Archive for July, 2018

Signing off…

Posted: July 15, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Well folks, this is my final (and 194th!) blogpost.

Today marks my accreditation as a Baptist minister, and the end of my time with Revive. After that I’ll have a month to rest and pack, before moving down to Leicester to become minister at Stoneygate Baptist Church.

I would dearly love to have something deeply profound to say, but my heart is so full of emotions and my head is so full of practicalities that I can’t promise much. I will says some of this at my sending later, but I wanted to put it down in writing becuase it will probably make more sense, and I like things to have proper endings.

These last few years with Revive have been amazing. I have loved being part of such a wonderful community, and I cannot thank you enough for the way you have embraced me and my family. I have learnt so many things and grown in so many ways, and I like to think that enough of Revive has rubbed off on me that I will take a bit of it with me wherever I go from here.

Of course any introspection will lead to some regrets. Most of all, I wish I’d spent more time just being with people, but I know my introversion and my insecurities and my inability to keep my house tidy have held me back. I am sorry for the ways in which I haven’t done as well by you as I could have done, but I thank you for your grace in accepting me flaws and all, and please know that I am more comfortable in my intorversion and my insecurities are fewer for having been among you and loved by you…although I can’t promise that my domestic skills are any better!

I am excited about all we are going to, but that does little to lessen the sadness of leaving, and so I will stop now before I start gently weeping into my laptop.

This isn’t goodbye forever, but it is goodbye for now.

With love and every blessing,

Leigh

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More on Mental Health

Posted: July 9, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Just to restate where we are at the moment, last year we briefly considered mental health as part of our series on inclusion. We never expected or intended to cover everything we needed to know in a single evening, but rather we hoped to start a conversation in order to make clear that we want to be a safe space in which people can acknowledge and talk about their own mental health. We are now coming back to that conversation, inviting in guest speakers with experience of working with people with mental health difficulties, in the hope that this may give us greater understanding and some more practical responses.

Last night we were joined by Martin, who has spent most of his life as a community mental health nurse, and now teaches others to do that work. He is a member of his local parish church, and so while his church setting may look a little different to revive, he has also been thinking about how churches can be safe and inclusive spaces for people with mental health difficulties. He was honest that about the fact that as he has gone on he has become less confident of simple answers, and came to us as a fellow enquirer and learner, excited about the potential for churches to be healing communities.

In his teaching practice, Martin is definite about the importance of listening to the lived experience of people with mental health problems, and he shared the story of a man he called Olly, who comes in to share his own story with students. Olly had a wild youth, and when he left or was thrown out of university, he went travelling and began to experiment with drugs. During this time he began to experience psychosis, including hearing voices. He somehow made his way back home, where his paranoia led to him becoming practically nocturnal, and completely disconnected from society. He was admitted to psychiatric hospitals on a number of occassions, but this only dampened his experiences without stopping them. And then one day he stumbled into a church, and that is the moment at which he believes his recovery began. There was no grand moment of conversion, but simply being among the congregation began to make a difference. It gave him routine, and a place where he felt safe and knew he would be missed.

We spent a bit of time reflecting on Olly’s story, and the ways in which church can do for others what it did for Olly. We talked about it being a place where people can be accepted as themselves, where they can feel a sense of belonging, where they can find an adoptive family and a home, where they can be met with intentional care, where their dignity and worth can be restored. We also talked about it being a place where people’s problems are accepted, where there is an acknowledgement that we are all broken and hurting in different ways, where that acknowledgement acts as a leveller. We talked too about the spiritual power of community, and the way in which Jesus stretches our borders to breaking point, so that the church welcomes in those who other wish to keep out.

Of course the church doesn’t always do that, and many have experienced it as a place of exclusion, where their mental health has become a source of guilt and shame, where they have been accepted as a project if they have been accepted at all. When the church falls so far short of what it is called to be it can be an incredibly damaging place, and we have to recognise that and be honest about it, facing hard truths about the times we have not loved people as well as we should, but we must also share Martin’s hope and excitement for its potential, and strive to be the kind of church we described.

