Trauma. Violence. Suicide. Abuse. Mental Illness. Depression. The List Could Go ON…..
These words have been in our news and conversations. Within one week in my corner of the world, we became aware of three suicides. In the last month at least two school shootings grabbed the headlines. Children are dying from violence and abuse. It is overwhelming to think about yet it seems to be so pervasive we are commanded to pay attention.
1 in 4 person suffer from a trauma and the ratio is pretty much the same for mental illness. This is a significant statistic we need to pay heed to in order to begin to make progress towards healing. Think about it, if you are in a group of 4 people, at least one of you struggles with mental illness or has suffered from trauma. Staggering isn’t it! The educational world is beginning to realize the implications this has on a child’s ability to learn and grow. Thus it has begun to “educate” itself to understand what shifts needs to occur to better serve students.
For me though, I have been called by God through ordination to bridge the world and the church. I live this calling out in service as a school counselor in public education with accountability to be a compassionate witness, representing the church of which I am ordained. So to continue to build the bridge between the two, I am going to focus on the ministry of the church in regards to trauma and mental illness in this post.
A very close friend of mine is raising her son who suffers from mental illness. She grew up within the United Methodist church and even during the first few years of her son’s life, the family participated in church activities. Then the outbursts and meltdowns began and the reality that he suffered from mental illness began. It became apparent that the church was not equipped to respond. So they withdrew from church, even though they have connections with people (pastors) in the church.
So the other day this friend and I were conversing about how for a hospitalization, funeral, or new birth the church usually responds in some capacity and usually it is with food. It is an awesome way to show support and care. However, that was not her experience. She shared with me that when her son had to be hospitalized for his mental illness, no “casserole” or food was shared. No support was given. No inquiries were made into how the family was coping or how the church could support them during these extremely stressful times. And he has been hospitalized multiple times.
I share this story because the church has some growing to do in regards to ministry with and for persons and families who struggle with trauma and mental illness. We are champions at supporting those who suffer physical ailments yet disease of the mind is still a battle fought alone and oftentimes with shame. We not only need to give witness to the suffering but realize we travel with them along this journey. And that the journey doesn’t need to remain hidden or forbidden to be talked about in the community of faith. Many suffer alone without the support of a community of faith. We, the church, need to be present to the pain knowing though that it does not require a solution, as Teresa Rhodes McGee states in Transforming Trauma. She says ,”Rather, it means holding the memory of each person’s suffering and transformation as sacred.” The church plays a unique role in the healing of people and exploring what that looks like for each congregation is important.
How can we become places where healing and transformation can occur with intentionality? I believe the process begins through educating ourselves. And if we are faithful to the Biblical story we need to become keenly aware of the trauma held within the pages that shape who we are. Not only be aware of it but to speak to it in multiple ways.
So with a couple of friends, a spouse who is a pastor as well, and the help of the conference staff we thought it was time to begin that process of being intentional to make sure we authentically understand these realities so we can provide space for those who suffer from mental illness and trauma. So on September 28-29 2018, the first Becoming a Trauma-Informed Congregation Conference will be held (in our conference) For those who are United Methodist in the Great Plains Conference, a flier with information will be included in the packet next week. More articles, registration website/link, etc. will be forthcoming in the next several weeks.
Forewarnng: This is not a program with steps to implement. This event will educate the participants on the biological, emotional, and spiritual impact of trauma. It will focus on shifting from “what is wrong with you” to a “what has happened to you” paradigm. It will be an opportunity to explore in breakout sessions various components such as the church’s response to suicide or incorporating trauma-informed concepts into worship. We will discover together the implications this will have for our congregations. It is a first step!
Remember 1 in 4! It is time the church begins to explore with intention how ministry will look in the future with those who have suffered trauma or struggle with mental illness.