Where we Started: I was looking back recently at the initial notes those on our table made a year ago before UMH met to form a group. I found it interesting to see we are still engaging with all those initial ideas, but I thought it worth reminding ourselves of 3 in particular:-
1. Make church a place where people feel SAFE; feel they BELONG, feel ACCEPTED; and feel is HOSPITABLE.
2. Equip ourselves – our churches – to be BETTER LISTENERS.
3. TALK ABOUT IT (Mental Health) – in context of whole self – the theology of mental health.
I really like the closing thought, which was to “Decide where to focus our efforts. We can’t do it all, but we can do something if we work together.”
What We Asked of You: I don’t think anyone would disagree with points 1 and 2, and in fact I’m sure we all want that across the board for anyone coming to church, not just for those with MH issues. No 3 seems to be more challenging. Our request for each church to bring our project to its PCC and to get feedback about whether their church was ‘mental health friendly’ (and if so, in what way), has highlighted some difficulties. Some misinterpreted the question, feeling uncomfortable about asking people about mental health or targeting only those with known MH conditions, when actually we wanted to know what congregations felt their church’s ATTITUDE was to Mental Health. Nor are we setting ourselves up as experts, or expecting you to be. We had hoped to collate the feedback to give you tonight. However, the response in general has been poor, and few churches or LEPs have engaged with us, never mind got a clear understanding of what we’re asking. In fact only 3 members of the clergy responded out of 27, so thank you to (named – those who did). I found that really shocking to be honest. I think it’s difficult for lay members to do much without clergy support, but we’ll see how things develop. The members of UMH – all busy people – have invested many hours of their own personal time in this project over the past year – myself included. I’m not doing this as part of my job! I believe everyone in the group is happy to continue to do this as we feel it’s what God wants and as long as it is produces fruit eventually. God has clearly shown he’s opening doors for us, such as being invited through a WI friend of mine to join the Campbell Centre group, and finding when we got there that the Secretary is a member of Sts Peter and Paul’s Church in Newport Pagnell! A new member has also now joined the group as result of our presentation at the last Synod -Iola Samuels from St Martin’s Fenny Stratford – so we’re delighted she’ll be joining us at our next meeting.
Where We Were: Even last March there was the recognition that this subject is vast. The more we’ve learned since, the more overwhelming and urgent it seems to become, and the more we see the cross-over into other areas such as homelessness and addiction. Moreover, other areas of community are affected. The Police now spend 90% of their time dealing with calls concerning Mental Health – and this after only 45- 60 minutes’ training. How does that leave them adequately prepared to deal with the issues, or time to do other police work? What knock-on effect is this having?
What UMH Has Been Doing: We’ve made great strides in our research and have continued to strengthen our relationship with the Campbell Centre and build trust, primarily via the User and Carer Improvement Group, in which Gill and I have now been accepted as members instead of onlookers, so we are able to contribute suggestions and help influence improvements in care while we work towards identifying where we can best offer future help through our churches.
In January a member of the Quality Care Commission (QCC), who was carrying out an inspection of the Campbell Centre at the time, joined the group. Kingsley Akuffo, the new Service Manager, has also attended several meetings, though sometimes the managers’ meeting clashes or over-runs. Therefore from June onwards the meeting day is going to change to ensure managers are able to attend.
Gill and I have also finally managed a meeting with Re-Think and this is a charity we might be able to partner with in the future.
Separately, through Citizens:MK (of which the Deanery is a member), Gill has met up with Patrick Gillespie, the Interim Service Director for MK Mental Health Services at Central and NW London Foundation Trust (CNWL). Unfortunately we’ve just learned that his temporary term has ended and a new Service Director is being sought, which is a bit of a setback for all concerned, not least because of the time this may take. A few weeks ago we managed to arrange a meeting of the UMH team (including our Area Dean, Tim Norwood), with the Campbell Centre team. Sadly there was an emergency, so it ended up with just 4 of us with Mark Sanderson, an Associate Practitioner and Chair of the User and Carers’ group. Nonetheless we learned a great deal. They have been trialling what they call a Recovery College, which consisted of 18 sessions on a variety of topics. It has not been particularly well attended, but this was most likely due to inadequate advertising, coupled with the bus route being changed due to road works. If this Recovery College is rolled out, (which it may not be, due to a lack of response), it is certainly an area we could engage with, not least through helping to advertise it, or offering venues for it to take place.
