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40 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 07 October 2012

A service live from St Barnabas' Church, Epsom marking Epsom Mental Health Week and reflecting on how our mental well-being relates to our spiritual health. Led by the Vicar, the Revd Michael Preston and the Revd Sue Bull, a mental health chaplain, with Epsom Chamber Choir directed by Esther Jones. Epsom was one of the first spa towns in England and also was home to a large complex of psychiatric hospitals - a place of both sorrow and healing. Producer: Stephen Shipley.

  • St Barnabas Church, Epsom 07/10/12

    CHOIR 1 Nobody knows the trouble I've seen

    Oh Lord, Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down Sometimes I'm almost to the ground – words we’ve just heard sung in that well-known spiritual which acknowledges the stresses of life, the ups and downs we all know And many know the pain of mental distress, when we can be pushed to breaking point, to cry out to God.

    Welcome to St Barnabas Church in Epsom where today we are launching this year's Epsom Mental Health Week. This town is well known for Epsom salts and the Derby. Less well known is that at the beginning of the twentieth century several large psychiatric hospitals were built here, giving the town a long connection with mental health. This church was built at about the same time in a part of town where many of the new hospital staff came to live.
    This is the fifth year of Epsom Mental Health Week, hosted by the church and run by volunteers from many parts of the community. With talks, workshops, dance and drama, the week offers help to people and breaks down some of the stigma around mental illness. Our hope and prayer is that the day will come when people with wounded minds will receive the same respect and compassion as we naturally give to those with broken bodies.

    Let us pray.
    Heavenly Father, you make us in your image and love us with a never ending love. You know our deep wounds of mind and heart, we ask for your transforming power to bring healing to those who suffer and to the communities in which they live. We make this prayer in the name of Jesus, our healer and friend. Amen.

    There’s a tendency to keep quiet about mental illness, perhaps because there is a fundamental terror in all of us of losing control, of falling into some dark abyss from which we fear there is no escape. So we may pretend that all is well when it is not; or point the finger at others to take away attention from ourselves, and end up living a life of desperation.
    So often people going through very dark and difficult times are crying out for friendship but they become isolated, ignored and shunned by those around them.

    How do we respond to them?

    Our first hymn asks us to follow the example of Jesus – Christ is the world in which we move, Christ’s are the folk we’re summoned to love.

    HYMN 1 A touching place

    Epsom became home to the new psychiatric hospitals, built to serve the growing population of London, because there was affordable land here in a pleasant environment. These hospitals provided an asylum of safety and peace for their patients away from the stress of the city. They were, in their day, at the forefront of psychiatric care.

    But they became places where many people, who need not have there been, were kept removed from everyday society. Fortunately there have been major changes in mental health care. From the 1980’s, with Care in the Community, former patients began to move out, many to live locally. The old hospitals have now closed and housing estates have been built on the land. More recently a new policy aims to give people with mental health needs more freedom to find for themselves what help they need in the community around them.

    But local communities don't always know how to help. Indeed, a community can be rather afraid. With physical health we know what it is to be well and what it is to be sick, so with mental health, the ups and downs of mental wellbeing are part of our common experience. But while we’ll talk a lot about our bodily health and have a deep concern for the very ill, so often with mental illness there is general silence and still a fear of the very ill.

    Fortunately society's attitudes and understanding of mental distress are changing. It is helped by high profile figures such as MP's and media celebrities having the courage to "come out" and talk about their experience of mental illness. The same work needs to go on at a local level. Here voluntary groups have a vital part to play.

    At this church, something started with people chatting over a cup of coffee after a church service. From that a weekly drop in began, with people coming together for social activities, sharing in a good meal, and importantly marking the ups and downs of life, the joys and the sorrows. It has become a place where all people, whatever their mental health needs, form a community.

    One person who came along was Helen. Her story of her journey through the darkest times will be read on her behalf by Sue Bond

    Sue Bond
    I certainly did not know the depths of mental pain and anguish - what it was to despair - until a few years ago when in the space of a matter of weeks the things which gave my life value, worth and meaning had been taken from me. I suddenly found myself in a place of swirling darkness, where there was no light and no hope. A place of desperate isolation from which there seemed no way out. I felt completely useless and at the time could only agree with those who pointed the finger at me and pronounced that it was all my fault.

