Most churches designate outreach funds to local organizations, or denominational ministries, but those relationships don’t always go beyond the transfer of funds. First Christian Church in Wheeling, WV, wanted to expand those offerings into true partnerships.
One of the organizations they’d long been supporting with their outreach donations was the Wheeling chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). In the past, the relationship had consisted of making outreach donations, and lending the church’s space for NAMI events.
“We worship God mind, body, and soul, so it is important that we take care of all three,” says Senior Minister Rev. Kenneth M. Hardway. “Because of our foundational partnership with local community organizations [like NAMI], we try to bring healing, wholeness, and hope to the Wheeling community…but we don’t have to do it on our own. God is just as much at work in the community as in the church.”
Over the last year, FCC Wheeling has expanded that relationship in a variety of ways:
- Formed a congregational team to participate in NAMI’s fundraising walk
- Commemorated Mental Health Awareness Month, printing facts about mental illness in their bulletins and newsletters, to help combat the stigma that too often surrounds mental illnesses
- Incorporated mental health into their prayer and worship, inviting Amy Gamble, the executive director of the Wheeling NAMI chapter to preach one Sunday, sharing ways that the congregation can work together with her organization to support the community
Most recently, FCC Wheeling hosted a Mental Health First Aid class, taught by Gamble, who is a certified instructor. The group of participants included congregation members and their families, community leaders, and even clergy from other churches and traditions.
The day-long training program emphasizes evidence in a facts-based approach. Participants spent time learning about different mental illnesses, which helps eliminate misconceptions about mental health. Participants reviewed warning signs that someone might be facing a mental health crisis, and discussed ways to interact with that person in safe and healthy ways.
Gamble encouraged the participants to apply their new knowledge in role-playing scenarios.
This activity was practical and important, Rev. Hardway says. “Someone having a panic attack, for example, would exhibit the same physical symptoms of a heart attack, so it’s crucial to ask them the right questions, so that you can seek the proper help.”
FCC Wheeling plans to continue expanding partnerships with NAMI and the other community organizations they support. For them, says Rev. Hardway, it’s a spiritual decision.
“Foundationally, theologically, to think that God only works within the boundaries of the church is naïve – it’s bad theology…We take the Great Commission very seriously. The church’s role is to look around, see where else God is working, name it, and walk alongside that work.
“What we do on Sunday morning is so important. But there are six other days of the week – that’s a lot of time to go out and do good in the world.”
For more information about how your church can support mental health, find resources from the National Benevolent Association’s Mental Health Initiative.