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Jane Frazer Cosgrove. Photo: Supplied

Mental health ministry begins at the grassroots

Jane Frazer Cosgrove is a mental health advocate and a Moderator’s Community Service Medal recipient (2014). She is one of the founding members of A Nouwen Network and has been the facilitator since its inception in November 2009.

What inspired you to create A Nouwen Network?

In 2006 I began advocating for the provision of specific chaplaincy outreach to those experiencing mental illness. By mid-2008 my friends and I were feeling disheartened because even when the need was acknowledged there were “insufficient funds”.

At that time, I heard Rev Jim Wallis speaking about his book God’s Politics. Wallis claims that “history is most changed by social movements with a spiritual foundation”.

After that I began to have conversations about how we could “mobilise” others from the pews to offer some community-based pastoral support to those whose lives were affected by mental illness.

What does it mean to be a spirit-directed grassroots network?

Spirit-led ministry begins with, and remains radically dependent on, prayer. We felt led to take whatever grassroots actions we could towards encouraging and offering mental health pastoral care.

We wanted others like us to know that they are not alone, so we formed A Nouwen Network as a means of being connected. From the beginning, we hoped to meet with people from different faith communities because it was clear that far more could be done by working together.

Why is spirituality such a key issue?

Henri Nouwen writes, “It is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God’s beloved children.”

People often confuse the emotional with the spiritual. We all need to understand that to have a mental illness is not a spiritual failure. It is not anybody’s fault and it is certainly not a sin. It is not a punishment, or a sign that God has stopped loving someone.

How can congregations embrace and support people living with mental health issues and their families?

The Queensland Synod website offers some helpful resources and A Nouwen Network’s website has a range of suggestions, including a description of our coffee gatherings.

Personally, I encourage congregations to be creative and generous and to offer multiple opportunities for genuine friendships to be established and maintained.

Our true friendship is the greatest gift we can give. It can give new hope to people. It tells them that they do not have to go through rough times alone, and reminds them that they are precious and they are loved.

Queensland Mental Health Week is held 6–14 October. Visit qldmentalhealthweek.org.au for resources and events.

For further information about A Nouwen Network visit nouwen-network.com

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