After the UTSA surveys, the churches were invited to be part of the Faith and Mental Wellness Cohort Program, a two-year commitment to figuring out how to address mental wellness. Eight churches joined, representing varying denominations and different areas of San Antonio.
Since February, churches in the cohort have been sharing their approaches to mental wellness within their congregations and surrounding communities. The group is meeting virtually each month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This hasn’t been done much around the country as far as cohort knowledge,” said Mark Carmona, the mental health cohort leader. “This body of knowledge will be important.”
Leaders are gleaning tips and advice from each other, no matter if this was a brand-new subject for them or if their congregation had already taken a few steps to address it.
Before joining the cohort, St. Mark’s Episcopal launched Resilience Nights, events introducing mental health topics to its youth and parents. Multiple suicides in the community affected the church’s youth and prompted the meetings. One of the church’s Resilience Nights featured a movie screening that drew a full crowd. It was clear that congregants wanted to talk.
“We had youth and families that were impacted by those losses,” said Rev. Ann Benton Fraser. “I don’t think we knew how widespread that need was until that movie night. There was a significant group of people who know they want their community of faith to be a place of support.”
Whether the church is like St. Mark’s Episcopal with more than 600 attending households or it’s a smaller congregation like Pastor Glover’s Temple Missionary Baptist with 100 members, relationships are key. Pastor Glover lets his congregation know he’s there for them; everyone has his phone number. And if he can’t help, he will find someone who can. For example, for a marital dilemma, he’d connect the wife with someone who could better relate, like another female congregant.
That’s an important approach for any church to emulate. Sometimes, solutions can be found within the church family.
“It’s our job as Christians to care,” Pastor Glover said.