Four area pastors are inspired by the name of their denomination and unite in an effort to improve mental health in their congregations and communities.
They planned three events to bring people together which began with a fall festival in October at Salem United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn. This will be followed by a healing service at 7 p.m. Nov. 20 at Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ, 9511 S. 51st Ave. at Oak Lawn and a “Blue Christmas” service scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at Immanuel United Church of Christ, 9815 S. Campbell Ave. at Evergreen Park. Christ Memorial United Church of Christ in Blue Island also joined the effort. The services are open to everyone.
The Reverend Dan Sathers, a newly installed pastor at Pilgrim Faith, said the programs align with the “spirit of discipleship” of the United Church of Christ.
“As we all work with the homeless in different ways, we are all aware of the mental health issues that impact the lives of our members, friends and strangers that we meet,” Sathers said. “When we combine the gifts of four congregations with resources, participants and energy, we can do so much more.”
Reverend MaryBeth Inge of Emmanuel said the joint effort is an opportunity to undo some of the damage caused by isolation and separation during the pandemic.
“We hope to heal and mend some of the brokenness not only within ourselves but within the community,” she said. “We have to close the gap.
“We are meant to be loved and in community. If we have some sort of mental health gap – if you’re not healthy in your mentality and the way you feel as a holistic individual – then you can’t be fully present in life.
Rev. Brian Clary of Christ Memorial United Church of Christ in Blue Island, a former registered psychiatric nurse, said co-leading a spiritual resource group for inpatients on a bipolar disorder unit gave him a deeper understanding of the link between faith and mental health.
“We had groups on many other aspects of recovery from an episode of mental/emotional illness, but we realized that we were neglecting the spiritual dimension of our patients’ lives,” he said.
Inge said the first step in bringing the community together was the festival in October, a way to “remember the fun times in each other’s presence, rejoicing that we couldn’t last so long”. The November 20 event and the Longest Night gathering in December focus more on healing and “a recognition that this season of joy is not for everyone.”
The October fall festival was “a great success,” said Reverend Steve Hoerger of Salem, as members of the churches involved got to know each other.
The next event, “A Healing Service: Experiencing God’s Healing in Broken Places,” on November 20, is a “reflective service” that marks the last night of the liturgical year.
“It’s a night to remember that God is in control no matter what the future holds for our (four) little churches,” Hoerger said.
A healing service “gives us time to be with each other, a presence for each other,” Clary noted. “It feels genuinely caring, instead of feeling like you need to say something or ask God for a ‘solution.’ Words of support and prayers are good, but a caring presence is also important.
The healing service will begin outside with a bonfire. “We’ll start outside and sing along the way to the building,” Inge said. “There will be many ways to express yourself and seek healing.”
Seven stations will be set up inside for interactive prayer, music and art — all “different ways to engage the individual or small group,” she said. The music includes guitar and flute and vocals, as well as an ensemble and recordings of Taizé music. Fun, camaraderie and refreshments follow.
Sather said the service is meant to help people begin their healing journey.
“Healing is a process that begins with a relationship with faith,” he said. “A healing service starts the conversation and strengthens the inner spirit to confront the darkness that encompasses ‘body, mind, and spirit’.”
For some, Clary said, the holiday season can bring on that darkness.
“Christmas is not the happiest time of year for some people who remember who they lost in their lives, the loved ones they shared the holidays with,” he said.
The December 21 Longest Night service is designed for those who want to celebrate the season in a more contemplative and private way, and emphasizes mental health, according to Hoerger.
“Christmas is a difficult season for people who are grieving or depressed. The expectation at this time of year is that one should be joyful and that is simply not possible for many,” he said. he declares.
This service, he said, “allows you to honestly express your emotions without any expectations.”
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Although the service is primarily worship, an interactive component will allow participants to write down their concerns, prayers and petitions.
Inge said some people don’t want to be asked about their deceased loved ones and how they feel, which might happen at a traditional Christmas service.
“They just want to go hear what Christmas is and shut up and enjoy the lights and the music,” she said.
She noted that it’s called the “Hope Service” because December 21 is the longest night of the year and after that the nights begin to get shorter. “It’s a turning point. It is a very nice service.
Sather said the services could lead to greater awareness to help people in difficulty.
“I have started a discussion with partners who are not involved in our churches but who are therapists who want to partner with community leaders to address a holistic approach to mental illness,” he said. “Hopefully over the holidays we can invite community partners to consider providing a support network for people with mental illness.”
Melinda Moore is a freelance writer for the Daily Southtown.
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