Supporting those with mental and physical limitations

sicknessPresented by Revd Lucyann Ashdown, Independent Midwife, Priest in Charge, Blaenau Irfon and Irfon Valley Parishes, Church in Wales


Subject approached from 3 directions,

  1. The experience of those so limited.
  2. The experience of their families / carers.
  3. The experience of the communities within which they live.

Listen to what sufferers have to say. Enable them to have a voice – but how, esp when their voice has often been suppressed? Importance of witnesses like Job and Paul.

Carers often ignored, forgotten. Listen to their experience and needs. Remember the experience of Peter, who had to come to terms with fact that Jesus had to suffer.

Danger of Christian community regarding people with troubles as a problem – instead of asking. “what can they teach us? What is their perspective on the Gospel?” n.b. Jesus’ tact in Mark’s Gospel, “What do you want me to do for you?”


–       Complicated role of carers: helping sufferer while making own journey. Conflicts of need / interest.

–       Problem of the Gospels: Jesus makes people better. Where is the chronic aspect? What of the effect of meeting Jesus on those not healed?

–       Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Beggars seen as opportunity for others to respond to God: crucial encounter; its effect on our faith.

–       In mental health field we know health always fluctuates: need for church to get away from broken / healed mentality. Danger of Christians speaking as if mental health problems existed ‘out there’, with the implicit implication that mental illness in Christians is shameful.

–       Diseases that are slowly terminal – e.g., Chronic Airways Disease. Need for church to be active in alerting us to fact that life is finite and death inevitable: spiritual and mental health preparation essential. Helping health professionals to be open about death.

–       Healing vs valuing people as they are.

–       Patients, like JW’s, who are not afraid to die.

–       Danger of using faith to deny fact of death; of anxious Christianity that needs people to be healed.

–       Easier to be ill in village community setting where people know and care for each other. Kind treatment helps people to feel better than they are.

–       Anguish, bitterness and depression: e.g. of man who felt better once he had accepted that suffering is an inevitable part of life vs., depressed person whose pastor told him to sit at back of church and not talk to anyone! Dangers of isolation.

–       Clergy often inadequately supported in helping people with mental and emotional problems. Value of supervision.

–       WCCM: meditation in schools programme: building resilience in children.

–       Education of children for health, esp., about diet and smoking.

–       Need to re-discover the treasure- trove of healing/caring wisdom once possessed by the church: before every problem got medicalised.

–       Extent to which health is a choice: is our desire to be well reflected in our choices of where and how we live, and the values we espouse?

–       Need to reclaim birth and death as sacramental experiences.

–       What do we fear in death: judgement? Pain? Loss of attachments?

–       Lottery of disease: cancer patients get A1 care, respiratory patients – with a lower social class profile – often more neglected.

–       Link between asthma and anxiety: medical care often physical, ignoring emotional roots.

–       Difficulty of reaching immigrant faith communities who are suspicious of the NHS. Role of other faith communities and charities in building bridges. Nigel Copsey’s work in Newham, and Social Action for Health in East End of London.

–       The Family Nurse Partnership (from USA but now in this country) providing Health Visitors with enhanced training to support vulnerable mothers between 16th week of pregnancy and child’s second birthday. One outcome marker: supportive mothers tend to have longer gaps between babies.

–       L’Arche’s prophetic witness: Henri Nouwen’s final years.


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