When the ChurchWorks Commission was first established in October 2021, the commissioners saw mental health as a key priority for covid recovery in our nation. Following a survey of church leaders across the country, and focus groups with church and charity leaders, mental health and wellbeing was consistently mentioned as both a pressing social issue and one which the church could respond to through offering spiritual and pastoral support. Almost two years later, the wellbeing of our communities, and particularly young people and minority groups, is as significant an issue as ever.
On 18th May 2023, ChurchWorks gathered over 250church leaders in Westminster Chapel to explore how we- the local church in this country- can practically respond to the wellbeing needs of our communities. Together we heard from senior church leaders, healthcare professionals, community leaders and researchers as we unpacked the role that we can play in bringing hope to our nation.
Throughout the day, we heard stories of encouragement, celebrations of the experience, insight and resources that the church can contribute to the wellbeing of our communities, and practical advice on what we can do to respond to the mental health crisis.
Hosted by Stuart Keir and Olivia Amartey, the conference was convened by ChurchWorks in partnership with Waverley Abbey College. A key focus of the day was Waverley Abbey’s Contemporary Chaplaincy programme - a training opportunity that equips ordinary Christians to carry the presence of God into ordinary places through compassionate listening. We also heard from Audacious Wellbeing and Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries who each provide resources for church communities to run professionally-informed, theologically-rooted mental health courses for their congregation and wider community.
Perhaps one of the most exciting developments around community support and mental health is the recent establishment of social prescribing systems within the NHS. We heard from church leaders, church members and social prescribing link workers on the impact of social prescribing on their community. Anna Baker-Barnes and Dianne O’Leary each shared how they had reached out to their local GP to enquire how they could help people in need in their community. Anna, a pastor from the West Midlands, and her team members became trained in Listening and Guidance, equipping her to sit alongside those impacted by bereavement, loss and the storms of life. Dianne, a pastor from Kidderminster, was able to invite an isolated individual to a craft group at her church. Following this, the individual attended a Kintsugi Hope Wellbeing Course and has since established her own art business. Her engagement with church gave her community and a purpose.
Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, reminded us in her closing talk, ‘It is the ordinary things that make the extraordinary difference to those who are in need...let’s grow and show random acts of kindness’. Whether it’s running a mental health course, training to be a listening support to those in need, or ringing up our local GP surgery to offer opportunities for connection and relationship, there are simple steps that we can take in church to love those around us. Resources, support and community are available so that we can care for people, so that we can play our role in tackling the mental health crisis, so we can gently, wisely and compassionately bring hope to our communities.
Keep an eye on our website and social media for updates on future events and opportunities to connect and be equipped to make that ‘extraordinary difference to those in need’. .