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Today in the Mission Yearbook

‘Aren’t we all just holding space?’

 

The Rev. Michelle Scott-Huffman’s stirring sermon helped the PC(USA)’s national staff lean into Mental Health Month

July 15, 2024

Photo by Matthew Ball via Unsplash

The Rev. Michelle Scott-Huffman, campus minister of Ekklesia Progressive Campus Ministry at Missouri State University in Springfield, preached for the first time in her career on Psalm 23 during Chapel Service on the first day of Mental Health Month in May.

Scott-Huffman, an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, recalled praying “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” the day she found herself on a terrifying ride at an amusement park. “This was some King James level of fear, and those were the only words I had,” she told the PC(USA)’s national staff during their weekly online worship service. “I never got to the next line, but I did indeed still fear the evil that was about to go down.”

After warning those gathered for worship that she planned to mention suicide later in her sermon, Scott-Huffman called the beloved psalm “not a text for death. It is undoubtedly a text for life — life that’s hard, life that’s real, life that feels unrelenting sometimes, life that’s just downright scary. In hindsight, I wonder if God breathed that text into my spirit at a time of my own fear so that I might know its value when I would later walk alongside dozens or maybe hundreds of people with significant mental health struggles. Maybe God knew something I didn’t know about the road ahead.”

Scott-Huffman described one Saturday afternoon worship service where pretty much anything that could go wrong among some of the neurodivergent worshipers did go wrong. “Somehow, with words still coming out of my mouth, I was thinking, what is happening in this room right now?” she recalled. “I heard, in the depths of my spirit, God’s Spirit whisper, ‘You’re just holding space.’ In an instant, I understood the fullness of what I was called to do and who I was called to be.”

“Aren’t we all just holding space?” she asked. “Ours is just to cup our big proverbial churchy hands and hold ever so gently that space, the space where God makes us lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, restores our soul — a space where we are comforted by the loving care of the shepherd’s rod and staff.”

The Rev. Michelle Scott-Huffman

“Friends, there are so many of us struggling. No one is immune from the possibility of mental illness in our lifetimes,” Scott-Huffman said. “Nobody is immune to any kind of illness or disability. Our ability itself is a temporary condition.”

The American Psychological Association noted that half of young adults and one-third of all adults have reported they felt anxious either always or often in the past year, Scott-Huffman said.

One weekend last fall, a young man died by suicide on the campus Scott-Huffman serves. The next day, a young woman died by suicide. “These two young people couldn’t have been more different,” she said. The man was a loner who was struggling with addiction and trying to get his life back on track. The woman “was everybody’s friend” and had an outstanding academic record. Both “were so overcome with anxiety and depression that it seemed like they were out of options.”

After the back-to-back deaths, counselors and campus pastors “knew all of our struggling students were at a much higher risk for suicide attempt,” Scott-Huffman said, and so campus mental health providers worked quickly to create space for students to process and share their feelings.

“We have to find ways to create that space on the front end. We have to normalize honesty about our feelings and our struggles,” said, “even and really especially in the church.”

“Friends, we can do better,” Scott-Huffman said. “Who is more equipped for unconditional love and grace than people who have been the recipients of unconditional love and grace? We have to do better, because ours is just to hold the space where all of God’s precious children might come to know in the very depths of their souls — in the very depths of our souls — that we are held, and that surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Michelle Scott-Huffman speaks to national staff for Mental Health Month

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Matty Marrow, Archive Fellow, Presbyterian Historical Society 
Dhawn Martin, Coordinator for ACSWP, Executive Director’s Office, Presbyterian Mission Agency 

Let us pray

Great God, bless the hearts and hands of those who work in your name. Give us heart to live as witnesses in all the places where the presence of faith shouts hope despite all the chaos of our world and its disasters. Amen.