Church Based Advocacy

 John M. Crowe, M.Div., D.Min.,

Member of NC NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Member of the Pitt County Mental Health Association

Recipient of the 2002 President's Award from the Mental Health Association of NC 

by John M. Crowe


 Upon the spouse’s fourth hospitalization, a LCSW gave her husband a brochure about NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill). That summer, he joined the newly formed NAMI-Affiliate in his area.


In the spring, that affiliate and the one in a nearby county worked together in offering the Family-to-Family Class for family and friends of the mentally ill. When they covered Advocacy in class, he thought of writing a resolution to the Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church in his state. Both clergy and laity gather yearly during in June to make various decisions.


Until then, he had never written a resolution on mental health. Neither had he ever seen such a resolution in almost 20 years of pastoral ministry.


His very first two whereas statement opened the resolution with “Jesus came preaching, teaching, and healing. . . continues through the Church.” Then he drew from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. Among the many other strong points of his ministry, he wrote a sound book on home health remedies; he started dispensaries of medicines to the poor who were being charged way too much; he advocated for better hospital conditions; and his view of Christian living contributes to spiritual, physical and mental health.


He also mentioned the prayer service for healing and wholeness in our new United Methodist Hymnal. From there, he wrote concerning the Social Principles related to mental health, advocacy, the role of government in health care, and the right of all persons to have equal access to health care.


All of these details demonstrate how to do church based advocacy from both a biblical and a denominational perspective. Then include some whereas statements about changes in the state mental health plan and what congress has yet to do about parity. From there include some statements about NAMI. Be sure to mention Shirley H. Strobel's Creating a Circle of Caring: the Church and the Mentally Ill.


The therefore let it be resolved part of a resolution to a church body like his needs to include a call for whatever group in the church addresses social concerns to advocate on both the state and national level. If you are a United Methodist, request that the District Superintendent ask each church about their activity and plans for ministry in the area of mental health. Also, ask your denominational leadership to offer mental health and the church workshops. Last but not least, encourage your denomination to use Shirely’s book as well as the many other resources that NAMI national printed in the recent Advocate. Furthermore, once your resolution passes like his did, then stay in touch with the appropriate people to keep up on their follow through.


Two years later, he wrote two more resolutions for his Annual Conference. Actually, he modified both of these from resolutions shared on methvision. It is a United Methodist e-mail group focused on mental health and the church.


Your advocacy for mental health within the church will go much further if you can find a group like methvision where you can support and resource each other. Also, maybe you are the person to start one if it does not already exist.


Both of his resolutions came originally from Margaret Ann in VA via methvision with her permission to use them in our own areas. The first one called for lifting up mental illness concerns in worship services in October; publicizing mental health resource information in church newsletters; and Utilize the video resource “Creating Caring Congregations” during the year.


In addition, we resolved that the NC United Methodist Children’s Home host a conference on mental illness, calling together all pastors and laity in the conference currently involved in mental health ministries; public or private care; and policy and financing. Further, that the Secretary of Human Services Office of North Carolina be invited to participate.


Margaret Ann wrote the second resolution for the quarterly meeting of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church which met this past spring. Due to a technicality, it never reached the floor for a vote. It asked for every United Methodist Conference to establish a conference coordinator of mental health ministries. The Virginia Conference created this position in 1995 in response to the 1992 General Conference’s call for churches to be caring congregations for the mentally ill and their families.


When he learned of Margaret Ann’s petition to the UMC ‘s General Conference failing to make it to the floor, he modified it for the Annual Conference of the UMC in his state, NC. This resolution included a detailed description of what a conference coordinator of mental health ministries does.


Because they raise their Conference budget one year and spend it the next, he requested the salary for this position to be included in the budget they will vote on June 2005 so this new position can be in place by 2007.


Also, instead of presenting these two successful resolutions by himself, he sent them to his colleagues on the Conference Board of Church and Society. They were glad to help.


The end result of all of this effort was the creation of a conference committee on disability concerns that was the outcome of a resolution for a task force on churches and mental health.


Since the formations of that committee the following things have taken place.


The NC Conference of the UMC has made progress in this area with the creation of a permanent disability concerns conference committee that has a strong focus on mental illness. Our conference media center now has several DVDs from Mental Health Ministries about mental illness and the church and the conference web site has a page with several links to helpful articles. These DVDs can be checked out for free by pastors for themselves and for their churches. 


