Monday 23 July 2018

The Northampton Symposium on Ministry and Mental Health

St Andrew’s Hospital, 14 May 2018

Summary Paper


The Symposium was hosted by the St Andrew’s Chaplaincy, and the aim was to look at theological and biblical principles for good ministry practice towards those experiencing mental health problems.

Attendance was by invitation in order to keep to numbers to such that would enable good discussion.  38 were present, and we are grateful to all who came (especially from a distance) and shared openly from their thinking and experience.  Special thanks are due to Bishop Donald and to those who gave presentations.

Sue Griffiths has put together a full record of the day, which includes detail of the presentations and discussion on the floor, and which will be available to those who attended.  This summary paper simply covers key points, and raises some questions for reflection and about possible future steps.

Keynote Address

The Rt Revd Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough, gave the keynote address.  He set out some key theological principles:

-              that all people are created in God’s image and therefore of equal and infinite worth, which requires us to treat each person with deep respect, whomever they might be;

-              that all people are broken in different ways, which means we need to treat others with humility and be cautious about making judgments about them;

-              that all people are fully redeemable, capable of living a fulfilled life, albeit perhaps differently and more simply compared with some of society’s current general values.

Bishop Donald challenged the false distinction and separation of mind, body and spirit, wanting instead to emphasise the integrated wholeness of the person and our lives.  This pointed to the interconnectedness of causes and effect in health (with the impact of the spiritual often not sufficiently recognised).  There was also too much of a ‘silo mentality’ in the provision of healthcare, with insufficient co-ordination: integrated care needed to come from all.

Bishop Donald highlighted some particular needs which he therefore saw as important:

-              for high-level cross-disciplinary listening and diagnosis, where the professional can integrate advice and input from others into the care they give

                -              for 24/7 cross-disciplinary care in the community available to all

                -              for good local provision for children and adolescents

                -              for better recognition of need and response for those with personality disorder or
lifestyle dysfunctionality

Question for reflection: how can we each in our own setting contribute to better integration of care, focusing more on whole-life outcomes?
Healing – Principles and Practice

The Revd Philip Evans looked at Luke 10.1-9 to highlight Jesus’s clear and unqualified injunction to ‘heal the sick’ (v9).  But he noted that this was preceded by a number of emphases:

-              the necessity of ‘going’ – entering a house or a town (vv 5,8) – highlighting that ministry was as much if not more out in the community than in church buildings

                -              the initial greeting and giving of peace (vv 5,6) in order to establish relationship and 
show compassion

-              the need to ‘stay … not move around’ (v7) implying ministry with commitment, continuing context, and good follow-up

-              the encouragement to ‘eat and drink whatever they give you’ (v7) – highlighting the importance of community and sharing together in relationship

and indeed, only after all these, and then after the imperative to ‘heal the sick’ does Jesus speak of preaching (that the Kingdom of God has come near (v9)): Philip suggested that our tendency is to be preaching to those who come to us, rather than first going out to others in compassion, commitment and community, and healing.

Philip spoke of his own experience of healing ministry, not least in an acute hospital setting in Leeds but also in parishes, influenced by Francis MacNutt, John Wimber and neo-Pentecostalism.  But he questioned whether the good and effective models he had witnessed and practised in ministry for physical healing were appropriate for responding to those with mental illness or neurodevelopmental disorders: there were clear examples of unhelpful and even counterproductive practice.  Indeed questions about ‘spiritual abuse’ had been raised by General Synod member Jayne Ozanne in a paper published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists: her criticisms, however tendentious, raised important questions.  Nonetheless ‘healing’ can and does occur in mental health contexts.

Questions for reflection: what is our experience of seeing the sick healed in the context of mental illness, and how can we shape good practice to ‘heal the sick’ in relation to mental illness?

Local Churches – Accessibility, Ministry and Mission

Dr David Smart referred to Lord Richard Layard’s speaking of the need to counter cultural individualism through ‘spiritual revival’.  The ten keys to happy living were a positive response to this, as was the recovery movement’s holistic emphasis on choice, opportunity and hope.  David spoke of the continuing negative impact of stigma and isolation arising from mental health problems, and the necessity of promoting self-compassion and the encouragement of discovery of personal strengths.

