We were all shocked when we learned of the shooting tragedy in Tucson involving Congresswoman Gifford on Saturday. Phyllis Schneck, a member of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz., was among those killed in the shootings on January 8, 2011, that left six people dead and 14 injured. We offer our prayers for the Gifford's (whose husband is from West Orange, New Jersey), the Schneck's, and the other families affected by this event.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders issued a statement today in the wake of the shooting tragedy. Elder Cynthia Bolbach, Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, and Elder Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council, expressed anguish over the shootings and horror over “this kind of assault on public discourse.”

The assault on public discourse is truly reprehensible. But like other recent and similarly tragic events in the United States, the attack on public discourse may have been initiated by an individual who desperately needed mental health intervention. The mind matters.

As faithful and eager as the church is to focus on spiritual concerns, the church has along way to go to demonstrate an awareness of the theological convergence of spiritual, emotional, physical, and public wellness. Often regarded as an unmentionable topic in church and governing body conversations, our mental health and its advocacy is mission critical for a missional church to be a blessing in the world.

My wife, a licensed professional counselor and mental health professional, received today's statement from Mental Health America on the tragedy in Arizona. They recognized the point of intervention is not merely the act of violence, but an intervention with the individual contemplating such violence. I excerpt below from their statement. (For more information, contact: Steve Vetzner, svetzner@mentalhealthamerica.net.)

"It will likely take many days to understand the reasons and motivations behind this national tragedy… People with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. And we have science-based methods to successfully treat persons with even the most severe mental illnesses. A very small group of individuals with a specific type of mental health symptoms are at greater risk for violence if their symptoms are untreated.…

"The nation’s mental health system is drastically under-funded and fails to provide Americans living with mental health conditions with the effective community-based mental health services they need. Sadly, in the current environment of strained state budgets, mental health services have been cut drastically just as demand for these critical services has risen dramatically.…

"It is also important that, as a community, we assist persons with signs and symptoms of mental illnesses to seek treatment. Although rare, when a person becomes so ill that he/she is a danger to themselves or others state laws provide a way to get them help even if they don’t believe that they need it. The best strategy, however, is to have an accessible system of care that is easy to use.…

"We do not know if the mental health system failed in this situation or if there were missed opportunities or if effective treatment might have averted this tragedy. We do hope that we can find answers and create solutions that prevent this from ever happening again."

The church, (referring both to the people and as a place of gathering), has an opportunity to once again become the town's Meeting House it enjoyed centuries ago. The church seeks new ways to reconnect to the real world. In Newark Presbytery, we are experiencing many successes including food and clothing distribution, housing, training, and education and support programs, in addition to worship experiences, that seek to serve the community. We can do much better in regards to the mental health of our communities by providing a welcoming place for groups to gather to discuss concerns, learn, and create spaces for more and more voices to be heard in a safe and inviting place. This gathering can be effectively facilitated online and via social media. These groups of individuals and conversations can grow and become self-correcting, nurturing, and build the capacity of the entire community. When faith becomes the basis of this activity, even more resources are afforded the community at large.

Let's get connected so we can realize the possibilities. What would help you be better connected? Connected internally regarding your whole self… spirit, mind, body. The church needs to be connected before we get people reflecting about the future.

The tragedy in Tucson is a cry for help. In what ways will you pay better attention to your inner-self and health? What stressors in your life seem out of control right now? Where will you go for resourcing or intervention should you need it? How will your organization or church pay better attention to the mental health of your community? It's risky to get involved. Nothing is going to change unless we take our mental health seriously, and empower others to do the same for themselves.

Public discourse can be most effective when its citizens are healthy and connected.

I hope you will experience that healthfulness in 2011.

Kevin

Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. Matthew 4.24

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