Cake & candles for our 30th

BIRTHDAY banners and balloons adorned the library at Southwark Cathedral  in celebration of 30 years of Being Alongside / the Association for Pastoral  Care in Mental Health.

From three o’clock there was a gentle gathering of about 40 friends old and new over tea-time sweets and savouries. Pride of place were not one but two birthday cakes (one of which was gluten-free) baked for the occasion,  decorated with the charity’s logo. The cathedral’s Sub-Dean, Michael Rawson, gave a warm speech of welcome.

The charity’s chairman, Jamie Summers, spoke of the quality not the quantity of supporters which had remained unchanged over the past 20 years. Marion Marples, a pastoral auxiliary at the cathedral, then announced the launch of her pamphlet The Journey of Hope, a guide to help strangers visiting this special place. We were splendidly looked after by the lady from the cathedral’s caterers, for whom no request was too small.

The evening healing service in the cathedral that followed at six o’clock drew more than 70 attendees. The service was led by Canon Gilly Myers, with Michael Rawson, Canon Andrew Wilson and Cathy Wiles assisting.

It was a beautifully sensitive and spiritual time of worship and prayer crafted for the occasion. Hymns included Immortal invisible and I, the Lord of sea and sky. Readings were Psalm 42 and John 4: 7-14.

Andrew Wilson gave a moving and inspiring talk reflecting on the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. He focused on Jesus’ and our own vulnerabilities and needs, and how relationship grows when these are acknowledged and met.

Candles complete any birthday celebration. These played a key visual part, with those attending the service coming forward to light and place a candle as a silent prayer in a central floor-standing candelabra. Many also responded to the invitation to receive prayer and oil anointing for healing, for themselves or for others.

May God’s blessing continue to grow the work of and support for Being Alongside / APCMH, and encourage all its volunteers and befrienders—and all those whom they befriend.

Report by Ella Majchrzakowska (a first-time visitor)

Concern at Church Times mental health coverage

ADVOCATES for pastoral care in mental health have filled the letters pages of the Church Times in response to two articles published during Mental Health Awareness Week.

One of the articles was written from the point of view of a parish priest encountering people in precarious mental health, detailing various scenarios that can occur, recounted from experience. The other was an interview with a vicar’s wife who had been stabbed in a random attack by a very ill man.

The letters page of the following week’s edition was filled with responses to these articles. While these included praise for the effort made to mark the awareness week, and for particular merits in the articles, there was also criticism, some for errors in detail but also on grounds such as editorial lack of balance and lost opportunity to give a voice to people who have experienced mental distress.

In his letter, consultant psychiatrist Tom Selmes pointed out that the rates of serious violence associated with mental illness are low, and that the majority of treatment takes place voluntarily and in the community.

Former mental health chaplain Revd John Foskett wrote: “What I missed was the voices and experience of people in mental-health crisis themselves,” and referred to both the Somerset Spirituality Project and Being Alongside / APCMH.

Our chair Jamie Summers, writing in a personal capacity, declared that “outcomes are often better for people who avoid contact with psychiatric services entirely. The drugs don’t always work. Love always does.” He concluded: “It is sad that fear of the stranger persists in church circles. In medieval times, monasteries were the default mental asylums. Oh that the modern Church would take a more enlightened view of how to come alongside those with troubled minds.”

Rachael Twomey of Bethnal Green, meanwhile, echoed Tom Selmes’ point, adding that “a disproportionate emphasis on compulsion and dangerousness can perpetuate those feelings of fear and shame that prevent people from seeking help, for themselves or others.”