Martin told us that research into what helps people recover from mental illness talks about the importance of nonjudgemental acceptance and unconditional positive regard, and he believes that we are uniquely placed to offer these things as Christians. In recognising that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we acknowledge that we are all in need of them, and in declaring that “all are justified freely by his grace” (Romans 3:24), we bear witness to the truth that we all receive them from God.

Martin also shared some of his thoughts around the importance of story telling and meaning making, and the role of the church in that. People with lived experience of mental ill health talk about the importance of making sense of what has happened to them, and as a place that tells stories and looks for meaning in them, the church may be well placed to facilitate that process. I can bear witness to that, as it is when I have told my stories in church contexts that I have been able to find meaning in them, and from there have been able to find healing, whereas it is the stories I haven’t told in church that have carried the most pain.

One thing that came out of conversations was the significance of liturgy, as the words and prayers of the church give a pattern to hold onto and slot into, and we may say them until we oen them and they change the words we say about ourselves. Every church has a liturgy because it is simply the way the church worships, and there is significance in the simply rhythm of meeting, but at revive we don’t often use fixed words and prayers. The liturgies of more traditional churches are a rich resource, and perhaps we might think about how we might use these for ourselves and offer them to others.

Martin also talked about the importance of practical help, particularly of being a community that holds all things in common. Poor mental health can be isolating and limiting in all sorts of ways, and it can also come out of isolation and limitation, so there can be something incredibly restorative in being part of a community that broadens our horizons and our access to people and things.

At the end of the evening we looked at some real situations where churches were seeking to care for those with mental health difficulties, identifying some of the challenges and seeking to lay out some principles. What follows will not be exhaustive, and there will be an ongoing process of enquiring and learning, but added to our previous discussions, it hopefully gives us something to work from.

  • Pastoral care is the responsibility of the whole church. Evidence says that a network of relationships is important, and it can be overwhelming for one person to take sole responsibility for another, particularly in moments of crisis. That’s why having this conversation as part of our regular meeting is so important.
  • Often a joined up approach will be needed, and churches should know what avenues of professional and medical support are available, although such help may not be possible as services are stretched. In light of this, it may be good to get involved with campaigning for better funding.
  • Somebody asked about red flags, signs that we should seek immediate intervention, and Martin pointed to risk of harm to self or others and dramatic physical changes.
  • Even if churches do not have the knowledge or resources to deal with underlying issues, they can help make life easier and more pleasurable while that deeper work is done elsewhere. No one wants to be reduced to an illness, and simple care and friendship can be a great balm.
  • A culture of honesty and accountability across the whole church will make it easier for people to speak openly about their mental health issues.
  • There is a need to be aware of safeguarding policies, to protect both those who are suffering with mental ill health, and those who are seeking to support them. This includes not promising confidentiality, as it may be necessary to speak to someone else in order to get help.
  • For those who struggle with social anxiety, someone else being proactive in starting conversations and introducing people can be a help. Of course it can also be utterly terrifying, and if you’re not sure which it would be, then you can always ask. It is easy to make wrong assumptions and leave people out or force them into uncomfortable situations, all with the best of intentions. I know I have made that mistake and I am deeply sorry for it.
  • When it comes to prayer, ask the person in question how they would like to be prayed for and what they would like you to pray. Some may want laying on of hands, others may just want to know that someone somewhere is praying for them, some may want healing, others may want better management…it will depend so much on where people are at and what their past experience of prayer has been.

There is a wider point there about the fact that everybody is different, and principles can only be guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Care has to come out of relationship, and that means learning who the other is and how we can best love them. There are no shortcuts, but it takes time and energy and commitment. The conversations we have had so far have been a good start, but they are only a start, and there will be more learning and experience and reflection to come. As someone who was a history (and a present) of mental health issues, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being willing to start this, and I pray that revive will become more and more the safe and welcoming space it seeks to be.

