Disability Concerns Ministry advocates for the full inclusion of all people in our churches and faith communities. However, often people that live with significant mental health issues do not feel included, valued or appreciated within their churches.
As a disability community, we have heard so many people share their personal experiences of being told that they need to pray harder for healing. This is a negative and traumatizing response blames people for living with a mental health diagnosis. In fact, as part of the church, we are called to embrace all people, rather than judge people. A mental health diagnosis is not a sin that needs to be repented of. We are all God’s beloved. We are all created in his image.
During the winter season, Disability Concerns hosted a 6-week study focused on the book by Prof. John Swinton, Finding Jesus in the Storm: The Spiritual Lives of Christians with Mental Health Challenges. His book challenges us as Christians to develop the capacity to listen to people living with mental health challenges and to learn from them—to start asking questions as to how we can better connect, better serve and be served by our fellow Christians who have a mental health diagnosis.
To quote Swinton: "The purpose of this book is to provide readers with rich, deep, and thick descriptions of the spiritual experiences of Christians living with mental health challenges. It assumes that in order to understand people’s mental health experiences, we need to find time to listen carefully and cannot be bound by assumptions." (p.2)
Therefore, we would encourage all churches to consider adding Swinton’s book to your church library. Create a book club for your community. Reach out to your church or regional disability advocate to help you develop a book club for you. As you gather, develop the skill of active listening. Pay attention to your community members that have lived with a specific diagnosis and listen to what their lived experience has been. Considering that about 20 percent of individuals live with mental health challenges, including people in your congregation, ask the hard questions:
- How has your church marginalized individuals?
- How could your church develop a better level of understanding of each other?
- What specific practices can your church take to welcome and support people living with mental health challenges?
This book offers great opportunities for understanding and growth within your community.
To accompany the book, our ministry has developed a book study guide to walk you through the book over the course of 6 weeks. Disability Concerns also created a small group study guide and leaders guide to help you open up the conversation: Let's Talk! Breaking the Silence around Mental Illness in Our Communities of Faith.
We pray that both the book and these study guides will serve you well in creating spaces where people feel they can share their experiences of living in faith while living with a mental health diagnosis.