I decided that I would not pursue any formal charges against those who had hurt me, because I did not have a need to protect any others at the time from abuse, and because to do so would have caused enormous hurt to others who mattered to me. I believe that there is a natural justice which has meant that I have been able - given the passage of considerable time - to leave Justice in other hands than my own. This sense of letting go has not been easy, there has been an ongoing process of recognising the wrong, acknowledging I have the power to choose which path to justice I follow and being prepared to leave the wrong doers to God/fate or natural justice, call it what you will.

I have not been able to confront any of my abusers directly and therefore, there has been no restorative process of them asking and then me choosing to forgive them. Rarely, are victims offered this opportunity, simply because of the complexities involved in the relationships between perpetrator and victim. Forgiveness, then becomes an important part of my healing process, which allows me take control and without any reference to the perpetrator, to be able to choose to forgive. This has been necessary in some instances as I have decided to maintain some kind of relationship with some who have abused me. In this process, there has had to be a radical acceptance of the fact that often those who are closest to us, may never be able to acknowledge the wrong they have done to us. Therefore, for me to move forward I have to recognise that I am the one who is capable of recognising the situation as it is and either accept it or change it. Ironically, I have found that in accepting that I can forgive without seeking retribution or justice, I have also changed my attitude to the relationships involved and therefore I have allowed myself to move forward in my own emotional healing.

The most important thing for me to say is that acceptance is not approval. Just because I accept that I was a victim, and that my abusers will never acknowledge the wrong they did to me, does not mean that my forgiveness is some form of tacit approval of the actions which caused the wounds.

Rather, I have accepted that I cannot change the past, I have accepted that there is an inner strength which has been a result of surviving my past and finally, and most importantly I have accepted that those who have hurt me, as well as the wounds from the past do not have to keep me chained up for the rest of my life. Ultimately, forgiveness and acceptance of the past frees me to enjoy the strength of character my life's journey has created in me and to stop those from the past from continuing to hurt me in the present. I am free to be myself, with all my colourful complexity, in the here and now.

Friday, 25 April 2014

This world is not my Home....

For the Christian there is a strange dichotomy between the here and now and the not yet. I remember a Christian song called 'The Now and the Not Yet.' We are called to serve God in the here and now, while being aware that inside us is a yearning for 'home'. I love the old time Gospel Song which says:

'This world is not my home,
I'm just passing through,
If heaven's not my home,
Then Lord what will I do.
The angels beckon me from
Heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home
In this World anymore.'

Especially when we struggle with the pain and suffering of this world, the desire for the 'not yet' can seem overwhelming. In my readings this morning I came across the following meditation from Henri Nouwen:

Fulfilling a Mission

'When we live our lives as missions, we become aware that there is a home from where we are sent and to where we have to return. We start thinking about ourselves as people who are in a faraway country to bring a message or work on a project, but only for a certain amount of time. When the message has been delivered and the project is finished, we want to return home to give an account of our mission and to rest from our labours.

One of the most important spiritual disciplines is to develop the knowledge that the years of our lives are years "on a mission."'

When I see my life as mission (sometimes feels like 'Mission Impossible'!)then I can view the obstacles and challenges as an inevitable part of fulfilling it. There is a purpose and a meaning for everything that happens.

'Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.' (Romans 5: 1-5)

The only destiny I have to worry about fulfilling is the one that will ultimately be completed when I arrive back home with God - to become more like Jesus in my character. The hardest thing to hold on to is accepting that, in this context, every moment of suffering and pain can be used by God in pursuit of the mission of my life.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Is your Church a Safe Place to be Mentally Ill?

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15"

How safe is your church for people who are emotionally vulnerable? This is a question we were faced with, when tentatively we introduced a Coffee Morning on Mental Health during a mission week nearly two years ago. It was as part of a week long series of coffee mornings entitled 'Help, How do I cope with....' I was responsible for organising 'Mental Illness'. As a long time member of our church I wanted to speak to others about my own experience of mental illness and faith. I was given the opportunity to organise two different events during our LIFE week in 2012.

