Make a difference near you

One of the aims of Mind and Soul is to initiate and facilitate local support networks, empowering and engaging the local church and enhancing mental health services. The main reason for this is that whilst a website can be a good resource, and a conference can be an encouraging and equipping day, human growth and change is more of a process than an event. And human processes happen best in local communities - where God intended them to happen. For some people this will be a local church, and we would certainly encourage you to be part of a local church and for that church to work towards being mental health friendly. However, the reality in most areas is tht either your church will be to small to develop a critical mass, or that there will be too much silence and taboo [possibly unintended] for this to get off the ground.
This article therefore, looks at four things you can do to make a difference locally. They are in order for a reason, because we think things develop best in this order. You can do it in a different order, but we expect you will end up repeating stages and end up this way in the end.

1. Ask God to make a start


If this is something that is meant to happen near you, we believe that God will make known to you a handful of like-minded people to journey with you. Three or more is all you need. Pray for Him to show you who these people are and make a focus of getting to know them. If they are really like you, they will have been looking forward to this, though it might not seem like that on first meeting. In your group of three, you will probably be able to think of a few more people locally [maybe 8-10] who you know have an interest in mental health and Christianity. You are now ready for the next step, although there is no reason why you could not stay small and have some discussion at this stage first. Mind and Soul started as a bunch of people meeting in my front room for the first year. I was also blogging to get my own thinking straightened out, which was the beginning of this website.

2. Create a regular focus


People need rhythm - this is why we have weeks, seasons and months. You need to step out at some point and start something - Ecclesiastes called this throwing your bread upon the water and not being sure if it will return to you (Ecc 11v1-8). Monthly seems about right for this kind of thing. People have too much on for it to be weekly, and a termly event is too formal and more of, well, an event. It is best at this point to choose a neutral venue as you will want to advertise as widely as possible. We met for a couple of years in the back room of a local pub - and we got it for free providing we ate enough bar snacks and drank enough beer! I think a few things are really important:

1. To have a MIX of mental health professionals , Christian professionals [Christian counsellors, pastoral workers, church leaders, etc] and also people with their own story or who are relatives and carers.

2. Decide on the FOCUS for the meeting. one option is a support group for people with major needs, but monthly is too infrequent and this is best down in a local church. I would suggest you make it a group for discussion - i.e. people need to be of a certain wellness even if not perfect.

3. It needs to be really USER_LED - something I learned loads about as a psychiatrist as I am used to leading and not being led! It is amazing how creative people can be when equipped and how much we can learn from others who at first glance seem to have little to give. The main trick is to keep Jesus at the centre, but not worry too much about the edges. Don't get hung up on secondary differences (and you may need to gently mediate at times!) but do make it clear (best to do this with your own character and witness) that this is a Christian group and that both faith and psychology must be held in tension.

The group I was part of in Leeds and Bradford was one of the most amazing Christian communities I have ever been privileged to be in. We were able to worship God, unified in many cases by nothing other than our love of Him. We were able to learn from both the professionals and those who were experts because of their own lived experience. We were able to punch well above our weight - this is where Mind and Soul started and where i learned my key lessons. Remember that many weak links are stronger than a few strong links - as the group grows there will be less uniformity but this can be a great strength as wider networks are influenced. Remember also not to set out with this type of functioning group as a goal - just set out. Cast the bread - you will learn as much from the casting and even from seeming failure as you do from the goal - and there will be ups and downs along the way!

3. Offer a service


A group like this will help all those who are part of it understand more clearly what God has placed on their hearts. Often it will be a desire to see these themes taken to others who need to hear them or are not even aware that this is an issue. Running a Mental Health Sunday for local churches is a great place to start. We suggest that these happen best when you have a good active group. They can go as a team to a local church to run a Sunday service.
Mental Health Sundays work best when there is something at work in the church already - I would recommend refusing offers to do hit and run sermons where you are invited just because a church thinks it 'ought' to cover, for example, depression but doesn't know how to. Try and be part of a series on 'our inner world' or something like that. Keep the the service much the same pattern as normal and avoid obvious songs about peace [they make people wince]. Instead, have some good music, a short sermon (such as this one - second half of it), some sensitive prayers and a short interview and/or testimony. Pick a testimony that is not too triumphalist but emphasises that they are still on a journey. End with a short blessing.
The 'magic ingredient' is to realise that it is not about the service at all - this is just an advert for a smaller lunch after the service [simple cold ploughman's in the vicarage/manse/hall) to which 'anyone interested' is invited - you may be surprised at who turns up. At this meeting, offer to hear what people want to say and suggest the group meet again, led by someone in the church. Advertise both service and lunch well in advance and put this article (or similar) in the church magazine.

4. Put on an event

A local conference can be a great encouragement for people. Look at our first ever programme in Leeds, run in a local church and advertise through local church networks and also magazines, hospital email etc. We got about 80 people to attend which amazed me - people are so hungry for days like this. other things to remember for conferences are: have a quiet space for people to pray of they are distressed, ask your local Christian bookshop to run a bookstall or provide some on sale-or-return (see some of our book reviews), keep it gently Christian so those of other faith feel conformable (such as an opening prayer - best not to sing if numbers are small!) but do be clear that this is a Christian event and not a multi-faith one, start at 10am and finish by 330pm to allow time to travel, make sure you have slides on the computer in advance. You can also download anything you like from the Mind and Soul website and our vimeo video channel to show on the day.
The key thing for 3 and 4 is that you have 2 to invite people back to and this is unlikely to start without 1. Go for it!