Many words have been written to address the uncertainty we are experiencing as we live into the presence of the coronavirus in the world. Our routine congregational life has been disturbed. Our customary routines to keep our community bonds strong are unraveling. Our Sunday worship services, committee and board meetings, support groups, fellowship gatherings, faith formation groups with children, all these and more are being canceled, postponed or engaged in a new way, through what for many people are new technologies to bind up our connections as faith communities. As the chair of the UCC Mental Health Network, I know the healing power of personal stories and the resilience and strength that come through our congregations. In particular, persons who are affected by any mental health challenge already know that finding a safe place and people where their story can be shared, and where they can belong as they are is sometimes difficult. This may be time for marshaling the spiritually woven forces of trust, love, and wisdom to become even more vital.
The UCC Mental Health Network has been working diligently to bring attention to mental health in our congregations. The program is for congregations to become WISE (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged) about mental health. These days, given that there is global anxiety about this new COVID-19, one of the fallouts could be the lessening of community connections leading to growing isolation. The phrase “social distancing” has a chilling edge to it as well as a reality so as to prevent spreading the virus. Paying attention to the downsides of this pandemic can lead to some creative ways to sustain the connections even when the physical connections are not recommended. Being attentive to any who are disconnecting due to this virus, whether or not there is a mental health challenge, the well being of everyone can be enhanced. That can be a boost to one’s immune system itself!
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and sound judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7 The air we breathe these days is tainted by fear. Our anxiety for ourselves, our loved ones, our community, and the world is having a field day. There are numerous ways for each of us to release our fear and find the power that comes from trust. Trust that we, human beings, will find a way through even when some walk through the shadow of the valley. We can consider what we can control and what we cannot control. That in all things we can receive, find and offer love to one another. And we can be judicious as we move on this changing earth. This is encouraging and it can boost our faith system, too!
Our prayer is that God’s own presence in Christ will guide us, sustain us, and in our journey together strengthen us.
Rev. Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson is a mental health advocate who served on the national United Church Board of Homeland Ministries, 1979-1995, retired as chaplain at The Children’s Hospital, Denver, and serves as chair of the UCC Mental Health Network board of directors.