We Are Called to Serve, Despite Weakness or Troubles

Standing at the pulpit giving a sermon, pastors watch over their flock both literally and symbolically. But all congregation leaders know that ministry goes deeper than just a weekly sermon. While on the surface the congregation may seem fine as a whole, individuals’ minds and spirits may be experiencing turmoil. Since the pandemic, society has struggled with the weight of financial burdens, worries about family, problems at home or work, and of course health concerns, along with the typical struggles that are simply a part of everyday life.

“And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and much trembling.”

1 Corinthians 2:3 (KJV)

In response to this social upheaval, BCM began offering Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to its 150 partner congregations in November 2020. MHFA trains participating congregants on how to identify the warning signs and risk factors of people living with mental health issues and substance use challenges. Training also includes how to develop strategies to help someone in a crisis situation and knowledge of where to find help.

Reverend Emanuel Smith, Jr. of Israelite Baptist Church

Congregations from varying denominations across Greater New Orleans have successfully adopted the MHFA training program. Mental Health First Aider, Reverend Jean Marie Peacock, is the pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Harvey, which organized a nonprofit called “Be Well-Come Together.” This ministry brings together people from different walks of life and offers support for their spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. MHFA trainings have helped to equip leaders of this ministry, as they organize a community mental health initiative to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and support those living with mental illness and their families. As Rev. Peacock says, “MHFA provides actionable scenarios for how to assist someone experiencing depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation.”

In Central City, Reverend Emanuel Smith, Jr., pastor of the Israelite Baptist Church, works with a congregation experiencing uniquely elevated levels of trauma and behavioral health issues. With a segment of his congregation experiencing homelessness or serious mental illness, he says, “We cannot solve their problems, but we can walk together with them to help find the resources and assistance they need.” Rev. Smith believes there is hope for everyone, no matter the depth of their problems and has seen the MHFA program create success first-hand. A troubled youth from his neighborhood attended the church’s wilderness camp which provides a safe space for young adults to open up and talk about the trauma they have endured. Due to the care, support, and love the young man was shown, he became a member of Rev. Smith’s congregation, recently graduated from college, and is now a successful working professional.

The ministry of presence calls for all people to serve one another through love even in the midst of fear, pain, and anxiety. MHFA training builds on this ministry and provides additional tools to help distressed souls in an empathetic, compassionate, and loving way – the way that we are all called to serve one another.

To donate to BCM’s Congregational Wellness program, click here.