5 Questions for a Pastor Taking Mental Health Seriously

Rev. J. Barrett Lee
Rev. J. Barrett Lee

Rev. J. Barrett Lee is pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., whose mission is to "practice our ministry alongside people who live with mental illness." Website: wearenorth.org

1. Why is it important to talk about mental illness? The only time people want to talk about mental illness as a broad social issue is when a mass shooting occurs. It’s a huge problem because it perpetuates the myths of what mental illness is and how people with mental illness operate. People think, “What if some mentally ill person gets a gun and is going to shoot up a church or a school?” But the reality is that people who live with mental illness are actually 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence. I don’t know a single person in my church who even owns a gun.

2. How is North Presbyterian’s call to ministry unique? We decided that our ministry with people living with mental illness was not going to be a side project. It wasn’t going to be something we did in addition to our ministry. We felt God calling us to reorient the entire life of our congregation around making a space where all people can be treated as equal partners in Christ’s service. We started the Togetherness Group, a weekly social activities group where the whole goal is to be together. We do lots of fun activities, whether that’s going out to lunch, going to the zoo, or just playing bingo on a rainy day. For a lot of folks, this is their one safe space each week when they can get out of the house, be treated like a human, embrace their own humanity, have a good time, and take some of the pressure off of daily living.

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