2005 North Carolina Mental Health Conference


Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder spoke for a one day conference for clergy and laity that was jointly sponsored by NAMI-NC and the NC Mental Health Association plus the NC Conference of the UMC. It drew a state wide gathering of people. .


The NC Conferenece of the United Methodist Church has several Mental Health Resources which came from a previous web page sponsored by the Conference Committee on Disability Concerns.
 

Examples of Resolutions

 

A Call to the Laity and Clergy about N.C. Mental Health Reform


 WHEREAS, Jesus said that when we do something good for the overlooked or the ignored, we have done it to Him; and when we do not do something good for the overlooked or the ignored, we have failed to do good to Him;

WHEREAS, John Wesley advocated for improved hospital conditions, better housing, and community services for the poor and ill; and

WHEREAS, the Social Principles of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church recognizes the role of governments in ensuring that each individual has access to those elements necessary to good health;

WHEREAS, the North Carolina State Legislature's Mental Health Reform Bill H831 has resulted in an unintentional reduction of services for all citizens of the state because of system fragmentation and a serious shortage of mental health professionals; and

WHEREAS, mental health "reform" started in 2001 with the premise that the public mental health system was "broken" claiming there weren't enough community services, Area Programs were "monopolies," state hospitals were overused and no new money would be needed because so much was being wasted; and

WHEREAS, now, six years later, it seems that what we meant to say was that Area Programs were "safety nets," not "monopolies." The "broken" mental health system had aspects we now sorely miss but are unlikely to be restored for some time. And so many North Carolinians will continue needlessly to suffer; and

WHEREAS, the supply of community psychiatrists essential to providing community-based care fell 16 percent per capita between 2003 and 2005, and these losses have continued even as the demand has increased; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the North Carolina Annual Conference send a letter to Governor Mike Easley, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Carmen Hooker-Odom, and Mike Moseley- Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services saying that the state can not improve the mental health services by reducing the services; and

BE IT FUTHER RESOLVED, that the North Carolina Annual Conference state its support of the parity bill (HB 973) requiring that health care insurance benefits covering mental illnesses be provided at the same level as benefits covering other illnesses; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the North Carolina Annual Conference state its support of the increased funding for mental health bill HB 934; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the laity and clergy of the North Carolina Annual Conference will educate themselves, their churches, and their communities about the plight of our fragile and deteriorating mental health system; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the laity and clergy of the North Carolina Annual Conference shall passionately advocate on behalf of the people of North Carolina with mental illnesses and possibly follow the example of the UMW and the Board of Laity in the Rocky Mount District who invited state legislatures to meet with them and discuss such concerns.

Respectfully Submitted by the Committee on Disability Concerns and the Council on Church and Society 


 

A Resolution on the United Methodist Church and Mental Illness


 Whereas, Jesus Christ came preaching, teaching and healing;

Whereas, our living Lord and Savior’s ministry of healing and wholeness continues through the Church;

Whereas, the ministry of John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, included a broad Biblical focus on healing;

Whereas, The United Methodist Book of Worship includes services of prayer for healing and wholeness;

Whereas, the Social Principles of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church affirms our responsibility to be in ministry with and advocate for persons suffering from mental illness and their families (162.G);

Whereas, the Social Principles of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church recognizes the role of governments in ensuring that each individual has access to those elements necessary to good health (162.T);

Whereas, the Social Principles of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church supports the basic rights of all persons to equal access to medical care (162);

Whereas, the United States Congress failed to resolve the parity issue between physical and mental health insurance coverage;

Whereas, the North Carolina State Legislature’s Mental Health Reform Bill H831 will lower us from 40 county mental health centers to 20 regional HMO type mental health centers, called a Local Management Entity, over the next five years;

Whereas, these changes in our State’s Mental Health budget and services will likely mean that only those with the most money, the best insurance, and the easiest to cure problems will get help;

Whereas, The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), North Carolina, the state’s largest grassroots organization provides Education, Support, and Advocacy for mental health consumers and their families through 32 NC affiliates as well as on a national level;

Whereas, NAMI North Carolina offers Shirley H. Strobel’s Creating a Circle of Caring: the Church and the Mentally Ill to equip churches for this important ministry of healing and wholeness for our suffering brothers and sisters;

Whereas, The United Methodist Churches of the NC Annual Conference need greater awareness of those suffering as mental health consumers and families;

Whereas, Christ’s Holy Church is called to offer ministries of healing and wholeness to a hurting and broken world;

