If you were to venture into Room 505B of our church’s fellowship hall at noon on the first Sunday of the month, you would find a congenial group helping themselves to refreshments placed attractively on a table at the corner of the room. You would see that both new and regular attendees were met with a smile and often a hug as well. You would immediately sense that it was not just a friendly environment, but also an environment in which friendships were being developed. At 12:30 p.m., everyone would settle into a chair at one of the four tables that were carefully arranged in an open circle.
This group is known as “Hope’s Nest.” It is a support group for those with a mental illness, which is sponsored by our church. Although it is given from a Christian perspective, all religions are respected and those of all faiths are welcomed.
The purpose of Hope’s Nest is to provide a welcome and spiritually nourishing environment, which will give benefits to the attendees far beyond just being accepted and having the opportunity to contribute. Its purpose includes the attempt to reinforce the understanding that God is with us, even in our most difficult times.
As these meetings begin, it quickly becomes apparent that they are much more than just a social event. They start with a reading of the guidelines of Hope’s Nest. This is followed by asking each person to give their name and briefly state how well they are dealing with their mental health issues on this day. The next thirty minutes are devoted to a group discussion concerning a topic from the Bible, such as one of the attributes found in “The Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), and what application it could have in their lives.
After a ten minute break, the group begins a time of sharing. Each person is given the opportunity to describe their high and low points plus a description of something positive that they did for another person during the previous month. After sharing, each person has the option of asking for “feedback” from others. Frequently, the feedback includes reference to a Biblical passage, which will give comfort. Tears, prayer and laughter are all important parts of this discussion.
In a recent questionnaire given to the attendees, some of the responses to the question, “What meaning does Hope’s Nest have for you?”, were as follows:
“I found fellowship”... “an opportunity to problem solve” ... “a place to talk about issues not discussed in any other church group” ... “...to see that other Christians do experience mental illness just like me” ... “find hope ... “being with people with many of my same problems and being able to openly discuss them” ... “finding I am closer to God” ... “knowing that what I say will not be judged, but accepted” ... “gain understanding and support”... “finding a Phone Pal” ... “discovering that people with a mental illness diagnosis can be healthy and live happy lives.”
Prayer requests are written on cards throughout the meetings and are placed in a basket. When the gathering has concluded at 2:00 p.m., attendees have the opportunity to take a card home with them in order to remind them to include the request in their prayers during the following month.
Having the privilege of meeting with this group every month has been a highlight in our lives. For sure, we are looking forward to attending Hope’s Nest next month and throughout 2012.
Susan and Gunnar Christiansen
NAMI Orange County
Trinity United Presbyterian Church
Santa Ana, California