Faith Works 8-10-13
Rick Warren and Me
Some years ago in this space I made a few comments about Rick Warren, and not long after got a cheery e-mail from him thanking me for the mention.
Of course, it could well have come from a staffer using an official account, but there were a few points to the missive that left me fairly certain it was from him, and no doubt the powers of internet search engines could put on someone's desk each Monday any time you'd been talked about online anywhere in the world, let alone in the US.
Pastor Rick has a ministry far beyond Saddleback in southern California, a congregation he founded and has grown to incredible size and scope itself. Outside of that location, his books and his public appearances on TV, at conferences, and through a web presence, has given him a chance to do pastoral care literally around the world.
And I've heard from more than one colleague that they've gotten a quick e-mail note from the man.
So he has a pastor's heart, no doubt, and as a Christian leader even if you don't agree with him in all things, you're in awe of what he's accomplished.
With all of that, I wish it were more of a pleasure to find my path, as it were, crossing his, but the circumstances don't allow it. He and I have come to the same place in our Christian walk, and our ministerial calling, and I can only wish that the meeting were under different circumstances.
Rick Warren has taken on a ministry, woven through all the others, to extend a word to the church about mental health, and to reduce the social stigmas around mental illness, encouraging people to pursue treatment and care in traditional psychology and mental health care with the full and complete support of their faith community. Anyone who's seen what happens when he and his wife Kay take on a project will have no doubt that this goal will be pursued with passion, energy, and we all pray together, positive results.
They came to this decision, tragically, after the suicide of their son, who struggled with mental health issues all through his teen and young adult years. I'm sure there are many strands to this particular story, but the end has been chopped off short, so his parents are seeking to splice and knot a new storyline into where all the sympathy and support they're getting now can connect.
My path, blessedly, has developed over many years, without any one dramatic moment to push me to this point. In working with housing and homelessness, in trying to help relieve and prevent poverty, and from involvement with our justice system over many years here in Licking County, I've come to see that mental health is the missing piece of so many puzzles. We have some great resources in central Ohio, but there is even greater need. Step by step, I've realized that the call to help people seek their own transformation, and indeed even to hear the Gospel call clearly, folks need to be able to get help to still the voices that drown out hope . . . sometimes, they really are hearing voices (or think they are), but often it's the voice of their assumptions and doubts and fears.
What we in the churches dare not do is be complacent about mental health, and relapse into assumptions about "if you want to change, you just need to pray." On the other hand, too many mental health professionals think that all religious people, especially evangelical Christians, believe that prayer excludes psychiatry or prescriptions. This is not at all true, but widely believed. People of faith need to be present and speaking for themselves in the mental health care debates.
One way we can do this is to share information, and affirm the value of professional care as part of what recovery looks like, within the church as well as all around it. I'd like to praise the work being done in Newark at Wilson Middle School to reduce stigma and share information, and I can't improve on what John Davis, the principal, and Dava Kaltenecker, their linkage coordinator, has put together on a single webpage.
Find the newarkcityschools.org webpage, click to Wilson Middle School, then go to the bottom of the left-hand sidebar for "Community Agencies." Click that, then "Behavioral Health." You will find a marvelous summary of what's available in Licking County. I think Rick Warren would say that's a first step. We'll talk about a few more soon.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he also now serves on the Mental Health & Recovery board for Licking & Knox Counties. Share your story of recovery with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.