Whereas, our United Methodist Igniting Ministry states that we are a people with open hearts, open, minds, and open doors as the central part of its invitation;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the NC Conference Commission on Church & Society lead us in advocating for Congress to pass a bill establishing parity between physical and mental health insurance coverage;

Furthermore, We call upon the NC Conference Commission on Church & Society to lead us in advocating for our NC House of Representatives to budget more funds for better mental health services to a wider range of people;

Therefore, be it resolved, that Wellspring and/or the Office of Church Development offer regional workshops for local churches desiring to fulfill this timely call to ministry. Thereby, equip people for service in ministry to their suffering brothers and sisters; to advocate for legislative measures that benefit and protect the mental health consumer and their families, and to become a provider of rehabilitation services, such as housing and social clubs.

We would encourage using the workbook mentioned earlier from NC NAMI;

Furthermore, We call upon the District Superintendents, during Charge Conference, to ask what local churches are doing and/or plan to do in providing needed ministries to those mentally ill whom society is cutting short, and to plan and hold seminars that will inform pastors of services that available to their people.

Let us hear afresh I John 3:17 (NRSV), “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” as we ponder this great need in our state and ministry opportunity for us as United Methodist Christians. 


 

Mental Illness Awareness


 

WHEREAS, every congregation has one out of four families dealing with issues of mental illnesses;

WHEREAS, when persons of faith deal with these health challenges, they need the support and encouragement of their pastor and their congregation;

WHEREAS, 40% of persons with emotional difficulties turn first to their clergy for help;

WHEREAS, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens, and the second leading cause of death ages 25-34, and 90% of those who attempt suicide have a mental illness;

WHEREAS, mental health education and awareness within the congregation can save lives, combat stigma and marginalization of persons touched by mental illness, and enable those with the illnesses within the congregation to feel that they will not be walking alone on their journey with their illness;

WHEREAS, the United Methodist Church has established resources to help congregations become “Caring Communities” for those within their midst with mental illnesses;

WHEREAS, the national observance of Mental Illness Awareness occurs the first week of October each year;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the North Carolina Annual Conference requests that each congregation within the North Carolina Annual Conference lift up the concerns of mental illness in the following ways:

Uplift these concerns in a unison congregational prayer during a worship service in October each year.
Publicize within the church newsletter during the month of October each year the resources for United Methodist mental illness ministries that are available in the Conference Media Center and on-line.
Utilize the video resource “Creating Caring Congregations” during the year.

We further request that the United Methodist Children’s Home host a conference on mental illness, calling together all pastors and laity in the conference currently involved in mental health ministries; public or private care; and policy and financing. Further, that the Secretary of Human Services Office of North Carolina be invited to participate.


 

Petition for a Conference Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries


 Whereas, across the nation and the world, an average of 20% of the population has a mental illness;

Whereas, there is no evidence which shows that being United Methodist protects anyone from the possibility of developing symptoms of mental illness;

Whereas mental illness is a pervasive problem which affects 4 out of 5 families, not exclusive of United Methodists, including clergy and their families of all denominations;

Whereas, there are roughly 16,600,000 United Methodists, on average a minimum 3,320,000 United Methodists probably struggle with a mental illness;

Whereas, there are roughly 233,759 United Methodists within our Conference. 20% of that total number gives us a probable minimum of 46,751 United Methodists and their families probably struggle with a mental illness;

Whereas, the population of North Carolina is 8,049,313, 3,880,601 people live in the counties of our Conference. Thus, probably 776,120 persons and their families struggle with the issues surrounding mental illness;

Whereas, a 2000 study by the General Board of Global Ministries "found the church loving and supportive" but, "they did not find it helpful in trying to deal with the crisis that mental illness caused in their family;"

Whereas: whether your start with Jesus’ teachings, our United Methodist tradition and theology, or a statistical survey, the evidence is overwhelming. The United Methodist Church has a clear foundation for ministry to persons with mental illness and their families to be a part of each congregation's ministry;

Whereas, the lack of effective congregational ministry to persons with mental illness, impacts and interferes with the ability of the Church to function in ways that are fully inclusive and consistent with Biblical teachings;

Whereas, the stigma of mental illness in society as a whole will not be defeated until the Faith Community understands mental illness and the value of each person who has one of these "no fault" disorders;

Whereas, the nationwide UMMIM (United Methodist Mental Illness Ministries) network is concerned that many local United Methodist congregations and annual conferences have not fully embraced the concept of creating "Caring Communities" as described in the Book of Discipline, the drastic changes in our nation’s mental health care calls for our pro-active leadership and intentional involvement in this hurting area of human need;

