The Rev. Brooke A. Scott, pastor of Church on Main in Middletown, discusses how care provided by mental health providers and churches can both prove helpful
December 26, 2022
Chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recently held webinars and in-person gatherings in honor of National Faith Day. The Rev. Brooke A. Scott, pastor of the Church on Main, a worshiping community in Middletown, Delaware, spoke during “Pathways to Hope,” the NAMI Delaware gathering.
Scott said via Zoom she recently completed her first year of service at Church on Main. “Before I came it was a light of inclusivity and justice here in Middletown,” Scott said. “I’m honored to help deepen that work through education,” citing her previous experience in social work. “It’s important for people to see faith leaders as human.”
Scott labeled her talk “Mental Health and Religion.”
“It’s a complicated relationship,” Scott said. “Religion can be a support, and it can be harmful. There are things we need to unlearn to be in partnership with recovery.”
Like others, people of faith who are dealing with a mental illness often have other sources of support in their lives, including doctors, therapists and case managers. “It’s important for me to understand how some of those systems work,” Scott said. “Those providers may not have theological training, and so it’s important for us to be in conversation. People are suspicious of religious organizations — sometimes for good reason.”
But faith communities can support mental health providers and the people they support, in these ways and more, Scott pointed out:
- They offer support and belonging
- Faith is “an opportunity to connect with something greater than the self”
- Like mental health care providers, faith communities also provide people with coping strategies and ways to manage pain, stress and uncertainty
- They can inspire change, community involvement and service
- They mark seasons and important life milestones, including worship, weddings, holidays and funerals.
On top of that, “houses of worship are often one of the few places people who are struggling come to,” Scott said, adding Church on Main and other faith communities support people with “all kinds of mental health conditions.”
“Often churches are places where people just wander in,” Scott said. “They don’t know where else to turn.”
But religion can be unhelpful as well. In some faith communities, mental health providers and treatment are viewed with suspicion. Faith communities sometimes provide unhelpful advice to members who are struggling, including “Just pray about it,” “You need God, not a therapist” or “Find your joy.”
“We are notorious for this,” Scott said.
Spiritual and religious trauma is prevalent, and “outdated rituals and belief can worsen mental health” or can lead to prejudice and discrimination, she said.
That wasn’t Jesus’ approach at all, Scott said.
“Jesus not only met people’s spiritual needs, he addressed their physical, emotional, social and even systemic needs,” Scott said. Still, “he doesn’t stop to talk to every person” in the gospel accounts of his ministry. “He takes time to rest and pray.”
Spirituality, physical health and mental health are interconnected, Scott said. “‘Embracing the gray’ is a phrase I see a lot,” she said. “We tend to talk about things in binary ways — good and evil, physical and spiritual. But the world is more complicated. … It’s OK to change our minds, and it’s OK to dig in with somebody and help them find a faith community that allows them to ask questions.”
At one point in her presentation, Scott displayed a bumper sticker people on the webinar found helpful: “It’s OK to have Jesus and a therapist too.”
“There are some things that cannot be answered in spiritual ways,” Scott said. “They need to be referred out.”
“We talk about grace and our love for God, ourselves and others,” said one participant who’s found a home at Church on Main. “It’s hard to love God if you’re not taking care of yourself.”
“I’m hoping these conversations can turn into advocacy,” Scott said wrapping up her presentation.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: National Faith Day event for the National Alliance on Mental Illness
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Margaret McMahon, Housekeeper, Stony Point Center, Presbyterian Mission Agency
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Let us pray
Dear God, we give you thanks for your gracious love and continual guidance. We celebrate our covenants and rejoice in those who have been called to serve in leadership roles. God, you have called people who are being fruitful in every good work. Help those who serve to model their understanding of a compassionate and loving God. This prayer we make in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.