Standing in the back of the fellowship hall on Sunday afternoon, my voice hushed to a whisper as I listened to the congregation’s words. Words of welcome. Words of inclusion. Words of support. Words of engagement for mental health. On January 26, 2020, at our congregational meeting, we voted to adopt our WISE covenant for mental health. Prior to this vote, we recited the WISE covenant together and it literally took my breath away.
To be completely honest, I did not expect to be profoundly moved by the power of this moment. I have read this draft covenant dozens of times, critiquing it and tweaking it. Nothing in the words was new to me. Yet, suddenly as the people of God spoke the words aloud in unison, the words took on a new life of their own. The words came alive, and with this life, new life was born in our midst. There in the church basement, I felt God’s powerful presence invite us to co-create the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven. A realm where people with mental health challenges and their loved ones are treated with unconditional love.
I am a pastor whose life is touched on all sides by mental health challenges, both my own and those of my loved ones. I will never forget the experience of witnessing this historic vote. Before the vote we heard two testimonies from church members whose lives are impacted my mental health challenges: personality disorders, post-traumatic stress syndrome, addiction, and mood disorders. Eyes filled with tears at the vulnerable sharing that shed light on the importance of creating a church community that works to end the stigma and shame associated with mental illness. My heart swelled with love for a God that would invite us on such a healing journey and for a people who would open their hearts to such transformative love.
I give thanks for the United Church of Christ and the Mental Health Network for our ministries of hope. There is no greater joy than living out and sharing the love of Christ. When we can share this love of Christ with people who experience the pain of mental health challenges and their loved ones, we are embodying the Gospel’s mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves. Now we journey into the future as a WISE congregation, open to ways God’s Spirit will invite us to live into our WISE covenant. All we can do now is open our hearts and say, “Here we are God. Take our lives and use them. May we be a place to belong, a place to heal and a place to love.”