David introduced three speakers to share the value and impact of local projects:

-              Dr Peter Harper spoke of Action for Happiness and the acronym GREAT DREAM representing the ‘Ten Keys to Happier Living’ set out in details in Vanesa King’s book.  He described each of the keys, and relating them to Christian biblical bases.  Peter emphasised the need for each of us to manage our own wellbeing in order to care for others.  He gave a number of examples of initiatives which churches might take in order to promote the ten keys and the wellbeing principles underlying them.  He concluded by referencing Colossians 3.12-14, ‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience … And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.’
-              Kate Houghton described the Churches and Wellbeing project which had been run a few years ago in Northampton, and evaluated by the university, utilising Chris Williams’s ‘Living Life to the Full’ courses.  Ten courses had been delivered through seven churches to 92 people, with significant improvements being measured for wellbeing and general health with reductions in anxiety and depression.  Discussions with Manna House were exploring the possibility of a second wave of the project, though there were some cost implications.

-              Chris Davison described the St Giles Wellbeing Café set up and run on Monday afternoons by Denise Evans and a volunteer team, based on a national model developed by Ruth Rice and Renew Wellbeing.  It seeks to be a place of welcome and hospitality for all, looking to strengthen their emotional and mental wellbeing.  It provides community and connection, with a range of simple activities available, and including a pattern of optional reflective prayer and contemplation.  Relationships with the statutory and voluntary sectors are being developed.

Question for reflection: how can local churches be encouraged, resourced and supported to give better welcome, access and opportunities to meet wellbeing and mental health needs in our communities?

Matters for further reflection and possible initiatives

The informal group which planned the Symposium – David Smart and Philip Evans, along with Kate Houghton, John Nightingale and Peter Harper – will welcome reflections following our day together, including suggestions for further initiatives.

Specific things which have been suggested or identified include:

-              A regional open church event to explore ministry to those with mental illness, addressing inclusion, ministry of healing, and available resources/support

-              A conference hosted by St Andrew’s to look at the impact of faith and spirituality on mental health and wellbeing, in particular patient reported outcomes

-              A forum in our region for developing good practice in Christian ministry in mental illness, capable of giving advice and support to churches/practitioners

-              Exploration of better training in mental health and ministry at theological college and seminary and for new clergy

-              A resource directory/map to share what local resources are available particularly for churches to access in areas of health and social care.

Philip Evans

16 July 2018

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Ministry and Mental Illness – Theology and Practice

At the end of October I was very pleased to attend the East Northants Faith Group Leaders’ Lunch and to join my friend and colleague Dr David Smart in speaking about the Church’s response to mental illness.

I recalled being at the equivalent meeting a year ago and hearing about FaithAction and also the award-winning Renew37 mental health café in West Bridgford.   This had led, a year on, to my Chaplaincy partnering with FaithAction to explore ways of measuring the impact of spiritual care in mental health, and to my wife Denise linking with Renew37 to start a wellbeing café at a church in Northampton.  The value and outcomes of networking!
I began by noting three gaps.
First, there has been encouraging growth in the recognition of the importance of spirituality, but often a gap in relating this to a Christian theological and biblical understanding. 

Secondly, much of the very positive writing and discussion on spirituality in mental health has been led by psychiatrists and healthcare academics, but there is a gap in the contribution of those rooted in Christian theology and ministry practice.

Thirdly, there have been significant helpful contributions from a growing number of national organisations, but a gap in local reflection and response.

Then, looking back not merely a year but more like 25, I recalled how as an acute hospital chaplain (at St James’s in Leeds) I had embarked on an exploration of how the Christian healing ministry can appropriately connect with healthcare settings.  I had been challenged by reading Francis MacNutt’s comment in his seminal book Healing that often the chaplain will seek to accommodate a patient to their suffering, while the latter is wanting the former to pray for their suffering to be relieved.  When Francis MacNutt came to Harrogate, I was eager to hear him speak, and this led to my fully encountering the healing ministry of John Wimber.  In the years that followed I believed I saw many answers to prayer for healing in the hospital.  And I recalled a consultant paediatrician commenting to me that the significant improvement in her patient’s condition was “a real answer to prayer.”

