GUEST COLUMN: Support is out there, by Rev Keith Hebden, St Mark’s Mansfield

Rev Keith Hebden
Rev Keith Hebden

One of the joys and challenges of being a pastor to a church and a neighbourhood is that sooner or later you run into your arch nemesis.

I mean, of course, your own self. Rarely a week goes by without seeing someone being brave in their self-disclosure. As a priest, I hear about people’s hopes and aspirations but also the demons with which they fight. These fellow travellers on life’s journey inspire me to be more courageous too.

Last year, at St Mark’s Church in Mansfield, we had a series of Bible studies on mental health issues. We read stories of people’s experiences of living with challenging mental health as members of congregations and how that can sometimes feel very lonely. We shared our own stories, in confidence, and discovered that mental health issues are incredibly common.

In fact, maybe we should put a sign up outside that reads, “You don’t have to be crazy to worship here, but it helps!” Um, maybe not.

I feel incredibly fortunate and humbled to pastor such an inclusive and grace - filled congregation. I know it’s not unique, most churches are full of slightly broken and incredibly kind people.

There are, sadly, a few churches where the leaders put their members under incredible pressure to act like they’ve got their act together and are always “Blessed.” Such churches do more harm than good.

I have been encouraged by my congregation to be a little braver. And in walking alongside other people in their brokenness I can no longer ignore my own. Which is why I want to share with you a decision I made last year to ask my GP to refer me for counselling. If you tell your GP you need this kind of help she or he will not pry.

To be honest, I’m a bit scared to reveal my story and my demons to a stranger. I’m scared about what I might discover about myself. But we have the best health service in the world working alongside some amazing mental health charities. So here goes!

Maybe it’s time for you to look after your mental health better too?