Rev. Sam Meadors
Community Coordinator for The Delta Project, 200K More Reasons
This holiday season, 200K More Reasons wants to help congregations develop and promote ministry models that increase family stability. For families experiencing poverty and food insecurity, the holidays exacerbate stresses around having food on the table, providing gifts for loved ones, and staying warm. Our congregations exhibit unbelievable generosity during this time of year to ramp up their food pantries, offering warming centers, and collecting and distributing gifts for children, families, and those in care facilities.
However, we still struggle with how to help relieve the mental weight for families in need. More and more congregations have begun offering “Blue Christmas” and “Longest Night” services recognizing that the holidays can bring up feelings of grief and depression. However, these services while offered to the community may not be available to under-resourced families struggling with the same issues.
How can we reach out to children and their families who have experienced trauma during the year? These experiences can be due to unpredictable circumstances in the home- parental incarceration, domestic violence, or parental substance abuse. However, these experiences can also be due to environmental factors like poverty, poor housing quality and availability, or lack of economic opportunity. By increasing resources available for parents and families to sober living programs, childcare, mental health resources and others, we can increase resilience in children and help to make their lives a little more stable.
While your congregation plans and prepares for the holiday season, please remember your neighbors who may be experiencing food insecurity- those who visit your food pantry, the children at the school that receive backpacks, or those who visit your Little Free Library. Consider ways that you might engage in one of these three strategies developed by the 200K More Reasons Mental Health Task Force.
- Increasing Mental Health Awareness and Access
- Opening Doors to Training and Learning
- Creating topic-driven small groups for under-resourced families served through other resource ministries like food ministries
Increasing awareness and access to mental health resources is perhaps the stepping stone to family stability. A way to begin is to speak openly about mental health from the pulpit. The stigma that surrounds mental health exists, but bringing that language into the sanctuary can help people who might be struggling to know that it’s okay to ask for help. One way a congregation in the Southeast District is increasing access to mental health resources is by raising money for community members to receive counseling and substance abuse services. Caleb’s Climb occurs each year at White Hall UMC. The month-long fundraiser garners support across the community and helps individuals know that the church is there when they might not have the funds to go to sober living or visit a therapist or counselor.
Another way your congregation can get involved in family stability ministries is to offer a training or learning opportunity. You might consider connecting with an individual or group that offers mental health first aid. Like regular first aid training, this helps you to know how to get help for people experiencing mental health crises. Pastors, staff, and lay ministry leaders can get support for helping to identify mental health needs in the community. Another opportunity would be to host an event like Soul Shop by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This faith-based training equips churches and church members to work to prevent suicide. These types of opportunities can happen in a single congregation or through the efforts of groups of churches in a community.
Finally, increasing family stability means extending an invitation. Congregations can invite neighbors from our food pantry and literacy ministries to participate in opportunities like Grief Share and Divorce Care. This also means including your neighbors who are food insecure into family events especially those that provide childcare.
What is the most wonderful time of the year, can also be the most stressful and demanding time of year. As your congregation makes plans for the season, please consider ways that you can address the mental health needs as well as the physical and spiritual needs of your community. Include your neighbors experiencing poverty and food insecurity into services and classes that offer hope and light in the midst of grief and darkness. With God’s help, we can offer support not just to those in our congregation, but those who need it throughout our communities.