The first was a public meeting where we used Mental Health awareness quizzes gleaned from Sane, Mind and other excellent websites, followed by questions to a number of people from our Church who had lived with Mental Illness or were carers. Then a GP who has published a book about depression spoke about faith and depression. I'm not sure of the total numbers attending but the main body of the church was filled. The response was immediate and positive. The second event was a more intimate coffee morning in a friend's house 12 attended. I told my story and invited discussion of what people felt was needed in the church to support them through periods of Mental Illness. A number of observations were made:

What Issues Were Raised?

A. It is often hard for someone struggling with emotional issues to face getting out and about. In particular, people recognised the fact that the church could be a supportive environment, but often the prospect of walking through the door was too daunting when feeling low.

B. Many were shocked when I first stood up at the front of church and informed them that I was receiving treatment under the care of the Complex Care and Treatment Team and that I suffered from a complex Mental Health condition which was long term. For them it helped to know that someone else in the Church had some understanding of the stigma of Mental Illness, even if we didn't share the same conditions. Essentially, people believed they were the only one (in Church) taking anti-depressants, or the only one whose spouse was Bipolar, or the only one who had ever had a suicidal thought.

C. There was a sense of failure born of people's belief that their faith should somehow 'protect' them from emotional and psychological distress. Talking about Mental Health and being open about how many in the church were struggling with similar issues was a start in allowing people to discuss their problems openly.

Guiding Principles

Having started the conversation about Mental Health, we are now working on how we respond as a Christian Community to issues around Mental Illness. There are some principles that we believe are important to ensure that as a Community we make sure our own mental and emotional resilience is strong enough to help those most in need.

1) Research has shown that finding hope and meaning for life, is a key protective factor in helping people manage suicidal impulses and feelings. As Christians there is much teaching in the Bible about the renewing of the mind, and many examples of practical care for our physical and mental well being. Primarily in planning events and training I have kept in mind the exhortation from Phillipians 4:8 ff: "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." There are a number of therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy which can be compatible with these biblical principles. Therefore Christian faith can be seen as a positive influence on someone's recovery, if it is taught faithfully and compassionately.

2) It is dangerous for Churches to advise members to neglect either medication or attendance at therapies that have been prescribed by medical professionals. It is important particularly when helping people with complex mental health problems such as Bipolar, Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorders, to support them in accessing mental health services. When presented with peoples' needs, asking simple questions such as, have you missed any appointments recently? Do you have a Care Co-ordinator? Have you been in touch with your GP?, will enable you to discern whether they are accessing all the help and support that may be available to them.

3) No one individual should try to help someone with complex Mental Health Conditions in isolation. Expectations of boundaries should be clearly articulated at the start of any relationship. In this way, the person being helped understands that everyone has their limits and, because of that, there may be times when we all will need to seek advice and support from others. Any pastoral work carried out in church should not be the burden of one individual but should be shared by a team, even if there is one Key person who is in contact with each individual in need. This is important to prevent 'burnout' and the breaching of personal boundaries and limits.

4) It is not 'UnChristian' to set limits to time and expectations of every contact with each individual. Following the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus withdrew to a lonely place to pray and 'recharge his batteries'. In fact the Bible tells us that he often withdrew to lonely places to pray. If Christ needed to find energy and time alone with God, to help people, all of us should expect the same for ourselves. Self Care is essential if we are to be resilient enough to be effective in helping those with Mental Health issues.

For those with Mental Health issues there is often a sense of chronic emptiness and endless emotional pain and distress. For us, it is exhausting to live with every day, but it is also exhausting when trying to come alongside and support us. God cares for all of us and if we find that we are reaching our limits, we need to be honest with one another about that. It is not helpful for one person to set out to help me, with my Mental Health issues, with little idea of how often and for how long I can contact them without causing them to feel 'burnt out'.

