Welcome to the UCC Mental Health Network!


Find out more at our about page

UCC Mental Health Network Award Nominations are open until May 31st!

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.

Depression’s Weight and The Witness of Church by Jennifer Stuart

Depression’s Weight and The Witness of Church by Jennifer Stuart

Hebrews 12:1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Our life journeys can feel like lead sometimes. The heaviness is palpable. Perilous in the
uncertainty, the vocational path may feel like climbing a steep rock-face. Fear has some serious weight. Anxiety and stress merge, creating isolation, loss of self, and despair. At the start of this year, my vocational path shifted; and as my husband, Guy, lovingly said, “Transitions are tough.” Educator and writer, Parker Palmer in his book “Let Your Life Speak,” equates the shadows of depression and loss of vocational purpose as one in the same.* He points out that when a pathway closes, we sometimes experience profound unworthiness – as our certain future, our vocational truth does not quite pan out like we thought it would.

A few months ago, I chose to leave the sacred ministry of hospice chaplaincy after
serving in this capacity for two and a half years. In my heart of hearts, I knew that this path was not mine. But then this begged the question of what was….? Palmer writes that his anxiety about way not opening, the anxiety that kept him pounding on closed doors, almost prevented him from seeing the secret that was hidden in plain sight.

What, for me, began as a painful and desolate January – turned into some serious desert
walking in February. I remember saying to a friend – prior to Ash Wednesday, that I was pretty sure this must be one of the longest Lents on record. My friend looked at me, “Perhaps you might want to reframe that?” “Could Lent be something different?” Her words became an opening. A shadow of light made its way through what felt like an impenetrable rock – I would even go so far as to say that it was tomb-like. Feeling alone, lost, unmoored, and unanchored, I needed hope. Parker Palmer noted that during his discernment, he heard a voice deep within that said, “I love you.” Yet he could not accept this love in his confusion and desolation.

The fog of darkness weighs upon limbs and heart. There is no way out seemingly – it is a
space where your perception is completely off – where you are certain you have nothing to offer.

But then, those church friends counter your thought processes and a ministerial advisor
reminds you that you are not the disaster you think you are, that in fact there is always a way before us that is opening if only we will grasp it. In beginning to identify a need for help…I knew I needed to regain my footing with God. It was like seeing those rays of dust and molecules highlighted by the sun while standing in a dark room. Wise others become crucial witnesses. What feels insurmountable, suddenly becomes a moment of possibility and imagination: a way opening. God’s presence. Purpose renewed, clarity even.

Therefore, having so vast a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…. let us keep going with
endurance on the path set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

And, indeed, it was all right before me, temporarily hidden from plain sight. I have always been deeply compelled by the intersection of mental health, faith, religion, and spirituality; it is, I believe, my calling. The Danielsen Institute at Boston University, where I have worked and trained for several years, is a mental health clinic focused on the intersection of psychology and religion, faith, and hope. They have agreed to become my Calling Body in authorized ministry. The stone rolls away, and with it, the darkness. There is air to breathe, and hope, in the Spirit.

God reminds us, that the night is nearly over; the day has drawn near – This is the Holy Week promise. This is an intention of faith.

* Palmer, Parker. Let Your Life Speak. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons, 2000.

Jennifer Stuart is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She serves as a community minister at First Church in Cambridge, MA, UCC. Jennifer, a clinical social worker specializing in psychological trauma, is a psychotherapist at the Danielsen Institute at Boston University. 

God’s Embrace by Lisa LeSueur

God’s Embrace by Lisa LeSueur
My daughter was probably not more than a few days old when her mother made the decision to place her for adoption in China. Although I never had the opportunity to visit the orphanage where she lived, I did have the opportunity to meet the nannies that had cared for her. Love is a universal language and I could tell by how they fussed over her and chided me for not dressing her more warmly, that they truly cared for her.  
I traveled to China to adopt my daughter when she was 18 months old. When she was placed in my arms, it was as if she understood that she had found home. She was the only baby adopted that day that did not spend the morning crying. Instead, she quietly looked around the room and at me, slowly taking it all in. On the way back to the hotel, she fell asleep on my lap as other babies in our group still cried. 
My daughter immediately bonded with me. Friends used to call her my koala bear because she hung onto me so tight.  It would take months for her to let anyone else hold her. It would take several years before I could drop her off at daycare or school without her crying for me to stay. She just turned eleven. She’s strong, athletic, smart, funny, and for the most part, well adjusted. However, every now and then that insecurity creeps in, and the idea that I could leave her resurfaces. Whenever that happens, I hold her tight and tell her how much I love her, assuring her that I am not going anywhere. If the day ever comes when my assurances are not enough, she will have access to quality mental health care to help see her through. 
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the immigrant children currently being held in detention facilities in this country. As detention centers overflow with immigrants from Central America who continue to cross our borders, fleeing the terror of violence and poverty in their homelands, the policies of this country have hardened against them.  Many of these immigrants are children, some of whom were separated from their parents at the border. Others were old enough to make the journey on their own, making the difficult choice to leave family behind. Regardless of how they got here, their quest for the freedom this country once offered to refugees has ended in a detention center where their hope slowly dies. 
Many of these children cry out for parents who are unable to respond because, most often, they have no idea where their children have been taken. The cries of the children go unanswered. These children are crammed into caged areas, without enough to eat, sleeping on concrete floors in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. They try to take care of each other as best as possible. And yet, one of the cruelest aspects of these detentions is the no hug policy which forbids any physical contact with the children, either from the guards or from other children looking to comfort each other. The psychological damage caused by this unnecessarily cruel policy will last a lifetime for most of these children. I know from my experience with my own daughter, a hug can do wonders to calm the fears of a child. Denying this simple contact between one human and another in the face of devastating loss and depravation, is doing irreparable psychological damage to these children.  
As my church, and others in my area, continue to protest outside the Homestead Detention Center, it is my hope that the children inside can hear the voices raised in protest, so they know that they are not forgotten. Furthermore, it is my hope that in the absence of physical human contact, each child can feel comforted by God’s steadfast embrace, tightly wrapping them with a love that no one can take away from them. No child’s cries ever go unanswered by God.

Lisa LeSueur is the Minister of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She recently graduated with her Master’s in Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her spouse and their two children.