A partner ministry of The General Commission on Religion and Race

Winter 2024   

Volume 14, #1

Hand prints with heart
of the
United Methodist
 Disability Connection


Greetings and welcome to The Voice, Mental Health Edition


Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Jasmine Ray-Symms and I’ll be working as editor on the Mental Health issues of the Voice. As a member of the Mental Health Task Force, I bring my experience as a person with a mental illness. My mission is to be a witness to both the struggles I experience as a person who suffers with schizoaffective disorder as well as the ways God has helped me overcome to be a witness for Christ. While I haven't been healed of my illness, God empowers me to live my best life. I also teach classes on Mental Illness and the Church and am in the process of becoming a Certified Lay Minister. My website is www.jasmineraysymms.com


This newsletter issue focuses on Creating Caring Congregations. In this issue, we have several articles on the benefits of such congregations. I encourage you to read these articles and consider developing a ministry at your church or in your community to help those grappling with mental health issues. In addition to the articles, there are several documents you might find interesting and I encourage you to add them to your resource library. I've also included the flyer for the next class I'm teaching, "Mental Illness and the Church" on March 19, 2024, 6:00pm on Zoom.

Also, May is Mental Health Awareness month. We’d love to know what your congregations are doing to address the needs of those with mental illness, so please reach out and let us know so you can be a blessing to others.



Jasmine Ray-Symms, MA,

Editor, Mental Health Task Force Newsletter

In This Issue

5 Steps to Caring Congregations

Caring Congregations and Mental Health

Caring Congregations and the Pulpit

Caring Congregations and Pastors

Caring Congregations and Ministries

Quick Links



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5 Steps to Caring Congregations

The Mental Health Task Force is tasked with being a resource to clergy, lay leaders and congregations who seek to serve people who have mental health issues. One resource we have found particularly beneficial is Pathways 2 Promise Creating Caring Congregations’ Five Step program: Creating Caring Congregations | Mental Health Ministries (pathways2promise.org) This article summarizes the approach, which is based on and adapted from a program found in the Book of Resolutions of the UMC since 1992.

This five-step program is not meant to be used sequentially but instead can be used by congregations to create a unique program that meets their individual needs. These five steps: Education Commitment, Welcome, Support and Advocacy, work together to assist in developing these ministries.

1.      Education: Beginning with the leadership of the church, it is important to make the congregation aware of how to identify those with mental health issues and to minister appropriately. This group, including those in leadership, is frequently stigmatized. There are many ways to accomplish this step: host a speaker, workshop, or health fair on the topic of mental health, access available resources by organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or take advantage of opportunities such as Mental Health Month in May to educate others.

2.      Commitment (Covenant): Commit to this process of becoming a caring congregation from the bottom up. This can be challenging for clergy so it’s important to let the laity take the lead for each church, networking with community groups to support individuals and families affected by mental health issues.

3.      Welcome: The third step is welcoming those with mental health issues by reaching out to those who struggle and incorporating them into the congregation. This can involve training those who greet at church to be intentionally welcoming, providing ways for all to serve, and making sure people can get to church by providing rides for those lacking transportation.

4.      Support: It’s important to show God’s love to those who may feel unlovable. A few suggestions: provide training for those who serve this population, provide resource information about local mental health services, offer facility space for support groups, or support family members who care for those impacted.

5.      Advocacy: Advocate by standing up for better treatment, resolving justice issues, and providing life care such as housing or job training. Stay up to date on mental health issues, advocate with legislative leaders, and partner with other groups to increase your impact.

These steps are a great way to start ministering to those with mental health issues and to serve them faithfully. Matthew 25:40 (NIV) “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Contributed by Jasmine Ray-Symms, MA, Pacific Northwest Conference

Photo by: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Caring Congregations and Mental Health

All of us have mental health. Some of us begin each day able to handle whatever problems we face, easily accomplish whatever we need to do, and get along well with our families, friends and coworkers. If asked to evaluate ourselves, would say, “Yes, I am mentally healthy.” That is true for some of us at the start of the day, but is it always true? Our mental health varies from person to person and can vary throughout any given day.

Being a part of a caring congregation can help us with our mental health. Being a part of such a community means that I may be helpful to others as well! We can find the social support we need, which, along with eating well, getting exercise, restful sleep, and avoiding harmful substances is vital to our mental health. (For more information, https://www.americanmentalwellness.org/prevention/staying-healthy/).

In a caring congregation, members notice when someone is missing and check on that person. We make friends with one another and can ask, “Is everything alright?" when we notice a change. In such congregations, no person or family feels alone when a member of their family is ill or hospitalized. Instead there are members who are willing to stand beside and walk with someone experiencing a mental illness, rather than avoiding or shunning the affected person and their family.

