Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review: Depression

This is an older book, and by the time I heard about it and had a chance to read it (see disclaimer at the bottom), it came out well-timed for Black History Month.

Wynnetta Wimberley, Depression in African-American Clergy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 978-13-4994-909-0.

For far too long, mental illnesses have been stigmatized, and in churches, often treated as a failure of faith. The problem has gained attention as the national suicide rate climbs, and those we honor, such as pastors, first responders, and veterans have been caught in the storm.  

Add to this a mental health crisis among African-American communities, one that has also struck many of its traditional leaders—the clergy. So begins Wimberley’s study of the background, unique problems, and suggestions for this group. It is a study from which we all can learn. 

“How could a pastor commit suicide” and what are laity to do when clergy lose hope? (4). One of the first suggestions in this book is to understand that a pastor is human too. They have problems, shortcomings, and desires, and many practices in the church are a prescription for failure. One of these practices noted is the high status of the Black pastor, who leads a community that has traditionally been a refuge for its members in an often-hostile world. 

Depression is a frequent illness among pastors of all denominations. It is abetted by the vulnerability of the position, and is often correlated with weakness. It is also the most common mental illness. Other frequently occurring conditions include bipolar moods, narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and dementia (9). Factors in this include physical health (pastors often suffer from problems here, too), brain chemistry, genetics and family history, and stress. 

Added to this, African-American communities often live with a sense of historical trauma, a cumulative emotional and psychological wound passed on through generations in response to slavery. The author devotes much of her time to illustrations of this phenomenon. For those whose education about slavery is the typical cursory survey of a high-school textbook (often written to satisfy less-than-honest school boards) these examples will be shocking to read. It is also a warning as researchers learn more about PTSD and trauma and find increasing signs among almost all segments of our society. 

The African-American clergyperson occupies a distinct position in their culture. In my city, this has recently become clear as this group is taking the lead to work with politicians to handle an outbreak of violence among young people. This “healer of the sick” (82) status, however, leads to a perceived need to hide one’s own vulnerability. 

For direction, the author turns to the prophetess Huldah of 2 Chronicles 34. A cultural change to understanding mutual needs in caregiving. She also advocates church training in mental health awareness, candidate evaluations, and including mental health benefits as part compensation, including therapists and sabbaticals. This would provide a model for members, and forge a sense of authority that includes safe spaces for personal needs. Mutual regard and concern will go a long way to restoration of wholeness without stigma and honor those who struggle themselves. 

While this book is descriptive of a particular, and important culture, it will provide valuable insights to pastors from all backgrounds. The suggestions for moving forward, likewise, are useful for all.

Disclaimer: I borrowed this book from the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library with the stipulation that I would return it within a specified time. I have fulfilled that stipulation.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Farewell for animal friends

Some time ago, my friend Gary (Random Acts of Expression) and I wrote the outline of a funeral/farewell for service animals, and it expanded to pets in general. The topic recently came up in Clergy With Cats, so while we never finished it, we offer it here for comment and suggestions. 

Leader: Our help is in the name of God who created heaven and earth.
People: Our God is a very present help in all of times and places of need.
Leader: Not even a sparrow goes unnoticed by our God.
People: God alone knows how great the loss, even in what would seem unto others to be insignificant.
Leader: For God's mercy is wider that the universe, and God's compassion deeper than the ocean.
People: Thanks be to God.

Words of Grace: Genesis 1.1, 1.20, 1.22, 1.24-25, 2.18-20a

Sing Together: "God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale"

Let us pray:
Loving God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One,
        you have reconciled all of creation unto yourself:
Nothing is outside the reach of your redeeming work.
Not a blade of grass, not a droplet of rain,
        not a tiny spider, nor a grain of sand
        escapes from your reconciling love.
You have given us puppies and kittens,
        parakeets and hamsters,
        to know the goodness of our care
        and for we to know the joy of their keeping.
This is all a part of your wondrous grace
        which overflows
        filling all in all.

– animals matter to God – Genesis 9.9-17, the covenant is with all living creatures

We have gathered here to give thanks for (pet's name)
        and for all s/he has brought to the (family's name).
We have also gathered to witness to our faith:
        a faith that is big enough
        to include all the creatures of your creation,
        yes, even creatures of your new-creation.
Thank you, O God, for caring enough to include (name of pet)
        in your reconciliation,
        and thank you for caring for us here in this time and need.
Help us to imagine all of creation's goodness
        to be part of your eternal realm;
        for you would not exclude even the least of this world
        in the glory of the world that is to come;
        through Christ Jesus our Ambassador and Redeemer,
                forever. Amen.

Psalm 104:24
Job 12.7-10
something to add if a service animal

[If the pet is to be buried, the following words may be added]

We return to your earth, O God, what you have brought forth in your creation.
In love of [pet's name], we return her/him to you.
In faith, O God, we entrust what shall be to your never failing,
        always present love and sustaining grace.
May we all find in this time, the wisdom we need
        to be your servant-disciples,
        caring for each other
        and the whole world around us.
For we seek to be joyfully obedient to your will and your ways;
        in Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Sing Together:  "All Things Bright and Beautiful" or "All Creature of our God, Supreme" (All Creatures of our God and King)

Leader: Beloved in Christ, beloved of God, hear the good news:
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.
(Luke 12.6)
From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view;
even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,
we know him no longer in that way.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away; see,
everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us;
we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(II Corinthians 5.16-20)
People: Thanks be to God! Amen.

Leader: We go in giving thanksgiving to God, knowing our lives have been blessed in (pet's name).
People: We go in giving praise to God, that (pet's name) shared her/his life with us.
All: We go in peace. Thanks be to God.