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2008 Florence Iversen Kraft Award

Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network (PSMIN)

The Florence Iversen Kraft Award honors a congregation that demonstrates outstanding leadership in ministry with persons living with serious mental illness and their families; the award is presented by the Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network (PSMIN).

The 2008 award recipient is the First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater, Oklahoma. The Presbytery of Cimarron endorsed the nomination, initiated by the Justice and Reconciliation Committee.

The church has supported the North Central Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Oklahoma Program for the last 12 years by providing space for monthly meetings, a 12-week community health education course and special events and training.

NAMI-North Central credits the church with helping to bring many significant improvements in mental health services for Stillwater and Payne County, including:

  • Establishment of a depression and bipolar support alliance group, a program of assertive community treatment team, a systems of care program, a children’s mental health med clinic and a recovery-based adult mental health clubhouse.
  • Training of city police officers in community intervention training.
  • With the help of local legislators, secured an increase in patient reimbursement rates for the Edwin Fair Community Mental Health Center.
  • Encouraged Stillwater Public Library to update its collection of books on serious mental illness.
  • Assisted the efforts to establish a mental health court in Stillwater and Payne County.

Although mental illness is hidden in most congregations, at First Presbyterian, people are free to say, “I’m bearing this burden of someone who has a mental illness.” Even when a family member chooses suicide because of their illness, the pastors are encouraged to openly talk about mental illness during the memorial service. Efforts like these tell worshippers that they are not alone and this is a welcoming, safe place.

First Presbyterian’s pastor, B. Gordon Edwards, is a member of the PC(USA) Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) bringing the new policy on serious mental illness, “Comfort My People: A Policy Statement on Serious Mental Illness,” to the 218th General Assembly (2008). During the years of policy development, the congregation was faithfully involved in the reports that Edwards brought back from these meetings. They engaged in study and research, particularly learning about the inadequacies of services and resources in their own community.

On a Sunday last January, the congregation was dedicating six prayer shawls. After the service, a first-time visitor asked if she could have one. She has bipolar disease and had a bad experience in another church. She had heard that this church would be accepting. She went home with the shawl. Edwards says, “We’re trying to overcome stigmas that society breeds into us. We’re intentionally trying to make our young people aware of how subtly we carry those. We’re trying to do congregation-wide awareness-raising about acceptance.”

Congratulations to First Presbyterian of Stillwater for their intentional ministry with persons and families affected by mental illness and their outreach to the community around them.

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