A109 Developing Curriculum and Required Training for Clergy in Mental Health Pastoral Care
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring,
That the 80th General Convention authorize the creation and launch of new curriculum to train all Episcopal ordained clergy, candidates, and postulants in mental health and mental illness awareness that emphasizes pastoral care, the forming of caring relationships, and effective advocacy. This new curriculum will incorporate and expand upon a range of resources including Mental Health First Aid, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness, WISE for Mental Health, and other helpful organizations and networks; and be it further
Resolved, That all those to be ordained from January 2024 onward be trained in this new curriculum that will include training in Mental Health First Aid and in the advocacy work of the National Alliance on Mental Illness; and be it further
Resolved, That the 80th General Convention requires the training of all active priests, deacons, and bishops in this curriculum for mental health and mental illness awareness by December, 2028; and be it further
Resolved, That the 80th General Convention request that the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance consider a budget allocation of $15,000 to support curriculum development for this training of clergy.
The explanations offered with the resolutions of the Task Force on Ministry with Individuals with Mental Illness set the stage for this Resolution. Further education and training for clergy and laity alike in the realities of mental illness in our communities and churches will lead to a demystification, destigmatization, and increased confidence in care, support, and advocacy for people experiencing challenges in mental health.
Education and training for clergy in awareness and in basic skilled response is essential, as clergy can help set the tone for care, support, and advocacy in Episcopal congregations, schools and seminaries, and other church entities. Research from prior decades has indicated that clergy often function in society as gatekeepers and gateways for people to enter into mental health care. Even in an age of declining religious affiliation, people may first come to their pastors, rabbis, imams, priests, or deacons with life concerns that carry with them matters of mental health.
However, education and training in pastoral care for clergy has not consistently given sufficient or even the most basic awareness, understanding, and development of best practices in relation to mental illness and challenges to mental health. Resources for ministerial and congregational care are available and are continuing to be developed, across denominations and faiths. However, these are not consistently incorporated into seminary- and diocesan-based education and training for deacons and priests.
General ignorance of Episcopal clergy about mental illness is not an acceptable sustained practice. General ignorance leads to avoidance of and lack of awareness of how mental health challenges can impact individuals, families, congregations, and communities. Failure by clergy to engage the topic of mental health as a part of life only serves to sustain a culture of avoidance, shame, silence, and unintended stigmatization. But clergy will not engage the topic or approach a situation of mental health distress if they are not equipped to understand, recognize, and effectively respond.
A foundation in Mental Health First Aid can provide a good introductory understanding. But, to help communities become more equipped and resourceful, to increase effectiveness in building bridges for people into helpful mental health care, and to help open healthy space for affirmative inclusion of people with mental illness in the life and mission of the Church, a fuller curriculum and set of resources for education and training of clergy needs to be developed. The aim is not to turn clergy into alternative mental health counselors. Rather, the aim is to equip clergy with sufficient knowledge and skill that they have confidence in helping to create good space and respectful boundaries for people struggling with mental illness, connecting wisely with mental health professionals and with mental health support networks, and fostering more positive cultures of response and relationship in the congregations, schools, and entities of the Episcopal Church and the communities they inhabit.
The expectation set in this Resolution makes clear that clergy education and training about mental health and mental illness will become required in the same way that training in prevention of sexual abuse and misconduct is required and anti-racism training is required. With over 25% of the population, nationally and worldwide, experiencing significant mental health challenges at any time, it is essential that clergy become more fully aware of and ready to engage with people experiencing mental health challenges, to be equipped to help Episcopal Church entities become responsive and natural in care, support, and advocacy, and to offer whole and life-affirming spiritual and theological perspectives about mental illness.