We were aware that The Point at Central Milton Keynes was to close imminently and that The Mix Drop-In (which meets there once a week on a Monday) was actively seeking an alternative venue. However, they turned up one day to find The Point padlocked, and no notice had been given! Thankfully it has temporarily re-opened, as the number of attendees for a couple of hours on a Monday has now risen to over 90. The high numbers are worrying in and of themselves, as many people with MH issues do not like large crowds or noise. However, it’s the only thing of its kind available, for a few hours once a week, and I understand one of the main draws is having a member of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau there. As well as that they have 3 qualified support workers, and I was told that a member of The Samaritans attended recently, though the Council has just cut the position of the fully-trained MH Social Care Assistant, so it’s a case of ‘win one, lose one’.
We believe our churches are ideally placed to hold similar Drop-Ins, and it would be amazing if we could have one or more open and welcoming on each day of the week across MK. So this is another area we’re keen to get involved with, and it’s been hard not to just jump in with offers of help. However, we’re mindful that the right structures and support need to be in place first, and our help needs to be appropriate and sustainable. To this end our intention is to raise awareness, offer training, and ensure we have consistency in volunteering, otherwise we could do more harm than good. Hopefully we will be able to say more on this in July.
Since the last Synod we have done a mapping exercise, drawing the Deanery’s parish outlines on a map, and putting different coloured dots to signify what we understand churches are doing (according to the exercise we did at the November Synod), and identify where there might be potential for involvement.
UMH has also continued to hold its own meetings, one of which took place at Cornerstone following Citizens:MK’s Delegates’ Assembly in February. We were expecting to meet up with Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser for Oxford Diocese, to discuss training and draw on her considerable expertise at that meeting, but unfortunately she was ill that week. We are hoping to engage with her on another occasion.
Where We Are Now: UMH was elected by you as the highest concern to your churches. To be clear, the intention was never to set ourselves up as a Counselling Service, or as experts in dealing with the more serious MH conditions. However, we could make a huge difference if we could offer places of safety, refuge, belonging and understanding, even to those with depression, loneliness, and isolation, which can themselves lead to homelessness, or addictions such as gambling, or drug, alcohol or food misuse, or internet/phone addiction. (I learned from Mark that there are now detox centres to help those addicted to their mobile phones…)
UMH is not asking for your support – quite the opposite. We’re saying we’re here to help you if in fact you are ready to accept the help the Deanery is offering, and which you’ve said is a priority for your church. We’ve therefore decided to extend the deadline for feedback to the end of May, and to offer more specific help, because I believe some churches do wish to get involved but don’t know how to begin to get the information we’ve asked for. (Please consider this during the time of worship.)
Where We Go From Here: I thought what we’d asked for in November would be easy to achieve – one conversation a month with one person at church. After asking you to do this, I realised that in some churches this would mean only getting feedback from 3 people – hardly a cross-section viewpoint! So it was tempting to ask more of you. However, as even this first goal has not yet been achieved, we’d like to offer the St Frideswide’s model as an achievable way of carrying out the request.
St Frideswide’s Model: Prior to the PCC meeting following the November Synod, Gill and I (both members of St Frideswide’s) sent an email to PCC members explaining the Deanery context, what we hoped to achieve, and asking them to think about the answer to the question before the meeting. At that meeting we made virtually the same presentation, and members then discussed the question in pairs, then gave feedback. They were then tasked with asking the same question of their spouse/partner/significant other, plus one other person, before sending feedback (in writing) to Gill or I. We tried to get the views of a cross-section of age groups and backgrounds, with a potential total feedback of at least 40 people. If you would like one of us to come to one of your PCC meetings and talk about UMH and what we are trying to achieve, I’m sure this can be arranged.
Summary: People turn to a variety of sources to help them cope with the stresses and strains of daily life, such as bereavement, loneliness, anxiety and depression, debt, bullying, etc, but these can lead to addiction and suicide. That’s not what God intended. He is clearly at work amongst us, judging by the opportunities we have been presented with. UMH will soon be ready to assist those churches who choose to join in. It just depends which way we move forwards when assessing risks vs opportunities, and who is ready to step out in faith.
Linda Kirk (with members of UMH)
28 March 2019