Too often we expect the pastor to be the only one to visit, call, and support people in a time of need. As a retired pastor, I can tell you that this is not possible! Pastors rely on the entire congregation to care for one another and to let us know about needs, because not everyone will call the pastor. Together we sharie God’s love with one another, especially when it is most needed.

“We believe care ministry is the heart of the church and essential for the evolving Christian Community. Jesus was a healer and through His teachings and stories, He connected and cared for others. His example calls us to provide meaningful care and support through the peaks and valleys of our lives.” [From https://thecaringcongregation.com/]

Contributed by Rev. Evelyn Madison, LCSW, Susquehanna Conference

Photo by Mitch on Unsplash

Caring Congregations and the Pulpit

Pulpit in sanctuary with three crosses in the background

Many times I have ideas for a sermon series but do not have the courage to preach the series. For a whole host of reasons, I talk myself out of the idea. It could be due to not feeling knowledgeable enough on the topic or not wanting to offend anyone in the congregation. But in the fall of 2016, I knew that all those reasons weren’t enough to prevent me from preaching on mental health.

The idea started with my own struggles around mental health. The previous year I had two crippling panic attacks. Many changes were happening in life. My wife and I were trying to buy our first home, at the time we were parents to two young girls, and I was trying to juggle two part-time ministry positions. I began seeing a mental health professional and openly admitted to church members that I was working with a mental health professional.

I was sharing with a church member an experience of catastrophic thinking that I recently had and they looked at me and said, “Wow, even my pastor struggles with mental health! I’m not the only person.” With this statement, I was convinced that I needed to preach on mental health.

In the fall of 2016, I preached a four-week series on mental health entitled “Unboxing the Burden.” Each week we looked at issues surrounding the ideas around mental health as well as ways to care for our own health. After the sermon we had a “Mental Health Moment” that provided a practical look at mental health and included ways to care for our own mental health.

The first week introduced mental health and the Christian responsibility to care for mental health of our community. Our scripture was Mark 2:1-5 focusing on the actions of a group bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus. The scripture tells us that Jesus heals the paralyzed man because of the faith of his friends. Each and every one of us shares this responsibility. We invited a local mental health counselor to talk about the services available in our community and ways we can engage in the mental health care of others.

The second week explored the idea of our own mental health and how it is important to care for whole body health. We looked at Deuteronomy 6:5-7 and the fact that we are called to love and follow God with all of our being. We can’t do that if we have not cared for our mental health. We had a congregation member lead us in a full body meditation scan.

Using Exodus 18, the third week we explored the role of burnout. If burnout can happen to Moses, it can happen to any of us. We passed out a survey and invited people to take it to evaluate their own burnout level.

The last week we spoke about the importance of self-care. I purposely put this sermon the week before Thanksgiving. The holidays are a season in which we need to be intentional to care for ourselves. We used Jesus as our example of someone who knew how to take time for self-care. Each person was handed a card and invited to write down three ways they would care for themselves during the holiday season.

This was one of the hardest series I’ve ever preached, but one of the most rewarding. It provided a chance for people to hear from the pulpit that mental health is important and that it is okay to seek help. Since then, I have changed churches, but the need to speak on mental health from the pulpit hasn’t changed. In the fall of 2021, I again preached this series and again the response from people was overwhelming. Some shared that this was the first time they felt free to share their own struggles. I can only imagine how the church could change the conversation around mental health if more pastors and churches were willing to engage in this important work.

You can find the "Unboxing the Burden" sermon series here or below under resources.

Contributed by Rev. Shane Moore, Pacific Northwest Conference

Photo by Mitchell Leach on Unsplash

Caring Congregations and Pastors

Man walking with a bag and bible down a road

1 Peter 5:7 (NIV) says, ''Cast all your cares and anxieties unto the Lord, for he cares for you.” Sounds simple, doesn't it? Praying and asking God to help get rid of your worries and anxieties? As if God can just snap His fingers and all of a sudden, all our anxieties and depressive thoughts just magically disappear. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work the way we think it should. While it is true that he can take our anxieties away, He often accomplishes this task through people.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental issues are based on human emotions along with chemical imbalances in the brain. It's quite easy to fall victim to these emotions. Even pastors are not immune to them. That's why it's important for people within a church setting to take care of the pastor, and vice versa. This is where a caring congregation comes in.

