Zero Unemployment in the Kingdom

'The most important gift a community can give someone suffering mental illness is acceptance'

“Depression is just an illness, like diabetes.” 

“There’s no shame in having a heart disease or a broken arm, so why should we treat mental illness as shameful?”

The answer is simple: people with diabetes and broken arms don’t normally say things like, “The world would be better off without me.” 

If we think of mental health as a continuum, then all of us suffer from some degree of mental ill-health. We all have times of depression related to circumstances, food or medications, but some of us suffer from clinical depression. I have more than a passing acquaintance with depression, but I’ve tried to avoid talking too much about the topic in the last few years. It may be possible to trivialize illnesses by overexposure as well with stigma. 

The most important gift a community can give someone suffering mental illness is acceptance. Not sympathy, not empathy; often lack of knowledge makes these impossible. Not condescension either (“It must be tough”). Just acceptance. 

A story

James* came up to me recently and said, “I have to talk to you. About something you wrote about mental illness.” He was referring to an article I had distributed about someone finding a church home after years of being ignored, ostracized and patronized in other congregations. My friend had a similar experience: “I finally found a church that accepts me and my son, Darren, who simply can’t live without medications, and who will probably never hold a full-time job. No one in our new church ever says, ‘Why doesn’t he just get off his butt and get to work?’ We can relax there.”

Acceptance. That’s a gift we can give those with ill-health. Accepted as you are, no questions asked, no accounting demanded: “It’s good to see you” replacing sincerely-meant but devastating, “How are things going?” 

Here’s how I experienced acceptance. Long ago, while I was suffering a breakdown and could not work at my regular job because of limitations imposed by depression, my local congregation nominated me for elder. A well-meaning friend tried to discourage me, but – as it turned out – being ill probably helped me be more compassionate as a church leader. Could it be that the illness is qualification for certain tasks? I know this much: this first term as elder was certainly, by my standards at least, my most successful and fulfilling. 

I was asked by a nearby congregation to preach a sermon while I was suffering ill-health due to depression. It was based on Psalm 88. Afterwards, quite a number of people came to me to “confess” that they, too, suffered from this illness. 

Will we ever see an ad like this? 

WANTED: Minister to serve in a suburban Reformed church. Must be certifiably clinically-depressed and presently unemployed. For more information, please contact:
Search Committee, No Stigma Fellowship Church (CRC), or email gro.liamg@amgitson.esactunatnawew

Acceptance involves encouragement to participate, an appreciation for diversity, and valuing the gifts of each member. It does not mean “asking Jeanette to help with the dishes” when she is suffering depression and is a classically-trained organist. (More precisely, it means asking for her insight into church music and asking her to help with the dishes.)  

When the Lord Jesus Christ summoned, invited, and coaxed the weary and heavy-laden to come to him I suspect that he was including many with mental health problems. I know that he accepted them, and the history of Moses, Jeremiah, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other pivotal figures in church history demonstrates that those with less than perfect mental and emotional health were kept fully employed in God’s kingdom. 

Author

  • Curt Gesch and his wife lead the singing via Zoom for a combined service of small United Church congregations in central B.C. each Sunday morning. In the afternoon, they lead a Friends and Family Zoom worship from their home. If you'd like to join that service, please write Curt at moc.liamg@36hcsegc.

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