New Parish-Based Ministry to Begin
Grant funds help train parish mental health teams to guide others to care
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 23, 2021

DIOCESE—Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford has received a grant to develop mental health ministries in Catholic parishes — a ministry that will be a part of the Catholic Charities’ Counseling program.

Richard Parsons, director of the counseling program, explains that the grant comes from the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers. CMHM is “a lay association of the Christian faithful whose members are called to be a healing presence in the lives of people with mental illness,” according to the association website.

The grant, Parsons says, will be used to hire a part-time coordinator who will work with the parishes that are interested in being part of the new ministry. Initially, from three to five parishes will host the new program.

A manual and model to follow has been provided by the Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministry, which is located in the School of Leadership and Education Science at the University of San Diego, a Catholic liberal arts university founded in 1949.

The institute’s website states that it “seek(s) to enable the Church (to) be a healing presence to help people find wholeness and peace in the midst of mental health problems and illnesses.”

Plans are to have five people in each of the initial parishes to take a one-day course called “Mental Health First Aid Training.”

Those trained will be “enabled to identify signs of a variety of mental health challenges and be able to respond to people in need with sensitivity and compassion, toward connecting them with professional services and supports, and to accompany them to fuller participation in the parish community,” Parsons says.

That five-person parish team will work together, Parsons says, and will be made aware of what services are available in their community. The Catholic Charities counseling program will be a support to those who wish to work with a Catholic therapist, he adds.

“People on the parish teams are not mental health professionals,” Parsons emphasizes. “They don’t diagnose.” They will, he says, be supportive of people who are receiving help, assisting them to participate fully in parish life.

“The aim is to make parishes more accommodating and welcoming to people and families who struggle with a mental health issue,” he says. “Families who, for example, have a child experiencing (a mental health struggle or crisis) can call and get support from parishes.”

Another example of a need is people who are dealing with grief — which is a challenge for so many during this time of pandemic.

Rockford Catholic Charities is not, Parsons says, “reinventing the wheel” in this effort. In addition to the resources mentioned, the agency is receiving support and consultation from Chicago archdiocesan Deacon Tom Lambert who has headed up such ministry efforts for 30 years and who once served as president of the State of Illinois National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The look of the new ministry will vary, depending on each individual parish, Parsons says, “unfolding in different ways ... every parish is different.”

But, he adds, it will all be done “with the same spirit to help people with mental health challenges to be full members of parish life.”


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