The Diocese of Peterborough is presenting its first Mental Health Training Day on Saturday 19th October. Entitled ‘Binding Up the Brokenhearted’, the aim of the day is to provide practical advice for local churches to minister more effectively to those with emotional and mental health needs.
The guest speaker at the event is Becky Harcourt, a member of New Wine’s National Leadership Team. We caught up with Becky recently for a chat.
- Tell us a bit about yourself, Becky. In particular, what is your involvement with mental health within the Church?
Alongside my husband, I lead All Saints, Woodford Wells on the border of London and Essex. We’ve been involved in church leadership for 27 years (as long as we’ve been married) and have two children, aged 20 and 17 – both of whom are on the autistic spectrum. I, personally, have a particular calling to inner healing, which simply means helping those who are struggling with emotional or mental issues to encounter God’s grace and goodness. I feel particularly passionate about this aspect of ministry because that is my story. Due to the death of three siblings, one of whom died in an accident when I was looking after her, I desperately needed God’s grace and goodness to help me deal with the mental and emotional damage I lived with for many years.
Gill Hampton, who will also be speaking, has experienced her own journey with her emotional and mental health which has led her to walk alongside others as they navigate their healing in many contexts. Her story is one of abuse, depression and loss – a feeling of hopelessness that she feared would never end until she met the God of hope who tenderly brought healing and restoration.
Gill is passionate about inner healing and the Church becoming equipped to deal with the increasing rise of mental and emotional health problems, knowing that this can sometimes simply mean involving outside bodies (ie GPs) and being willing to participate in integrated care.
- What will your talk be about on the 19th October at the Diocesan Mental Health Training Day?
We’ll both be sharing from our stories of how God has met with and restored us as examples of the transformational difference he makes to those of us who are broken and struggling. We will also speak from our experiences of walking alongside others dealing with varying degrees of mental illness.
- Mental health seems to have finally been taken seriously within society now. How has the Church responded? Have they led the way or are they lagging behind?
In my experience, I see the Church both nationally and locally doing all it can to respond to mental health challenges. A local church is, after all, simply a gathering of people who come together to worship God. Some churches are blessed to have doctors or other mental health professionals in them but many aren’t, and those in church leadership traditionally will not have had any training in mental health. But as most churches want to be a blessing to their community, they are doing what they can to become equipped in this area.
It’s helpful to remember that what most people in the world are longing for is to experience true security and to know their life has meaning and purpose. As the Church, we are uniquely positioned in our communities to offer those things by introducing people to a God who knows, loves and accepts them unconditionally, and who holds all things in his hands.
- What things can the Church do to improve their response to the subject of mental health within the Church (ie Church attendees)?
I think the most important thing that can happen to improve the response to the subject of mental health within the Church is for people to be open and honest about their own mental health struggles. This in itself breaks down the stigma that has silenced so many in the past. It’s often the case that once someone admits their own experience of depression, anxiety, self-harm etc, others then also feel permission to talk openly. Of course, we need to share appropriately and safely, but we mustn’t deny these things or pretend to be fine when we’re not. When we operate at that level of unreality, it’s very isolating and actually makes things worse. God designed us to live in community – to need and to be there for each other. For there to be genuine community, there needs to be genuine vulnerability, if not with everyone (which isn’t always possible or appropriate, depending on circumstances), at least with a small group that will provide support both spiritually and practically, operating with healthy boundaries and accountability, and knowing when to refer on for appropriate professional help.
- What things are the Church doing well in this respect?
Several Christian organisations have been established to help people with mental illness and to equip the Church. Mind and Soul Foundation, Think Twice and Kintsugi Hope are just three doing great work in this area. In local churches, people are getting educated and learning what they can do to help, and to know what’s in their area so they can signpost people to where they can access local authority assistance. Also, with the resources they have, churches are coming up with activities and programmes for their context.
- What are your hopes for the future regarding the Church and mental health as we approach the 2020s?
My hope for the Church is that we will love and care for each other as we’re meant to, but most of all, that we grow in confidence that God is with us and that Jesus is the answer to every question. Whatever we ourselves, or others, are going through, God is with us and for us. The truth is that Jesus gave his life to deliver us from all oppression, so when we suffer with mental, emotional or physical issues, which, in this life, we all will, he is with us in them – no matter how we feel. We have hope in him and it’s a hope the world desperately needs.
‘Binding up the Brokenhearted – A practical day of resourcing your church’ takes place on Saturday 19th October at Christ the King, Kettering (Deeble Road, NN15 7AA) from 10.00am to 4.00pm. Entry is free – donations are welcome. No need to book – bring your own lunch. For further details, email email@example.com or call 01604 616375.