A caring congregation is a community of individuals within a religious or spiritual organization that demonstrates compassion and empathy for its members, including the pastors. While members feels valued and respected in times of need in such congregations, does this always carry over to support for clergy? The average person in the pew might be surprised to realize how much negativity many pastors experience, even in congregations that believe they have the pastor's best interests at heart.

The Staff-Parish Relations committee should take the lead to ensure that each pastor is nurtured by a caring group of people who check in periodically, pray for them daily, and find ways to reduce the stress of post-pandemic ministry. By recognizing a pastor's challenges and creating a encouraging environment that prioritizes personal self-care, pastors can be revitalized to better serve their congregations.

Ask yourself the following questions as you reflect on your congregation and its relationship with the pastor/s:

  • Does the congregation know what the pastor's days off are, and respect their time boundaries?

  • Do you ensure that your pastor can spend time with peers or mentors in a covenant group, annual conference committee, sermon-preparation group, or pastors' fellowship group?

  • Do you find special ways to recognize celebrations and milestones like pastors' birthdays, pastor appreciation day, anniversaries, and achievements?

  • Do you understand that continuing education and retreat or sabbatical time are different than vacation time, and that all three are badly needed by professionals who too often work 6-7 days a week?

  • If your pastor is struggling, do you support their seeking professional care when needed and do you make sure that everyone knows that obtaining outside help should be affirmed, never stigmatized?

Mental health is a serious issue that impacts our world today, both inside and beyond the church. None of us can overcome stress, anxiety, depression, or other conditions on our own. We can come to God for help, but we have to recognize the fact that God uses other people. This is why it is vitally important to form a caring congregation that can prioritize mental wellness in clergy, laity, and the community.

Contributed By Mark Scott Benson, Western Pennsylvania Conference

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Caring Congregations and Ministries

Scabble tiles that spell out, "In Lifting Others We Rise"

Many of us, if asked, would say that ours is a caring congregation. We put in many volunteer or paid hours to make it so and have many meetings to look at ways we can show we care, both to our members and to our community.

If you attend a larger congregation, you likely talk about ministries of your church serving persons that are unhoused or about the team that you send to areas affected by disasters to do much needed repair work. These are areas of ministry that larger churches often have the resources to do.

If you attend a smaller church, you might talk about the fact that your church offers a "family feel" and newcomers find it easy to become a part of "the swing of things." Or, if you live in a rural area, local farmers may share their crop with the rest of the community, maybe as a part of their tithe. While all of these are true ministries of caring, our UMC churches do not yet seem to recognize the vast importance of paying direct attention to mental health in the church. Our members are suffering, as are our pastors.

There are many ways we may talk about the ministries that show our congregation is a caring one. Hopefully, the people in the congregation know that they can start with the pastor if they have some sort of problem. If the concern gets beyond the pastor's training, they refer that person to a local counselor.

We on the UMC Mental Health Task Force represent many conferences and jurisdictions but our membership is small. We are having a difficult time knowing what ministries are out there and recognizing the good work you are doing! Part of the task in setting a course is knowing what has already been done.

A random Google search leads to shout outs to Central UMC in Lawrence, KS and to First UMC in Northville, Ml, for very different reasons. At Central UMC, I was drawn to a January 2023 workshop and resources they posted on their website. First UMC spoke about a Mental Health Advocacy Day where they were going to visit their legislators to advocate for issues important to them. Unfortunately, many search results were for out-of-date offerings.

Please respond to this article and let us know what ministries your church offers that address mental health, however little or big, so that we may get a sense of the work being done and know where we stand! Ministries could be AA groups, workshops, groups addressing Alzheimer's, parent support groups, counseling, or anything else you think counts. Sharing what you are doing can inspire others.

The Mental Health Task Force was created in 2018 and is the denomination's approach to deal with mental health issues in the UMC. Composed of clergy and laity, the Task Force meets monthly by Zoom and is accepting new members. Anyone interested, please contact me at Vickie Johnson's email address The MHTF is the intersection of faith and mental health and is a way to mend the gap in these areas we in the church too often do not give enough voice to.

Contributed by Vickie Johnson LCSW, MDiv, Oregon-Idaho Conference, Chair of the UMC Mental Health Task Force.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


How to Rate Your Faith Community
Crisis Care Ministries
Caring Congregations Resolution
Unboxing the Burden Sermon Series
Mental Health is a Faith Matter
Flyer "Mental Illness and the Church" Course
Mental Health Links

As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions. Please send them to us at the committee e-mail address and include "Mental Health" in your subject line. We are especially interested in writers and leads about ministries addressing mental health concerns in children and youth and related to intersectionality. These will be topics of upcoming VOICE Mental Health issues.

Mental Health Task Force of the Disability Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church