Jefferson County church effort to focus on mental illness
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Judy Tough, left, of Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, is organizing an interfaith conference on how faith communities can reach out to people with mental disorders. Stephanie Reith, right, a rabbinic pastor candidate who completed psychiatric unit training at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, will be one of the workshop facilitators. -- Photo by Jennifer Jackson/Peninsula Daily News

By Jennifer Jackson
Peninsula Daily News

an interfaith conference on inclusiveness and outreach to people with mental disorders, will run Saturday, Jan. 30, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 31, from 2 p.m. p.m. to 5 p.m.

Donations are requested with registration, although anyone who cannot afford a donation is welcome.

It is sponsored by Quimper Unitarian Universalist Church, First Presbyterian Church, First Baptist Church, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Jefferson Mental Health Services and the local NAMI affiliate.

For registration and information, contact Mary Kellogg at or call 360-344-3336.

Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND -- "Save me, O Lord; for the waters have come in unto my soul."

Like many psalms, Psalm 69 opens with a cry for help, followed by the author 's feelings of being overwhelmed by circumstances, alienated from family and friends and surrounded by enemies.

On Jan. 30 and 31, Jefferson County churches are convening for an interfaith conference on how to reach out to people who feel similarly isolated by mental illness.

The goal: To remove the stigma surrounding people with mental disorders and build social and spiritual support networks that embrace them.

"My sense is that faith communities hold the key to offering something to people with mental illness that is invaluable, something that they can't get anyplace else," said Judy Tough, conference coordinator.

"It's important for people to have a support community where they feel loved and respected as they strive to recover."

The local National Alliance on Mental Health affiliate and Jefferson Mental Health are co-sponsoring the two-day conference, with 20 congregations in East Jefferson County participating.

The featured speaker is Barbara Meyer, author of The Caring Congregation Handbook, who will talk Sunday afternoon at First Presbyterian Church in Port Townsend on the relationship between mental illness and spirituality, and how churches can welcome and support people who have mental health challenges.

"We have a saying in NAMI that mental illness is the only illness that nobody brings you a covered dish," Tough says.

Tough is a member of NAMI, which has a "FaithNet" Web site,, an interfaith clearing house for faith communities.

But it was in a Unitarian magazine that she learned about Meyer, a community mental health minister in Fremont, Calif.

Meyer has a public access television program, "Mental Health Matters," which Tough obtained copies of to run locally.

She also approached her minister, Bruce Bode of Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, about using Meyer's book as the focus of a study group, with the idea of expanding the scope to the community in the future.

"He said, 'Why not do it all together now?' and the conference was born," Tough says.

Panel discussions

Open to the public, the conference starts on Saturday, Jan. 30, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1020 Jefferson St., Port Townsend, with panel discussions on scenarios that people with mental disorders and their families experience from their perspective, and what clergy, teachers and friends can do to help.

The panel for the morning session will include Jefferson County Commissioners John Austin and David Sullivan, who have both worked in the mental health field.

Moderating the afternoon discussion is Stephanie Reith, former director of Jefferson Land Trust who is now a rabbinic pastor candidate.

Last summer, Reith discovered an interest in ministering to people with mental disorders while working in the psychiatric ward at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia as part of her training.

"People often ask me what I do as a chaplain," she said.

"Eighty-five percent of what I do is listen. We can all listen."

One in four families

Reith says the Caring Congregations conference is important because mental illness is so prevalent -- one in four families is affected by it -- and that society needs to understand it and how important it is for people to have a safe, non-judgmental place to go.

"Some of the patients want to talk about God issues," she said. "They have a sense of abandonment and loss, or in need of forgiveness.

"Forgiveness is a big one."

Families also feel grief and loss, Tough said, which can be as overwhelming as having a family member with Alzheimer's disease.

Despite progress, mental illness still has a stigma, she said, something that will be addressed at the conference discussions.

Congregations can learn how to reach out to people in the community as well as how to support their members who have mental disorders.

"Agencies do a fantastic job, but counselors can't be a friend -- they can't cross that line," Tough said.

"What people need is true friendship, love and acceptance. Everyone, including you and I, needs that."

Last modified: January 13. 2010 11:42PM
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