Monday, November 27, 2006

A sermon proposal

This is an email I'm sending to everyone I know. I invite you, my fellow-bloggers to do the same. Please do check out the link to the article as well. It only just came out.
With a prayer for peaceful hearts this Christmas time:

Dear Friends,
A friend of mine, someone with bipolar disorder, recently said to me, "I've gone to church nearly all my life and I've just heard about mental illnesses mentioned once, and just in passing. When I was hospitalized, some people came from the church, but they just prayed for the devil to leave me."

As someone who also lives with bipolar disorder - a medical illness - I find this tragic. For a person who is already suffering to be told she's not right with God is painful. It damages a person's relationship with her Christian friends and her church. Some even come to believe that it IS the devil that is the cause of their troubles and refuse to take the medication that would help them survive.

Would a person in hospital because of a heart attack, a stroke, or Alzheimer's be prayed for in this way? Can you imagine how that can make a person feel?

I believe churches should, at least once a year, receive a message from the pulpit on the truths about mental illness. I know that pastors don't usually preach about illnesses, but in this case, congregants need to learn how to separate the spiritual from the medical. Too many are uninformed and make things worse because they don't know how to best support people who are going through emotional trauma. The kind of support such individuals need is very similar to the support people with physical illness need: practical help with things like meals and transportation, and a sympathetic ear. Church leaders can help their church family learn how to provide this.

There are two excellent opportunities each year for such a sermon. This upcoming year, May 7 - 13 is Mental Health Week. In October there is a Mental Health Awareness Week as well.

Here is a link to an article I recently wrote which will give some ideas on what good church support looks like.

If you know someone who is a pastor, could you please forward this message on to him or her? You would be doing a big service for the many who suffer from mental illness and need to be understood.

Many thanks,
marja bergen
Author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness
and the world's deep hunger meet." - Frederick Buechner


Anonymous said...


I like your message. I also have a passion for that message. I have had a similar experience (not exact, but very similar) to Misha's and it confused me and hurt me deeply...I have been a committed Christian since I was 9 and I am could another/other Christians say such things about/to me?

I also like your attached article.

And, I like you recommended dates for a time to give a sermon on the topic (ie. during Mental Awareness)

Good Job! I pray that God's blessings will be on that, and that the right people will use it for good.


bipolar_girl said...

Dear Marja,
The Philippines is one of the worst countries in Asia tasked to look after its increasing rate of mentally ill people.There are only 400 psychiatrists all over the country tending to the 8 million who are mentally ill. The Church, traditionally seen as a refuge in times of crisis, hasn't been that much of a help either because of its ignorant approach to mental illness. Exorcism is still very much used in the mentally ill people and for a Catholic country, miracle and faith healers abound. I admire your advocacy efforts and I'll try to disseminate your enlightening article as best as I know how. take care

bipolar_girl said...

I'd like to correct my figures. 1% of 80 million Filipinos comprise the mentally ill. That's about 800,000 and not 8 million. I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

ohhhhhhhhi love you.
thats all i have to say so touching.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your post and for calling faith communities to be accountable for outreach and ministry.

I work with a group called NAMI FaithNet, part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the U.S. I would be interested in re-publishing your post for our e-newsletter. Please contact me at


Bleeding Heart said...

But I would have to ask Why? Why does the church feel this way about mental illnesses? Why do they feel it is evil or the devil?

Do they feel that way with "Normal" depression?

marja said...

Thank you all for your comments.

Dream Writer: You really made me work hard to answer those questions. I hope my next post helps...or perhaps it will just open another can of worms.

Anonymous said...


I feel very fortunate to have been a part of a church community for several years, when I lived in North Carolina, that actually had a mental health committee. There was a Mental Health Awareness Sunday in October, and the pastor preached on the topic that Sunday as well. It came at a time in my life when I desperately needed to know that God (and a faith community) loved me despite my mental health challenges (bipolar diagnosis) I have no idea if that church still advocates so well for folks with mental illnesses, but I suspect that they do. I am thankful that there are pastors out there that do take the issue seriously and are committed to mental health. As a seminarian that is of particular importance to me in my future work. I am very thankful for the work that you are doing!

Anonymous said...

I have lived with bipolar much of my life. I have served as a pastor for First Christian Church, Weeping Water, Nebraska for four years. See our website on yahoo
Visionquests for Joy" with sermons on mental health.

My book, DANCING WITH BIPOLAR BEARS, read or purchase

Thousands of individuals and families have been blessed by this writing.

I can do any speaking to any group. Again see the website.

Our souls are made for endurace.
I have had much joy in being a minister of joy to the world.

Dr. James E. McReynolds