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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

My Prayer Group by Rev. Megan Snell

written by Rev. Megan Snell

I have a story about a group of people who accompany me, Psalm 139 style, through this life. By that, I mean that these are people who accompany me, as God does, in the highs and the lows of life, including during times of depression.  This group is my prayer group. My prayer group consists of six women and we all met in seminary at Andover Newton Theological School. We first got together when one of the members knocked on everyone else’s door asking “do you want to start a prayer group?” We all said yes and soon began meeting each week. When we met we would start with reading an opening piece of poetry and lighting a candle. Then, we would, one by one, go around the room and share about our weeks. We’d update one another about the parts of our lives that needed prayer and support-- relationships with our families, challenging classes, discernment about our future vocations, and more. We would then hold hands, alternating one palm up and one palm down. And, then we would pray. For as long as it took to lift up all these pressing issues on our hearts. It was through this practice of weekly supporting one another that we forged deep soul-connecting bonds. We ended up praying in other contexts too- at our ordinations (during the laying on of hands), and at our weddings. All of this laid the foundation for relationships built on truly knowing one another and a commitment to accompany one another. 

During the winter of 2016 which I wrote about in my last Mental Health Network blog post, as I experienced deep depression, I leaned on my prayer group. And, I sought help from my prescriber, who decided to add some new medications and adjust others.

After the adjustments were made, I came home from the pharmacy and opened the bags. I was faced with an array of new pills. Some were brand new and others were new dosages, looking unfamiliar as I stared at them. 
  • One was white, 
  • Another was blue, 
  • Another was orange. 
  • I know so many of you who are reading this have been in that same situation that I was in-- staring at new medication meant to help you find peace and balance.
But in that moment, It can be overwhelming. It was for me.

I had feelings of being defeated and helpless as I stared at these new medications. But, That’s when prayer group stepped in. Some from the group came over to my house and other phoned in from out of state. 

We held hands around the new medications, which I placed on a fancy plate instead of in those sterile orange bottles. And we prayed as we always pray together. The group prayed blessings of hope and health and healing over these medications. They infused the science and chemicals that the pills represented with faith and a belief in new life and resurrection. They turned an often isolating and shame inducing experience into something that was truly holy and done in community. They blessed the experience. They accompanied me, fully. In blessing the medications, my prayer group worked to remind me who I was-- someone beloved, and valued, a part of a community. And, they accompanied me, their presence ministered to me.

Holy God, 
May we all find ways to accompany one another through the highs and lows of this life. Remind us to lean on one another and on your Holy presence in all situations, especially the scary ones. Amen. 
Rev. Megan Snell is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, currently serving in the Boston metro area. She also lives with chronic mental illness. Megan is doctoral student at Pacific School of Religion, studying the intersection of mental illness and Christian community. She holds an MDiv from Andover Newton Theological School. Megan writes, teaches, and preaches regularly on the topics of mental health, mental illness, and faith. She also serves as Co-Moderator of the UCC's 2030 Clergy Network. Megan is a board game nerd and a hiking enthusiast. She and her wife share their home with three rescue dogs. 

Washing of the Water by Karl Shallowhorn

written by Karl Shallowhorn

“In the washing of the water will you take it all away
Bring me something to take this pain away”
Peter Gabriel

In churches around the world we celebrate the day that Jesus was baptized by the prophet, John the Baptist. This ritual has been replicated for millennia since then and this means of consecration is a way for us as Christians to annually be reminded of our own baptism. 

For me, I am reminded that while I have consistently participated in this ceremony, I can never be reminded enough about my own affirmation of faith through this action. 

There is another symbolic practice that I also take part in annually, the celebration of my clean date. I began my journey in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol on January 17, 1988. This was the day that changed my life forever. I joined a recovery program which eventually served as the catalyst for my personal faith practice. This program is founded on the development of a relationship between oneself and one’s “Higher Power.” I have been blessed to have been clean ever since.

While I was raised in the United Church of Christ, my newfound belief was enhanced by my participation in the recovery group. I actually joined my church, Pilgrim-St. Luke’s UCC that same year in June on Pentecost. 

The years since have been full of experiences that have served to deepen my faith. While many of these experiences have been positive I’ve had more than my share of challenging situations, not which jeopardized my recovery, but did test my belief. 

The beauty of a life in recovery is that one is able to experience everything as it comes, for better or for worse. In the program we call it “living life on life’s terms.” This practice requires a sense of diligence and perseverance. In many ways, those of us in recovery have had to develop a spiritual life that supports us through thick and thin. 

There are also the concepts of “One day at a time,” and “Just for today,” (which basically have the same meaning). It’s about living in the present. To me it also means that every day I am given an opportunity to “get it right.” It’s as if each day I am able to symbolically be washed in the water of the Holy Spirit. Every day I am reminded that, no matter what, God loves me. This infinite love helps me to know that whatever pain I may be in, it can be washed away.
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine as well as for The Mighty. Karl is a 30-plus year member of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo, NY.