A partner ministry of The General Commission on Religion and Race
May 2021    
Volume 11, #2
Banner with the word HOPE in mental health green
of the
United Methodist
 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ! 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a Time to Find Hope!

The Mental Health Task Force hopes that you find ways to raise awareness of mental health challenges and decrease the stigma that too often prevents people from coming to church and being open about their struggles and suffering.

In this issue, we share an article about where to find resources and ideas that will help you in those efforts, so please keep reading!

We know what a long, hard year it has been for just about all of us, and we are not yet out of the COVID-19 woods. In addition, racial tensions seem to be mounting and mass shootings are in the news again. Facing all of this, it might be very easy to lose hope. To help us find it again, we offer a parable of hope found in adopting a challenging rescue dog. We also present an article on being God’s hope in the world.

We, as always, pray for you as you read this newsletter. May God’s love and care be unmistakable in your lives, may you find the help you need whenever you need it, and may you shine in this world as the Light of Christ.

Yours in service to Christ,


Deaconess Sharon McCart

Mental Health Task Force

A subcommittee of the DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church
Finding Hope

Mental Health Awareness Month

HOPE: The Parable of the Shelter Dog

Becoming God's Hope
Observing Mental Health Awareness Month
Banner with green crossed ribbon and May is Mental Health Awareness Month

In the United States, May is observed as Mental Health Awareness Month. This is a perfect time to talk about mental health/mental illness in your congregation!

You might consider mentioning in the pastoral prayer that many of us face mental health challenges. You could invite a psychologist or licensed therapist to say a few words to educate your members, and/ or publish resources and places to go for help in your newsletter. Keep in mind that 25% of the population will experience a mental health challenge each year, and that the percentage is likely to be higher during this time of pandemic. People with mental illness are in your congregation already and visitors will feel more welcome if they know it is not a taboo subject.

Many clergy have found that talking openly about mental illness in prayer and in sermons opens a door for people to seek help. Most church members will come to their pastor first, so it is a good idea to have phone numbers for professionals handy to make referrals. Your local mental health agency is a good place to find those phone numbers! If you are not clergy, you can offer to look those numbers up for your minister.
For many resources that are helpful in raising awareness within congregations, please go to https://umcdmc.org/mental-health-ministries/ to find United Methodist resources. Also scroll down on that page to find a link to Mental Health Ministries, which provides short videos suitable for showing during a worship service, bulletin inserts (also helpful in e-newsletters), brochures and other resources which will guide you through lessening the stigma and misinformation around mental illnesses.

If you would like to have an expert or someone living successfully with mental health challenges come to speak at your church, please check with the NAMI or NAMI Faithnet organization in your area. Your county mental health department or local hospital may also help you find someone to speak during worship or other gatherings, whether in person or on-line.

Perhaps one of your church members or a pastor in your area is a licensed therapist or counselor. Make use of these resources to help your congregation better serve each other and your community. By learning more about mental illness, we can see others more clearly, with a better understanding and more compassion.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a great time to become more aware of the challenges people within and outside of the church face! 

Contributed by Deaconess Sharon McCart
California-Pacific Conference.
HOPE: The Parable of the Shelter Dog
Black German shepherd lying on carpet, looking up with mournful eyes
We mourned for the old golden retriever that died in the fall. There were no wake-up kisses, no leisurely walks and no long fireside “chats,” so we were looking for an older dog that would warm our hearts. Meet Chelsea, age: unknown. Breed: basic German Shepherd and unknown. Last residence: unknown with gaps in what we do know. Last known to be in a Wyoming Rescue that she left. Next seen at the local shelter.
So it was that on an extremely cold January day we wandered into the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter to visit 2 dogs. OOPS! Standing at the checkout counter was a couple smiling from ear to ear. They just adopted Thor, the younger dog. We were told that the other dog, Chelsea, had just been released from quarantine for biting a person on the way out the door of the shelter to her new “forever home.” The new owners brought her right back, rejecting her. Yes, she is dog aggressive and the other people had a dog!!!
My husband Everett, daughter Tori (a dog whisperer) and I all decided to stay and just visit with Chelsea for a while, so we sat on the cold floor of the shelter, waiting to meet Chelsea. Oh, what a beautiful dog she was, even with all those ratty lumps and matted hair. She came to each of us, open to being touched and talked to. She was off harness and free to move around, which she did. She was as curious as we were. Even with the dog-aggressiveness unresolved, we decided to adopt.
So begins our tale of trust and acceptance, love and limits, learning and looking forward.  Chelsea has accepted us as her people during the past 2 weeks. She cares for us and loves us. She is also getting more secure in understanding what her “rights” are and has begun to push the limits of all areas. 
We are learning from her and she from us. We don’t have any history to draw on so we assume the best and are beginning to build the rest. Someone has taught her basic commands, she loves to ride in the car, she really is attached to my husband, she is trained to a leash. Chelsea is not food-motivated, toy driven nor interested in playing ball. BUT she loves people. She also has started to show the manners she learned. 
Black German shepherd dog sitting up at the top of a staircase and looking down
WHO are you? Where have you been?
We have had several people come to our home and she acts like they came to see her. She does well with praise and love. 
WHO are you, Chelsea? God knows and we are starting to discover. You have many talents that will take time to see. Chelsea means landed! You are loved and secure in our care. You have hope. You have a home.
Hope rose within us. Chelsea can learn with us, we can learn to make adaptations, and we can grow stronger together.
God offers Hope to us as a world family.
God loves each of us, bringing Hope that can carry us to the end of this long COVID-19 shut down. As we love and learn with Chelsea, we will continue to lean on God for support and wisdom. Did Chelsea know where she was going when she found her way to the local shelter? Why did we decide that day to stay and sit on the floor and meet her?
WE all have a new day ahead of us. Let’s open the door to possibilities and hope! 