    By grace, into this darkness came the light of Christ. A spiritual experience brought me hope and strength to begin the journey out of the ruins of my life to a new beginning. This journey was hard and I wondered why it seemed to take so long. But I noticed those who helped me. There was Sheila who travelled a long distance to sit in silence and mourn with me, without judgment or question. There were the many who prayed, silently in their own homes but whose prayer somehow reached and comforted me. And there were those who offered practical help, sensitively and without pressure, and shared their loving wisdom.

    I found the deep wounds caused by shattering emotional experiences can take as long to heal as shattering physical wounds. But that time of sorrow turned out to be one of the most fruitful times of my life. A door was to open and I took my first steps into new work. In the company of Jesus, I was awaken more fully to the beauty and passion of life, and the opportunity of making a difference in a hurting world.

    CHOIR 2 There Is a Balm in Gilead

    At the annual Epsom Mental Health Week there is a forum for a broader conversation across the local community. We are seeking to change attitudes, provide support, and build a deepening sense of community. This year's theme Living the pain - living the joy marks the experience common to us all.

    What we are doing in Epsom is not rocket science but it is changing lives. Our hope and prayer is that what we have learnt may happen in other places. You don’t need a lot of resources, just a group of people who know we all have our inner wounds and are willing to reach out and help others. And such groups already exist in many churches.

    The Bible reading we hear now, with its bizarre incident about the pigs, is ultimately a story of the healing presence of Jesus which also raises questions about how a local community responds to mental illness. Reflecting on this will be our preacher – Michael Preston

    A reading from the Gospel of Mark
    Jesus and the disciples crossed to the other side of the lake of Galilee. As he stepped ashore, a man possessed by an unclean spirit came up to him from among the tombs where he had made his home. Nobody could restrain him any longer; even chains were useless, for he had often been fettered and chained up, but had snapped his chains and broken the fetters. No one was strong enough to control him. Night and day, he would cry aloud among the tombs and on the hillsides and cut himself with stones.
    When he saw Jesus in the distance, he ran up and flung himself down before him, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? In God's name do not torment me.' For Jesus was already saying to him, "Out, unclean spirit, come out of the man!' Jesus asked him, "What is your name?' "My name is Legion,' he said, "there are so many of us.' And he implored Jesus not to send them out of the district.
    There was a large herd of pigs nearby, feeding on the hillside, and the spirits begged him, "Send us among the pigs; let us go into them.' He gave them leave; and the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs; and the herd, of about two thousand, rushed over the edge into the lake and were drowned.
    The men in charge of the pigs ran off and told the news in the town and countryside; and the people came out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus and saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of spirits, sitting there clothed and in his right mind, they were afraid. When eyewitnesses told them what had happened to the man and what had become of the pigs, they begged Jesus to leave the district.
    As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed begged to go with him. But Jesus would not let him. "Go home to your own people,' he said, "and tell them what the Lord in his mercy has done for you.' The man went off and made known throughout the region what Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
    This is the Word of the Lord
    All reply Thanks be to God

    HYMN Beauty for brokenness (Graham Kendrick)

    SERMON Michael Preston
    In that Gospel story, the man described in the language of the bible as "possessed by unclean spirits" has obvious symptoms of what nowadays many would call an extreme mental illness. Try to imagine this man's terrifying world and hoe he struggles. He has this "legion" of voices in his head. He yells out uncontrollably. His mind is ruled by such chaotic and destructive forces that he cuts himself, what we now call self-harming.. He rages both against the world and against himself. His violent behaviour cuts him off from the people around him and from any proper sense of his own self. The people in his village have done what they could, with the fetters and chains they were trying to protect themselves and also the man himself. But this village community can't contain him. He lives outside alone among the tombs, in a sort of hell

    Jesus with his disciples crosses from the other side of the lake and steps from the boat into this fearful world.. Even at a distance something in the man recognises the presence and power of Jesus. He runs towards him and throws himself down to the ground at his feet, all the time shouting out. And Jesus' response to this desperate behaviour? He calmly asks the man his name. It's the beginning of a remarkable healing, a miracle takes place.

