Engaging with mental illness as a congregation
By Nathanael Hofstetter Ressler
Maple Grove Mennonite Church
Realities exist in life that are daunting to consider, much less to know what to do about them. These realities loom over us in their enormity, and we seem to shrink into their shadows. How could I possibly do anything to address that?!
I have started drawing recently and, friends, I am not good at it. At first, I was clumsy, limited in technique, unable to make my vision a reality and overall, very not good. However, I am proud to say that today I am clumsy, limited in technique, unable to make my vision a reality, but only just not good. How did I go from “very not good” to “only just not good?” Tiny, little awkward steps.
I’ve been the pastor of our church for three years. During that time, I was diagnosed with ADHD. The diagnosis was a helpful affirmation to a long suspicion of mine. Engaging mental health has long been my desire; my diagnosis was a further catalyst for that desire. Honestly though, as I thought of the realities of mental health in my context, I felt overwhelmed. I thought: How could I possibly do anything to address that?
One particularly helpful resource from Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADN) was The Mental Health Resource Guide for Congregations. This orienting document served as a good starting place and a way to bring things into perspective rather than trying to address everything at once. In our congregational setting, we began with a series of tiny, awkward steps.
Just start the conversation. I did this from the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I talked about my ADHD diagnosis. It was a little awkward, and I probably didn’t do it optimally. However, it helped begin the conversation. The fear of wanting to do it perfectly or needing to have it be completely understood (I am speaking to myself) can keep us from the conversation.
Modify the physical space. We took a few back pews out of our sanctuary and put round tables in their place. Some folks, neurodivergent or otherwise, are not terribly comfortable in pews. We put some quiet fidgets and coloring books on the tables. I have been told by multiple people that this has helped them immensely in their ability to fully participate in the service.
Getting some training. Our congregation is hosting a Mental Health First Aid Training with the organization Mental Health First Aid Collaborative. This is being offered free to our congregation and community. We hope this will be another way for our body to be more holistically equipped to provide mental health care and support.
I am deeply grateful for the support and resources I have received from ADN. Some folks in our congregation still don’t “get it,” and many times we don’t quite get it right. However, the journey toward being a congregation that is a safe and caring place around mental health is filled with thousands of tiny, little awkward steps.
This article originally was shared on the website of Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADN). Used with permission from ADN. To see the article on the ADN website, go to https://bit.ly/ADN-MentalHealth. The ADN website has a wide variety of resources: https://www.anabaptistdisabilitiesnetwork.org.