By Lana Roberts
The vast majority of Americans will be confronted with mental health issues, whether they suffer themselves or love someone who does. Because of God’s call to compassion and mercy, the church would seem like a natural fit for a place to find healing and hope. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Since a significant percentage of us will experience some kind of mental illness in our lifetime, the church can and should be positioned to offer compassion, support, and help with healing. That’s why FPC recently hosted Hope Authentic’s conference on the church and mental health. “You are Enough” brought over 200 people from 50 churches to our campus for a much-needed conversation, raising understanding and compassion in the church’s response to mental illness. In Pastor Jeremy’s words, “I am grateful for the way the conference is helping us learn to talk more productively about mental health. I'm learning to think more carefully about my words to those who are in the midst of this struggle.”
In the plenary sessions we heard powerful stories of lived-experience from church members and leaders about the ways they have lived with mental illness. Each one shared that God has been with them all along the way, and they know he will continue to give them “bright hope for tomorrow” in spite of their challenges. Our featured speaker, Joe Padilla, shared information that demonstrates the powerful, positive impact of loving acceptance and support for those who suffer with mental illness. Jesus’ command that we love one another is for our good, and that doesn’t only work in the church, it’s God’s common grace meant for everyone’s good! It’s how God put people together, “wired us”, in the first place. Remember when God said it’s not good for human beings to be alone? Mental illness tends to isolate, but reaching out in love brings people together so healing can take place. Once again, it seems, science has “discovered” a truth that God gave us long ago in his word!
Breakout sessions gave opportunities to learn about a wide variety of related topics, including suicide prevention, eating disorders, the connection between substance abuse and mental health, avoiding burnout, the prescription and use of medications, and youth trauma in the Fresno area. Margie Nunez attended the session on youth. She says, “My ear was attuned to information I learned about children. I heard that youth trauma is off the charts in Fresno County. The question the speaker posed was, ‘What can communities do to help children's mental health?’ He said the local church is the answer. We need to partner with police. The Director of the Fresno Police Chaplaincy is working to formulate a way to help churches partner with the police to bring ministry to those who need it most, and would like help in constructing how that would look and function. I'd love for FPC to be a part of the answer in helping the children of Fresno be safe and mentally healthy.”
I pray that this is the beginning of an increase in our church’s compassion and skill in responding to those who struggle with mental illness. I want to say a particular “thank you” to the FPC Deacons for their part in welcoming and sponsoring Hope Authentic, and to Audrey Arce (our Front Desk and Systems Administrator), Joanie Martin, and our custodians, Oscar Rodriguez and Freddie Rodriguez, for providing their much-needed support so we could host this important event well.