Mission and mental health
By Peter J. Bellini*
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. EPHESIANS 1: 8B-10
For some early theologians, the restoration of all things meant a cosmic theosis—all of creation transformed to reflect the image of God. The Spirit witnesses through the work of the people of God in proclamation and demonstration of the God’s kingdom, embodying and imparting its righteousness (justice), peace (shalom), and joy (fulfillment and strength from soteria/salvation) in all aspects of life. The meaning of the words soteria and shalom intersect at notions of soundness, wholeness, and well-being that includes not only spiritual well-being but physical and mental well-being as well.
Eastern Christianity has long understood sin as soul sickness and salvation as curative. John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodist movement, drew from Eastern sources1 and likewise understood salvation, at least in one aspect, as restorative and curative in nature. He combined a variety of resources that were accessible to him at that time to minister to the soul, mind, and body of early Methodists. Wesley’s robust soteriology was driven by a quest for both spiritual and physical wholeness, and he employed whatever means were available to attain it.2 Similarly, the church is called to a ministry of healing and health as part of a larger ministry of justice and salvation.
Mental health and the local church
Youth from the New York Annual Conference Council on Youth Ministries organized and staffed a festival day for children coming to Walton UMC in Walton, New York, for a lunch program in 2012. Their families were still recovering from a historic flood in 2006. Maya Smith from New Rochelle, closest to camera, Jessie Floyd from Manhattan, and Hannah Reasoner, currently a Global Mission Fellow serving in Colombia. PHOTO: CHRISTIE R. HOUSE
A good and needed place to begin is in the area of mental health.3 In terms of mental health both globally and in the church, it is the leading cause of illness and disability worldwide, with a substantial population being underdiagnosed and undertreated.4 There is much we can do to address this global issue, beginning with a mental health ministry in our local church.
One example of this kind of ministry is the United Methodist Mental Illness Network of “Caring Communities,” developed by the General Board of Church and Society. According to resolution #3303 in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions 2012 (and again in 2016), all United Methodists are invited to join the Caring Communities program. The program unites congregations and communities in covenant relationship with persons with mental illness and with their families to educate and help remove the stigma around mental health issues.5
• Educate congregations and the community in public discussion about mental illness and work to reduce the stigma experienced by those suffering.
• Covenant to understand and love persons with mental illness and their families.
• Welcome persons and their families into the faith community.
• Support persons with mental illness and their families through providing awareness, prayer, and respect.
• Advocate for better access, funding and support for mental health treatment and speak out on mental health concerns.
We can begin by equipping one point-person in our local churches as a first responder6 or even launch a full mental health ministry.7 Mental health is a complex field that involves a network of larger systems and institutions—medical, commercial, judicial, and socio-economic systems among others—that impact everyone, but especially the poor, women, youth, and the homeless. However, if God’s plan is a cosmic theosis, then as kingdom people, it is our call to impact this complex field with Christ’s justice and salvation beginning in our local church and extending to the world.
*Peter J. Bellini is the Associate Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
1 See Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Nashville, Abingdon, 1994) that claims Wesley drew from Eastern Christian therapeutic notions of sin and salvation.
2 In terms of physical and mental health, Wesley’s Primitive Physick and The Desideratum, or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful (electrotherapy) were examples of Wesley’s attempt in publication to make health care accessible and affordable to the people called Methodists. Publications coupled with health ministries, such as along free clinics and pharmaceutical dispensaries were part of early Methodist health and wellness ministry.
3 See the United Methodist Church’s Book of Resolution 2012 for the denomination’s statement on mental health and ministry.
4 See various global studies from the World Health Organization, including https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17288506, and a study within
the church from LifeWay Research, https://lifewayresearch.com/mentalillnessstudy/.
6 Mental Health First Aid is a global ministry that trains people in the local church. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/.
7 “Hope for Mental Health,” a mental health ministry out of Saddleback Church under Pastor Rick Warren has created a Hope for Mental Health
Starter Kit for local churches. https://store.pastors.com/hope-for-mental-health-starter-kit.html
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Fall 2018 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information