The Northampton Symposium on Ministry and Mental Health
St Andrew’s Hospital, 14 May 2018
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.
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
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
- 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.
16 July 2018