A pastoral crisis examined

by
05 January 2010

A parish tragedy ledto these reflections,says Jenny Francis

Disturbed by Mind and Spirit: Mental health and healing in parish ministry
Gavin Knight and Joanna Knight

THIS is a remarkable and cour­ageous book, the fruit of a husband-and-wife team of parish priest and clinical psychologist, whose com­bined skills informed their work in a west-London parish.

Their predecessor had been murdered in office, and Gavin and Joanna Knight accepted the chal­lenge of following on, coming to live in the vicarage, and bringing their professional knowledge and personal experiences to bear in a parish whose disparate people were still in varying stages of shock, grief, and distress.

Gavin Knight believed that a eucharistic ministry would assist the necessary healing process at St Andrew’s, Fulham Fields; so he sum­marises for readers the four phases of the eucharist: the Preparation-Gathering, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Sacrament, and the Dismissal.

The resulting framework facili­tates the narration of subsequent events, as well as identifying the psychological tools to understand them, namely: assessment, formula­tion, intervention, and evaluation.

Gavin and Joanna Knight were young in professional terms, she at the start of her career as a clinical psychologist and he in his first in­cum­bency. The result is thus all the more remarkable.

Professionally, both writers were, of course, aware of the importance of mental health in parochial minis­try, but this was made more apposite by their ability to use their own per­sonal experiences. For Gavin it had been depression and, for Joanna, painful, debilitating feelings of rejec­tion and self-doubt which beset her during the process of selection for training.

The authors’ essential aim is to explore how mental-health issues in parish ministry “can be addressed through the dual perspectives of theo­logy and clinical psychology”. They also use the liturgical and psycholo-gi­cal frameworks evidenced through-out the structure of the eucharist to “deepen their awareness of and res­ponse to mental health”. They hope the book will interest and help all who work or worship in such a set­ting through “a deepened under­standing of our shared . . . broken­ness and healing”.

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The text is clearly structured. Each of the six parts has a brief introduc­tion, and is followed by two chapters, first the theological view, then the psychological perspective. Each ends with a discussion, “Integrating Mind and Spirit”, followed by a few ques­tions for further discussion or reflec­tion, and completed by a short prayer.

It is their willingness to be open and honest about their own reac­tions to what they found and what followed at St Andrew’s, Fulham Fields, that gives this book its integ­rity. Despite the clarity of its struc­ture, the extra “layer” of eucharistic analysis can sometimes feel con­fusing. For those unaccustomed to theological reflection, this could be too difficult. The Knights’ pres­ence among the congregation was a generous response to their need. This book is a similarly brave and helpful contribution, which will raise the profile of mental-health awareness.

The Government launched its New Horizon strategy to foster a broader approach to mental illness and its treatment. One in six suffers depression at any one time, but only a quarter receives treatment. There is overwhelming evidence that the level of social injustice affecting particular regions, e.g. the north-east of Eng­land, can plunge whole communities into depression. While the Govern­ment can do something about pov­erty, the quality of human relation­ships is also crucial to popular resili­ence to inadequate conditions.

The Government’s call for a broader approach to improving mental health for all ages is long overdue, and this New Horizon strategy is welcome. It makes the Knights’ contribution especially wel­come and timely.

The Revd Jenny Francis is Assistant Curate of St Edward’s, Stow-on-the-Wold, and is a psychotherapist.

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