In the past I have been hurt when so called 'pastoral' relationships have been abruptly terminated because the person seeking to pastor me has found themselves unable to cope with my levels of distress. Better to have never started the relationship in the first place than to leave me feeling once again that no one can help me, or worse, cope with me - such experiences only deepen my sense of alienation and rejection. If you're not sure that you can cope with listening to my issues, don't start the conversation and certainly don't promise me things you can't deliver. Clear boundaries set at the beginning of a relationship often prevents those awful moments when you're caught on the phone and find yourself unable to end it without causing damage to the person on the other end. Being clear about what you can offer at the outset and that there are limits to your interaction allows you to end it when such conversations have become unproductive. The question to ask in any interaction is, is this achieving anything for either them or me?

5) Any groups that are set up should have a purpose that is not met by any other ministry in the Church. Hence any Mental Health focused group should not become a fellowship for the 'suffering'. There should be a focus on positive encouragement from scripture and that group members will be expected, as their conditions allow, to contribute to supporting one another to make the most of their therapies and to positively engage in the wider Church community. We have a well developed small groups system in our church and all adults who attend regularly are encouraged to join one of these groups. In a large Church this is an effective way of making sure we care for one another. If people are physically able to they should be encouraged to make their own way to any group, this may be difficult at times and expectations of attendance at all sessions should reflect the realities around motivation when dealing with Mental Health.

6) Helping and pastoral care for those struggling with their Mental Health in the church is not solely the responsibility of the Ministry Teams. Some may have some more knowledge and expertise in helping in this area than others. However, being part of a community of different people with different gifts and experiences can be positive when it is welcoming and safe. Therefore the Church Family as a whole should be involved in learning about Mental Health and understand where and when to seek help for themselves and others. It takes a Village to raise a child, it takes a whole Church Family to help those with Mental Health issues.

What We Have Done

Given these principles, we have now embarked on a basic programme of Mental Health Education. The following is a list of activities that we have already held or are planning.

1) Basic training on Mental Health issues, Suicide and Suicide Prevention for Ministry Trainees.

2) Set up a Pastoral Team who can be allocated as Keyworkers to individuals needing additional support.

3) We have developed a five session long programme of practical advice and support to help those struggling particularly with Depression and Anxiety. This has been called 'All of Me' and based on Biblical principles seeks to complement interventions from local Mental Health services. This blog is linked with the work carried out as part of All of Me. We have completed four of these courses since last November when it first started. Many more people have expressed an interest in attending. We are hoping to extend the group to our Church Extensions after Easter. I have found that those who attend out of interest rather than from recognised need, find it equally helpful to maintaining their own Mental Health.

4) A Follow up Coffee Morning which launched All of Me and was centred on Stigma and Mental Illness. This was accompanied by a talk at all three main congregations in the church raising the need for education around Mental Health issues in general.

5) Talks to various groups in the church around Mental Health and tailored for the needs of each group e.g. Ladies Fellowship - older ladies excellent discussion of bereavement issues and depression.

6) Training for Growth Group Leaders and Pastoral Team - basic triage re emotional problems and how to signpost to appropriate help.

7) Suicide Prevention training for Pastoral Team and Ministry Team.

8) As part of a mini mission in September we have planned another morning exploring the issues around suicide called 'Help I Can't Cope Anymore' Again this will be a mix of education, testimony and talk by a speaker who has experienced complex Mental Health issues themselves.

There are numerous other ideas that are being worked out. Rather than seek to plan for unknown needs, our programme has been developed following response to two focused events which asked the question, what more do you think we could be doing?

Above all, it is my hope that when someone is in despair they will be able to find an open door, a listening ear and an understanding heart in our church family. Ultimately, I believe that if we are able to do that, then we can offer to each person, hope and meaning for every moment of suffering they have gone through in this life. And the opportunity to become part of a warm, functioning Church Family.