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Mental Illness and the Church: Disturbing Stigmas and Rebuilding Ideologies

The occurrence of mental illness continues to increase annually, now affecting the lives of one in four Americans. As the number of individuals battling mental illness rises, their encounter with sensitive, compassionate facilitators will certainly be advantageous to their recovery.

Nationwide, church leaders in particular have taken an initiative to extend supportive services to this effort. Many hope to negate misconceptions of mental illness which still plague countless church members. To ease these feelings of apprehension, fear or any other reservation, a number of church leaders have utilized integrative tactics between church members and individuals battling mental illness in a church setting.  

Community Missions Inc. (CMI) has been a catalyst in the Niagara County region for bridging the gap between unfamiliarity and new found understanding relative to mental health stigmas. Last year, CMI's agency minister Rev. Mark Breese partnered with St. James United Methodist Church (St. James) to offer Gardens of Compassion. The program was designed to encourage members of St. James and clients from CMI's mental ill programs to garden together during the summer months. Because the program was so well-received by all involved, Rev. Mark Breese and St. James renewed the offering for a subsequent year. Under the direction of Rev. Mark Breese and St. James member, Jan Babcock, participants meet once a week to enjoy a sense of camaraderie, converse about spiritual topics and cultivate their plants.

Rev. Mark Breese describes Gardens of Compassion as follows, "This project serves as an example and model of how a local community of faith can build relationships and partnerships that engage with marginalized populations in new and creative ways."

Week 1, May 28, 2014

Initial meet at St. James United Methodist Church.  Participants voiced which plants they would like to grow; such as zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, acorn squash, tomatoes, etc.  As a group, placed soil in 12 flower beds.

Week 2, June 4, 2014

Added more bags of soil to flower beds.  Along the back of the church wall, placed a few plants in soil.  

Week 3, June 11, 2014

Participants planted their respective items in the raised flower beds and along church wall.  They also had a chance to water the areas thoroughly.  Because it rained shortly thereafter, plants were well watered.

Week 4, June 18, 2014

Participants who missed previous weeks were able to plant their items today.

Week 5, June 25, 2014

Participants planted onions around the perimeter of raised flower beds and watered plants thoroughly.


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