Contributed by Carole Jones
Mountain Sky Conference
Becoming God's Hope.
Painting of young, attractive woman holding a smiling mask still partly covering her unsmiling face with one tear on her cheek
When I was a freshman in high school, my mom woke me one night to ask if I had ever thought about harming myself. Apparently, a concerned friend (I still don’t know who) had called to let my parents know that I had made a joke about stepping out in front of traffic while walking home from school. I didn’t remember saying that out loud, but I had definitely thought about it. Thankfully, my parents took me to speak with a therapist, which helped me process what I was feeling.

I wasn’t angry at my friend for calling– they did the right thing. I was upset that I had let my “mask” slip--not a cloth mask, but a psychological mask. In therapy, I realized that I had somehow internalized the idea that Christians are supposed to be happy all the time. However, the longer I hid my feelings, the heavier the mask got. My therapist helped me understand that difficult emotions are part of what make us human, and there is nothing wrong with that. Even Jesus wept, after all! I found hope in the knowledge that I was not alone in what I was feeling.

In college, I was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It was one thing to experience difficult emotions, but having a chemical imbalance felt like a life sentence. While I was glad to have tools to help me like meds, therapy, and coping strategies, I worried that my whole life would be focused on managing what was wrong with me.
In seminary, a trusted friend asked me, “Erin – are you a lesser person for needing contact lenses to see clearly?” No, of course not. “What about a person with diabetes – are they less beloved by God because they need insulin?” Obviously not! “Or a person with heart disease, do you think that God is less able to use them?” Absolutely not. “Then certainly,” she said, “your health condition makes you no less valuable as a human being.”

Philippians 2: 5-11 tells us that Christ chose to become fully human alongside us. He knew that humanity would bring limitations, pain, struggle, and even death – and yet he chose to join us in our messy humanity. Our hope in Christ comes through His humanity, not in spite of it.

When I started being more honest and open about my experiences as a pastor, I found that others became more willing to remove their masks, too. I found new hope in the knowledge that I am beautifully and wonderfully made on purpose, and that God is able to use every single part of me. The hope that I felt as a youth was now something that I could share with others.

Recently, I added another chronic condition to my growing collection of diagnoses, and I found myself falling into that dark pit of despair that has gotten so comfortable over the years. Fear holds us alone in the darkness, but hope can be found in our shared humanity. If you have found yourself in that dark pit lately, please reach out for help. I promise, you are not alone. You, and me, and Jesus – we are all managing what it means to be human together.

As I look back along my journey, I can see now that I was never truly alone. From that anonymous caller, to family members, friends, therapists, and parishioners, all of these have embodied God’s Hope for me. When we remove our masks and show our true selves to the world, we are able to be God’s Hope for one another. Will you join me? 

Contributed by the Rev. Erin McPhee
California-Pacific Conference 

We are more than grateful for your excitement and support regarding the expansion of our work to more intentionally include mental health. Many have reached out and asked to be a part of this important ministry.

Watch your inbox for an update about new members and expanded resources from the full DisAbility Ministries Committee, and information about the re-launch of the Disability-Friendly and Accessible Badge program.

Please share your innovative ministries and ideas with us, or let us know about resources that we might develop to assist you in your local and conference programs. We are always looking for additional volunteers as well. Please contact us at our committee e-mail address.

Deaconess Lynn Swedberg, editor

DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church