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Rev John Ruhle and Jeannie Ballantyne from The Gap Uniting Church with comfort cushions made by the church craft group and others in the community. Photo by Holly Jewell.
Rev John Ruhle and Jeannie Ballantyne from The Gap Uniting Church with comfort cushions made by the church craft group and others in the community. Photo: Holly Jewell.

Grassroots network fills the gaps

The mental health ministry at The Gap Uniting Church in suburban Brisbane has struck a chord with the local community. Dianne Jensen reports.

Mental health ministry coordinator Jeannie Ballantyne knows first-hand the impact that a small group of like-minded souls can have on their church and community.

Jeannie and her colleagues Margaret Shield and Barbara Waltisbuhl have seen the ministry at The Gap Uniting Church in Brisbane grow from ad hoc support for individuals into an outreach connecting people across the local area.

A branch of the support organisation A Nouwen Network now meets regularly at a local café. Information and resources are readily available to the congregation and the community, and the church craft group makes “comfort cushions” for network members to distribute.

The church care team and network members hosted an information evening in March which brought together 40 people, a third from outside the congregation, to learn more about anxiety and depression.

“These are common issues in society but are often not recognised early enough for adequate help to be sought,” says Jeannie. “We are keen to educate people that recovery from anxiety and depression does not simply involve ‘pulling one’s self together’!”

Health professionals from the congregation provided a range of perspectives about mental health issues at the event, and many attendees shared their own stories.

Margaret Shield, a retired social worker with experience in the area of mental health, says that the meeting highlighted the need to acknowledge the pain of families.

“There is grief felt by families where there is a diagnosis of mental illness being unrecognised and unacknowledged,” she says.

The organisers hope to follow up the information session with an initiative aimed at carers.

Rev John Ruhle says that the ministry reflects the key value of “community” identified within the congregation’s strategic plan for 2014–2018.

“As a congregation we are really strategic in the mission and ministry we undertake,” he says. “The joy for me with the ministry we are doing involving mental health issues is that the effort and initiative for the ministry has ‘bubbled up’ from within the congregation.”

John has observed a growing level of awareness and acceptance as people learn more about the issues.

“We have had significant moments of people with mental health issues sharing their testimonies in church and this has been a really powerful experience for the congregation.”

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