Mental health crisis training for religious leaders
Most churches have purposely positioned themselves to provide charitable services to the communities they are in, such as food pantries, clothing ministries, support groups and the like. Due to the charitable nature of church communities they often encounter people with mental illness, especially churches in metropolitan areas. This is a wonderful opportunity to express the love and support of Jesus Christ; as such, it is prudent for key church staff to have training surrounding how to appropriately interact with those dealing with mental illness.
Captain Mark Sawa, of the Austin, Texas police department, is one of many individuals taking up the initiative to provide training for Pastors and clergy surrounding mental health issues. Capt. Sawa decided to promote a community training specifically for crisis intervention after having several clergy ask him how they should kindly approach situations wherein persons with mental illness disrupt service.
The training provided attendees with tools to identify signs of mental illness. Team leader Sam Hart suggested clergy should be aware of behaviors such as illogical or obsessive thoughts, the belief that God is giving them obscure orders, or the belief that one is God. The underpinning approach that the trainers taught was one in which clergy “stay calm, speak clearly, and use empathetic language.” The following is an excerpt of an article from The Statesman that discusses the Austin community training:
The minister had just begun his sermon when a gray-haired woman in the second pew at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church jumped up and turned to the congregation. With her arms flailing, she shouted, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He doesn’t come from God!”
An usher strode down the aisle of the Central Austin church and spoke gently to the woman. “Ma’am, can I talk to you for a moment? My name is Sam.”
After a moment, the woman relented and followed the usher out of the sanctuary. The minister continued his sermon.
The scene wasn’t real. It was part of a crisis intervention training seminar conducted this month by the Travis County sheriff’s department for religious leaders. But such disruptions in worship services are common, which is why Capt. Mark Sawa urged the audience to have a plan in place before an incident occurs. A plan should include a 911 call to request either a sheriff’s department crisis intervention team or a similarly trained officer from the Austin Police Department, Sawa said.
Those officers, he said, will assess the situation and determine what mental health services are needed.
Beginning in February of each year, Renewal Christian Care hosts a free luncheon to equip ministers with resources surrounding mental illness and drug addiction. The trainings are held every other month on the last Thursday of the month with the exception of December, which is held on the second Thursday of the month. You and your staff are formally invited to attend any of our intriguing and practical free luncheons.