    Well the story could have ended there. One of those many healing stories in the Gospels where Jesus meets a person in distress and opens the way to a new life. But when the local villagers hear the story about the pigs, they come and find the man, now clothed and in his right mind, sitting with Jesus, and yet they are still afraid. They beg Jesus to leave. The man himself wants to leave with him. He's been healed but the village remains a troubled place. That village community needs healing.

    Today with modern drug treatments violent behaviour from mental illness, as with the man in the story is, thank God, very rare indeed. But that frightening figure still has a powerful grip on our imaginations and often, on how our media presents mental illness.

    When people are struggling with mental illness, above all they need our help, not our anxieties. When someone has a physical illness, we naturally reach out to help. But the experience of those who have an illness of the mind, is that people often turn away from them. The people around them are afraid. Like the people of the lakeside village in the bible story, we need our minds freed from the grip of fears about mental illness.
    The Christian faith doesn't offer miraculous healings from all our troubles and fears. Miracles are exceptions, there as signs to encourage us. But faith does bring strength and courage to face our fears. For many Christians faith comes through a definite sense of a personal meeting with Jesus, as we heard in Helen’s story earlier, for others it's some inner knowledge of being touched by the divine presence. With faith is the personal commitment to trust, to believe, even when faced with what is frightening and destructive, that life can be made well. With faith comes also that sense of calling, that there is something we are to do. Jesus calls us to be disciples to be with him as he works for that Kingdom where all things are made well.

    In the Gospel story, the man who was been healed of the fearful forces which controlled him is invited by Jesus to face the fears of his village: "Go, tell them what the Lord in his mercy has done for you." He is asked to take courage to allay their fears, to challenge their prejudices, to change their minds.

    We believe it has been a journey of faith for us at this church, an invitation from Jesus, that led to our work with Epsom Mental Health Week. To be part of helping to change minds in this community about mental illness.
    For all of us, the Christian message is to hear the words of Jesus: Do not be afraid. Fear not. I am with you. Jesus who welcomes us by name and Jesus who calls us to work for God's Kingdom.
    May we be blessed by that welcome. May our hearts, our minds, be open to that call.

    Our next hymn was written by John Newton, A man who knew his life transformed by the experience of meeting Jesus at a time of great distress.

    How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear!
    It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, And drives away his fear.

    HYMN 2 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds (ST PETER) -

    Let us pray .............................................

    Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away (SUNG)

    O Christ Jesus
    When all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
    Give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength.
    Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power,
    so that nothing may frighten or worry us.

    Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away (SUNG)

    We bring you Lord, all who work to overcome suffering, all who sit alongside the despairing, all who carry on caring, and those who cannot. and those who turn away. May we see your light in the darkness and know hope in despair.

    Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away (SUNG)

    (Current events) ...... for all communities living in fear or despair. We pray especially with people of ...........

    Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away (SUNG)

    We pray for the church throughout your world. May we grow in faith, and true to your call, offer love, openness, true acceptance, hope and peace to all people.

    Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away (SUNG)

    And in a moment's silence we bring our own thoughts and prayers to God.

    With Jesus we pray:
    Our Father, which art in heaven,
    Hallowed be thy Name.
    Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth,
    As it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our trespasses,
    As we forgive them that trespass against us.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom,
    The power, and the glory For ever and ever. Amen

    In our final hymn Jesus invites us to be with him in the work of building the Kingdom of God.
    Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

    HYMN 3 Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

    We all face difficulties and mental illness can affect any of us, our families and friends, but whatever may come, in the words of a Celtic Blessing ......

    May you see God's light on the path ahead, When the road you walk is dark.
    May you always hear, Even in your hour of sorrow, The gentle singing of the lark.
    When times are hard, may hardness Never turn your heart to stone,
    May you always remember when the shadows fall-You do not walk alone.
    and the blessing of God almighty,
    Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us, to comfort and inspire us evermore, Amen.

    ORGAN VOLUNTARY - Schumann, Sketch no. 3 in F minor (op. 58).


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