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Shining light in the darkness

New worshiping community leader for those with mental health variances discovers the community as ‘God in the flesh’

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Pet therapy has been an important piece of the Light for the Darkness ministry. The Rev. Thirza Sayers’ dog assists in community groups and brings a certain ease to the atmosphere. (Photo by Neil E. Das)

LOUISVILLE — From February through April, the Rev. Thirza Sayers was in bed, in another space of darkness.

The leader of Light for the Darkness, a new worshiping community that serves as a mental health ministry in the Presbytery of Giddings Lovejoy and pastor at Hillside Presbyterian Church in House Springs, Missouri, has lived with treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder for 30 years. Then came post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This combination, treated with 20 Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) sessions, sidelined her from 2013 to 2017, when she took mental health disability leave.

When Sayers reemerged, the founder of what was then Caritas, the Rev. Dr. Johanna McCune Wagner, invited her to start leading groups for people with mental health variances. Then in 2019, Wagner received a call to pastor First Presbyterian Church of Concord, in California.

“She told me, ‘Either you’re in charge or it’s finished,’” Sayers said.

She rebirthed it and named it according to the mission they were going to follow found in John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”


During the pandemic, in-person gatherings at Light for the Darkness have been around fire pits, providing a special place of conversation where people can still connect and be heard. (Photo by Neil E. Das)

Light in the darkness is what Sayers experienced this year in her illness, she said. Her psychiatrist took her off the four medications she was on in case she was reacting to one of them. Physically limited, she was unable to do her yoga or bike, which were crucial elements to maintaining her mood.

“So often I felt God was absent in the darkness of 2013 to 2017,” she said. “But God was with me this time. I had learned where to look for God. And I stayed connected and asked for help from friends, family and community, which was essential in not letting the darkness overwhelm.”

They responded to her cries for help by walking her dog. Sending cards. Cleaning her house. Bringing meals. Chauffeuring her to doctors — and praying.

“It was as if God was in the flesh,” Sayers said. “They were doing these things as Christ’s body.”

For Sayers, this is what Light for the Darkness is about. Helping each other with “glimpses of light.” Reminding each other that God is in fact present, where hope lives and grace abounds.

Because the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy was spotlighting its NWCs, presbytery leaders asked Sayers to produce a brief video about Light for the Darkness. Coincidentally, Sayers needed a video that she could use to introduce the group via social media to people looking for spiritual mental health recovery.

So, members in the Light for the Darkness community offered their voices, including Pat, who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Watch the video here.

“Pat and some others thought his part might have been an estranging, but I thought it was important too that we have good representation of the spectrum,” Sayers said. “Pat actually helps destigmatizes it and creates more awareness.”

For Pentecost Sunday, Light for the Darkness also has a video called “The Coming of the Holy Spirit.”  Watch it here.

Last year, as the pandemic was raging, creating a video was a way for Sayers to bring a glimpse of light into the darkness in another way, sharing the creativity of her gifted friends, some of whom were struggling to find work. They included the videographer, the composer, the fire artist, the visual prayer artist and the narrator.

the Rev. Thirza Sayers

Starting on Memorial Day, Sayers will take a six-week break from Light for in the Darkness and Hillside. Both her 1001 new worshiping community coach and her advisory board insisted on it.

During this “Sabbath time,” Sayers will determine what comes next. She’s hoping to start a community group for low-income mothers as she continues to be proactive in reaching out to people who are seeking help for mental health variances.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) declared a commitment to this churchwide movement that would result in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities over 10 years. At a grassroots level, nearly 600 diverse new worshiping communities have formed across the nation. 

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