In the intervening years as a parish vicar I continued to explore the healing ministry, and encouraged others to do so.  I was part of the ministry team at the Lakeland ‘revival’ taking testimonies of physical healings.  I joined in Healing on the Streets, and even in Rushden on the ‘plaza’ outside Iceland we saw a woman’s leg grow.  After I visited Healing Rooms in Northampton and Northern California, and devoured the theory and practice in Robby Dawkins’s book Do What Jesus Did, at Whitefriars Church in Rushden we developed the ministry of ‘As You Go’ – out in the streets and peoples’ homes, seeing the impact of practical help and also sometimes of prayer for physical healing.

So I had much to give thanks for in relation to the rediscovery and growth of the Church’s ministry of healing.   But …
- In the many charismatic healing meetings I have been part of, have there been any words of knowledge about healing mental illness?
- In the many stories I have read of the ministry of great healing evangelists, or in the testimonies at large conferences or gatherings, how many relate to mental illness?
- Does this mean God is less concerned about mental illness than physical disease?
- And what about our approach to developmental disorders, which are not illnesses but which can have such debilitating effects on ability and functioning?

I had recently come across a conference which was aimed at seeking to fit the Church’s response to mental illness ‘into our healing model’ – and this had got me to wonder what might be the elements of a very different model and approach to ministry in this area.


Mental health workers do not have a monopoly on compassion, far from it!  I recalled John Wimber movingly imparting the gift of compassion to a man in Harrogate all those years ago.  All healing ministry is rooted in compassion, but that needs to be reflected not just in our motivation but also our practice. 

Our models of ministry which focus on a ‘come to the front’ style, or ‘trying something you could not do before’ arguably lack something of compassion.  In the hospital setting we are privileged to be able to give people time, to build trust, and deepen relationship, getting to know them beneath the physical surface.


When I was in Rushden I remember praying for an RAC man who came to fix my car: he had back pain which was healed as I prayed for him, but then he drove off, smiling, and I never saw him again.  By contrast I think of a lady we got to know as a church, living in very difficult circumstances with many health and other problems: her healing came as one particular church member left her comfort zone and committed herself to her welfare week after week, sacrificially.

We see patients discharged from the hospital, who then find it really difficult to connect with well-meaning churches, because there is a need for committed effort to befriend them, actually come and accompany them to worship or other events, and do it again when they have let us down.


I often listen to the Radio 4 All in the Mind programme, and cringe at the repeated suggestion that anyone with a problem should go to their GP – for a 10 minute anonymous interview!  Recently I preached at a church where a lady came up to me saying she was Aspergers, praising the congregation for accepting her, allowing her to play the organ after services, and I could see that they all knew her by name.

Jesus’s healing of those with leprosy brought the healing of reintegration into community, and mental illness drives us too much into loneliness and isolation.  I was deeply impressed by Renew37’s ethos of not distinguishing between ‘clients’ and volunteers – just community together, and moreover a community rooted in the rhythm of praying together.


I often hear churches speaking of how they want to be welcoming to those who come suffering from mental illness.  But the greater need and challenge is for the Church to step out into the community and reach those who may never cross their threshold.  At Whitefriars we stopped our Sunday morning gatherings once a month to encourage the church to go ‘Stepping Out’ into the community, and we started the ‘As You Go’ outreach, seeking to pray for people in the shops or streets as well as offering practical support to meet needs in Christian love.

Chaplaincy is a wonderful ministry because it is a visible expression of the Church being sent into an institution to be an expression of the Kingdom of God within it.