The intention of these conversations has been to build a base of knowledge that we can put into practice, so to draw everything together, here are our previous posts on mental health and inclusivity:

Talking About Inclusivity

Thinking Again About Mental Health

‘How can we help you stay well?’

On Sabbath and Self Care

Posted: July 4, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago I briefly mentioned some ideas about self care which Karen had shared with us, and I said I would come back to them in another post. I was reminded of the importance of this on Sunday, when Rob’s reference to Sabbath was met with some rolling of eyes and clearing of throats. We all know we’re meant to rest, but we also know that we’re not very good at doing it. I have written before about Sabbath as the first rhythm of our lives and the importance of Sabbath for our wellbeing, and we also touched on the blessing of Sabbath when we explored The Year of Living Biblically, but it’s a message that bears hearing again, so you might like to go back and look over those posts.

I have been reading a little more about Sabbath this year, and Abraham Joshua Heschel speaks of it as “a foretaste of paradise…a testimony to God’s presence”, and as a cathedral or sanctuary in time. These words remind us that Sabbath is far more than just self care, but there is an important element of that within it, and so we I think can talk about the two together, without reducing the one to the other. Heschel also says that “there is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord”, and that “the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of [our] work”. Practising Sabbath will renew and sustain us, but we do not rest only so that we can work harder the following day, and I think the same goes for self care. Sabbath and self care are ends not just means, and I think it is good to have that in mind as we return to Karen’s ideas.

One of Karen’s first pieces of advice was to protect a day off, or in other words, to maintain a Sabbath. I think there is something quite profound about the idea of a collective Sabbath, where we all stop and rest together, but that’s just not always possible. If Sunday doesn’t work as your Sabbath, choose another day. If it can’t be the same day every week, look ahead and book it in where it fits. Remember it’s not selfish or wasteful to spend time doing nothing or doing something entirely for pleasure. It is both a necessity and a precious gift. But don’t neglect that it is a gift from God. Make time to rest in his presence and acknowledge him in all your Sabbath activities. I am sure that God desires to enjoy the day with you.

I found Karen’s practice of allowing herself half an hour to work on her day off really helpful. I have tended to swing between not being sufficiently disciplined to protect a rest day, and becoming so stubborn about not working that I lose the day to thinking about something that would have taken five minutes if I’d just got on and done it. Jesus valued the Sabbath, but he also knew that a legalistic attitude weighed it down and sapped it of its restorative power. The point of the Sabbath is to rest, and to recognise the holiness of that rest. If I rest better for sending a quick email of sticking a load of laundry in the machine, I think that’s okay.

I was also struck by what Karen said about loving ourselves with heart and soul and body and mind. If we are called to love God like that, and if we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, and if love of God and love of neighbour are parallels, then it makes sense that we are called to love ourselves in the ways that we love God. For Karen that means taking care of heart and soul and body and mind, doing things that bring joy to our hearts and rest to our souls, things that treat our bodies well and stimulate our minds. I don’t want to stray back into legalism with anything resembling a tick chart, but I do want to build these things into the rhythm of my life. Listening to classical music, practising the examen, taking dance classes, reading for pleasure…life giving rhythms of self care.

Karen spoke too about doing more of what keeps us well and less of what keeps us unwell, and I think the words she chose are really important. We won’t always be able to completely avoid the things we find draining or frustrating, and we will rarely be able to do only those things that we find exciting or relaxing, but we will often be able to shift the balance. This probably won’t come as a surprise to those of you who have seen my house, but I really really hate housework. I like the idea of having a clean and tidy home, but I find the physical effort exhausting and there is little pleasure in the actual tasks. And yet I know that if I can do little and often, it won’t feel such a mountainous task and things won’t take so long, and then less of what drains and frustrates me will allow for more of what excites and relaxes me. Easier said than done, and other balances will be harder to shift, but it’s a start.

So, now you have read some of my reflections on Sabbath and self care, I encourage you to set aside time for your own reflections, asking yourself how you can better care for yourself, and how you can remember the Sabbath and keep it holy in your own life.

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