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A Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, A Call to Action for All Communities

By Katrina Gay, NAMI Director of Communications


Striving to encourage individuals who live with mental illness, educating family members and inspiring faith communities to provide effective, compassionate ministry to those who are affected by mental illness, leaders in Orange County, Calif. are set for the first “Gathering on Mental Health and the Church.”

Saddleback Church, led by Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay Warren, have partnered with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County and NAMI Orange County to host the daylong event on March 28. More than 3,000 are expected to attend, and it will be covered by national and international media.

Since the Warren’s son, Matthew, 27, died on April 5, 2013, by suicide, his parents have spoken out about the need to care for those suffering from mental illness. Their courage in sharing their story and the profile of their leadership have inspired thousands to open their hearts and spirits and to commit to compassionate understanding.

“I’m certainly not going to waste this pain. One of the things I believe is that God never wastes a hurt and that oftentimes your greatest ministry comes out of your deepest pain,” Pastor Rick Warren shared. “I remember writing in my journal that in God’s garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruit.” 

Pastor Rick Warren and Kay Warren, along with Bishop Kevin Vann, are leaders of the two largest church communities in Orange County. By participating in this effort, Bishop Kevin Vann and the Catholic diocese commits to helping prepare its priests and pastoral staffs with specific skills and resources needed to help those experiencing a mental health crisis, according to Ryan Lilyengren, diocesan director of communications.

"It is my hope that this opportunity for prayer, support, dialogue and education will encourage our society to share the healing mission and the love of Christ with those who suffer from mental illnesses," said Bishop Kevin Vann.

Faith communities are often the first to know of those struggling and living with mental illness. Through The Gathering, the Orange County Church community is manifesting their desire to be champions for the integration of mental, physical and spiritual health. The event will serve as a call to action—a call for a holistic approach to mental illness. They believe that the community needs to come at this from all angles, that everyone plays a part in restoring health and balance to those who live with mental illness, including our health care providers, families, lifestyle, faith and the community overall.

Because mental illness has affected their Church families, they have committed to offering hope and help for those living with and caring for those who live with mental illness. Saddleback Church, The Catholic Diocese of Orange County and NAMI Orange County are standing together with families and individuals. Recognizing that there is no “fix,” they are committed to walk with those in need and to saying, “we are in this for the long haul.”

NAMI Orange County has a long tradition of faith community outreach and is the founding NAMI Affiliate of NAMI FaithNet, our initiative that recognizes the key role of faith in many people’s healing and promotes caring congregations at the grassroots level. Many NAMI Affiliates engage in faith outreach efforts; guided by the national NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group, resources and tools have been assembled by grassroots leaders and are available through NAMI FaithNet’s Web page as well as directly through many NAMI Affiliates across the country.

NAMI’s role as a partner in The Gathering can be credited to the many NAMI leaders who have worked tirelessly through their NAMI FaithNet efforts, but also to Myrlene Chapman. “When a Parish becomes more welcoming of parishioners with mental illness and more appreciative of their gifts, it is evident that the power of God is at work transforming the community. This is the meaning of The Gathering on Mental Health and The Church,” said Chapman.

As a member of the development team for The Gathering, Myrlene credits Pastor Rick and Kay Warren and Bishop Kevin Vann for their vision and passionate leadership in order to reduce the stigma in the church and the community and lead families and individuals to the journey of hope. Vann’s and the Warren’s efforts have also inspired and led families and individuals on their role to recovery by inspiring hope.

The partners recognize that The Gathering is the start of a journey and that there is a lot to learn from one another and others in the community. Their goal is to assist people by promoting dignified care and to offer genuine love and concern in their roles as helpers and healers.

“An event like this can happen anywhere,” said Steve Pitman, president of NAMI Orange County. “It doesn’t matter where you are. NAMI Affiliates can embrace the same opportunity and work side-by-side with their faith communities to help ensure that no individual or family is alone, that they have the benefit of the help and hope, the free programs and the wisdom of our experience, that we offer.”

We recognize the national significance of this event as well as the importance of other events and initiatives in which NAMI Affiliates are partnering all across the nation. After years of slow and steady progress, the intention of NAMI FaithNet’s founders seems to be at a convergence.

Perhaps Kay Warren says it best. "It's so important that people know, no matter how desperate their despair, there is hope, and not to give up. We want this to be a hopeful event that encourages individuals and helps them realize they are not alone in dealing with mental illness."

The event will be webcasted live on March 28; the event is sold out but overflow tickets are available to purchase online. For more information, please visit mentalhealthandthechurch.com.


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