There is a huge range of resources to support Christians in seeking to minister to those with mental illness.  Many are national organisations or movements – so it is important for us to develop local and accessible resources through networking.  I highlighted the following: developed by Mind and Soul, Livability and Premier Life from the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church from the National Forum on Spirituality and Mental Health to be held in Leicester on 10 March

In Northampton a group of us are looking at putting together

    - A Symposium on ministry and mental health perhaps looking at: theology and biblical   
      insights; healing; assessing impact; good practice; and young people’s issues.

    - The encouraging of church events addressing: biblical perspectives; healing; 
      accessibility and good practice; reaching our communities; and young people’s issues.  
      My own nascent blog and Twitter account


1  Identify one theological reflection or pointer which arises from these issues
2  Identify an example of good healing ministry practice in these areas from your experience
3  Identify someone or somewhere to ‘go to’ to minister in these areas
4  Identify one way for your ministry in these areas to be more accessible or compassionate

Sunday 8 October 2017

The house of God, the gate of heaven: 
was Jesus more like a mental health chaplain than a vicar?

I walked on to one of our hospital wards, and a young adult male patient called out to me in a friendly way, “How’s your church?” – to which I responded, “This is my church.”

He looked rather puzzled.  I explained that I worked full-time for the hospital and not separately for a parish church or similar.  And I added that in any case the church was not a building, but simply anywhere that the Lord’s people would meet together: the very word church simply came from the Greek word for Lord.  So this patient and me meeting together was ‘church’ – as real and relevant on a Tuesday afternoon in a bare and slightly malodorous hospital ward as scores of people meeting together in a fine church building on a Sunday.  He completely grasped the point.

Last Christmas a number of the adolescent patients I work with expressed real surprise that I was going to come and see them on Christmas Day.  I asked them what Jesus would do, if he was in Northampton for a few hours on Christmas morning – attend a service at a town centre church with lots of nicely dressed people, or come along to visit one of our wards.  “He’d come and see us,” they said without any hesitation, and I think complete accuracy.

It is very easy for local church leaders and members to be focused primarily, possibly exclusively, on what happens in their building mid Sunday morning.  A moment’s thought of course tells us that God fills the earth, and most ministry and mission is out there, as we go.

In Genesis 28 Jacob settles down for the night in a remote spot, taking a single stone for his pillow.  He has his famous dream of angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven, and he awakens to declare that he had not known that God was there: “How awesome is this place, it is none other than the house of God, the gate of heaven.”  It is the house of God, not because of a building (there was only one stone lying around) but simply because of his manifest presence.

I find the manifest presence of God holding a patient’s hand as we pray through a seclusion door, sitting on a bare floor sharing holy communion, or listening to Godfrey Birtill’s song ‘Do you believe what I believe about you?’ with a young person who has always believed the worst about themselves.

At a church leaders’ conference earlier this year the host said to me that it was a problem that mine was such a niche ministry.  My turn to look rather puzzled!  Ministering to the marginalised and forgotten, speaking freedom to those literally captive, offering words of healing to the sick and oppressed: I do think the New Testament picture of Jesus’s ministry and that of his followers was out in the community, and especially in the darker and more difficult places, rather than primarily in the gathered place of worship.  Indeed Ezekiel’s prophetic picture in his chapter 47 is that the flow of God’s river of healing is greater the further away it gets from the temple.

Why this Blog?

The purpose of this blog is to offer and to encourage reflections on the Church’s ministry to people with mental illness.

There are some important questions.  What particular provision of welcome and pastoral response is needed? What does the healing ministry look like in this context?  How can mental health chaplaincy best develop and demonstrate its impact?  And much more …

I am keen to explore the theological and biblical principles for mission and ministry, and see how these undergird and inform good practice.

Similar issues arise in relation to developmental disorders – people with intellectual disability or autism.

I became a full-time mental health chaplain working in a secure setting three years ago. Prior to that I worked in parishes and acute hospital chaplaincy as an ordained Anglican minister for 25 years, and developed particular interest in the Christian healing ministry, especially in the charismatic evangelical tradition.  I had experience of these aspects of ministry dating back to the 1970s when an undergraduate, with interest developing through then becoming involved in Clinical Theology.