Whereas, six Annual Conferences currently have full time coordinators for mental health ministries; California-Pacific; Virginia; Oklahoma; Northern Illinois; New England and Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. Ministry to persons who have a mental illness and their families is not something to be entered into lightly and these annual conferences recognize that providing a coordinator to resource their work is a beneficial effort;

Whereas, a Conference Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries would endeavor to see that within the Conference, the needs of persons with mental illnesses and their families receive ministry in accordance with the statements in the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions;

Let it therefore, be resolved that the North Carolina Annual Conference establish a conference Coordinator for Mental Illness Ministries to provide for these functions and maintain the connectional relationships by the year 2007 with a line item budget present in the budget presented to this Annual Conference in 2005;

Let it therefore, be further resolves that their specific responsibilities will include the following:

1. Be informed about the status of persons with mental illnesses within the total life of the conference.

2. Participate in education and training conferences offered by faith communities in order to resource church leadership, clergy, seminaries, and congregations.

3. Be a resource for the Conference Committee of Church and Society in addressing the advocacy issues of being a caring community within the church for those with mental illnesses and their families.

4. Be an active participant in the United Methodist Caring Communities Network and in the United Methodist Mental Illness Ministries Network.

5. Develop ways to inform and sensitize the leadership among laity and clergy on issues that affect persons with mental illnesses and their families.

6. Help districts, conference agencies and Boards, congregations and seminaries recognize their cooperative role in sharing God’s love with those who have a mental illness and their families.

7. Advise the annual conference about the progress and effectiveness of efforts to include participation of persons with mental illnesses and their families in the life of the Church.

8. Provide education in the form of programs, seminars, presentations, web page, free handouts at resource tables, etc. to eradicate stigma. The Coordinator shall utilize a committee of volunteers to carry out these education resources. 


 

Task Force on Mental Illness Ministries


 In the spring of 2005, my friend on the Conference Board of Church and Society and I were disappointed to hear a conference level committee had rejected a Conference Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries petition. I asked him to find a way to rescue this and he did.

The rest of this e-mail is about how this was done and the great news about a very good outcome.

In June of 2005, a lay member reminded the Conference of a motion submitted to the 2004 Annual Conference and referred to the Spiritual Formation and Leadership Circle for study which called for the establishment of a conference coordinator of mental illness ministries. It was rejected by the Circle. He described the need for ministry to the mentally ill and made the following motion: 

"This N.C. Annual Conference asks our Bishop to appoint a task force on mental illness ministries which shall be charged to identify our mental health needs within the state and conference, including both clergy and laity; develop a workable but comprehensive strategy for meeting those needs; and from that submit to the Bishop and next conference a specific plan for action and ministries - with reasonable financial estimates and timetables - appropriate for the conference, the districts, and the local congregations. The size of the task force is left to the Bishop's discretion but should at least include volunteer representatives from the Spiritual Formation and Leadership Circle, Church and Society, incapacity and insurance committees, CJAM, CFA, and any other appropriate agency or board involved in health issues or conference finances."

The outcome of this motion being passed was the formation of The Committee on Disability Concerns thanks to the efforts of the Executive Director of Conference Connectional Ministries who is very concerned about mental health issues. This fall, he made sure that our conference media center order the whole set of training videos recently made to help train churches to be caring congregations. 

Since such a committee is mandated by the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2004 for every Conference of The UMC to have, this will be a permanent committee with annual funding  and will have as its portfolio awareness of and advocacy for persons with both physical and mental disabilities.   Clergy and laity are to be included. Persons with physical and mental disabilities are to be included in the committee's membership. The committee is to help develop programs within the annual conference, and by implication within its local congregations, that meet the needs of persons with disabilities.  

Work is underway to have this committee put in the 2008 budget. Also, a request is being presented for a Supplemental Appropriation to fund the committee this year and will be in next year to fund it for 2007. Results of additional efforts are forthcoming about who will actually be on that committee so we can get it working before Annual Conference meets in June.

So, after asking for a Conference Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries and loosing that, we asked for a task force and got a committee mandated by the denomination's book of church order and thus requiring funding. This has taken a lot of work and needed the support of several key people. For everyone who has helped us assistance we are very glad.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference of the UMC has a similar committee with a subcommittee on mental illness. If you are interested, take a look at their site http://www.bwcumc.org/page.asp?PKValue=181.