WELLSVILLE – Every church, regardless of size, should view and undertake a mental health ministry as a priority.

This was the call from the pastor of one of the largest churches in the United States during a “Why Every Church Should Have a Mental Health Focus” presentation for pastors and the public at the Hope Center Wednesday. The seminar, detailing components of such a ministry will be repeated from 6:30PM-8PM Thursday, May 23, with pre-registration for limited seating at bps461@msn.com or (484) 435-0503. Walk-ins are accepted on a space-available basis only and may not include any materials.

Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, author of the best-selling book, “Purpose Driven Life,” and “Purpose Driven Church”, and co-founder of the international Celebrate Recovery ministry, and his wife, Kay, provided information in DVD format, with an introduction by Hope Center Planning Group Chair Casey Jones.

Jones focused on holistic health being physical, mental/emotional and spiritual, with any one component out of balance often having a negative impact on the others. He said the need for all three are recognized by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

He also noted that Celebrate Recovery, offered at churches in Houghton, Scio and Wellsville, along with men's and women's groups at Allegany County Jail, is an opportunity for other county churches to help those with mental illness and all types of other hurts, hangups, habits and life struggles.

The Warrens noted that their son, Matthew “struggled terribly with mental illness most of his life,” affecting the entire family, before taking his own life in a completed suicide in 2013.

They said that mental illness affects over one out of every two people at some point during their lifetimes, with half of all chronic mental illness beginning by the age of 14 and one in five children having a mental illness by the age of 18. It impacts the entire family, they said, many members being churchgoers who hide the issue, which can include depression, anxiety and eating disorders, when they actually should be able to reach out safely to the church for understanding support.

The church is “good at crisis situations,” such as helping when someone's house burns down, the pastor said, but is not as good for chronic conditions that go on for years and years. His wife noted that the church provides support quickly, such as meals and transportation, when someone has a heart attack, accident or some other physical health issue but assistance for individuals with mental illness and their families often is near non-existent.

They said the church, however, is called to be involved for practical, Biblical and historical reasons.

From a practical standpoint, studies show that the church is the first place that many people go to when they are struggling with all types of issues, with many of them having a basis in mental health, they said. From a Biblical perspective the church is called to help those in need, they asserted, and from a historical perspective the church, not government or the healthcare industry, invented the hospital. Caring for others, they said, goes back 2,000 years and the first hospital in most countries was started by Chrisitan missionaries.

“It is absolutely false that churches have nothing to offer people with mental illness,” Rick Warren said, saying the church is tasked with caring for the hopeless and the whole person – body, mind and soul. A church cannot care for the homeless, returning veterans, or families in crisis without oftentimes dealing with mental illness issues, the couple noted.

The Warrens outlined six action steps that any church, regardless of size or location, can take to help those with mental illness, describing them as crawl walk and run that will vary depending on church resources and may not involve financial expenditures.

These include caring for people living with mental illness and their families which initially means understanding and kindness; help with basic needs such as human support; using volunteers to assist when appropriate; helping to remove the stigma associated with mental illness; collaborating with other entities in the community to help ensure an individual is served holistically; and offering spiritual hope that is not provided by government or most healthcare organizations.

They said this assistance can be developed over time but can start today, expanding in stages.

A church can make an “intentional and deliberate decision to become a caring and compassionate” place for those living with mental illness and their families, Kay Warren told Hope Center attendees, saying that no money or other resources are required to have a heart of compassion.

“We (churches) are agents of hope, ambassadors of hope, we build bridges of hope ….. that is what we are called to do,” the Warrens said.

The Hope Center also is offering additional training in developing mental health and other support groups upon request, with a workshop on developing Celebrate Recovery ministry also available from 1:30PM-3:30PM Thursday, May 23.

The facility, located at 4194 Bolivar Road – Suite 5, next to McDonald's drive-through, provides information and referral and reading assistance in addition to its education center and is developing a Christian lending library. It currently is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, by appointment, and for daytime and evening presentations, workshops and seminars. It is an outreach ministry of Mission Genesee Valley, a coalition of Allegany County churches, other Christian organizations and individuals seeking community transformation and revival. Services are free and available to all persons, regardless of faith background.

Further information is available at www.facebook.com/HopeCenterAlleganyCounty, or from Jones, who also accepts requests for placement on the Hope Center direct email list for its monthly calendar of activities, at bps461@msn.com or (484) 435-0503.