Guest blog by Rev Shaun Lambert
When I was studying at Spurgeon’s Bible College we had an excellent module on pastoral care and counselling. The lecturer said something that really stuck with me. He made the point (with humour) that many of the conflicts in church occurred because the leader didn’t know how to relate to people. I’d been a bank manager before training for the ministry and knew how to relate to people in that professional capacity but I realised that I needed further training in the way I would relate to people as a minister and pastor!
When I started ministry at Stanmore Baptist Church in 1997 I began some part-time training in counselling and psychotherapy. This proved to be extremely helpful in terms of relating to people in the church. But at that early stage in my ministry I wouldn’t have called myself a mental health advocate. Part of the training in counselling I did at Roehampton University included personal counselling and learning to counsel others on placement, with supervision and ongoing training. I began to be aware of the cracks in my own life and had my eyes opened to the amazing resilience of people I counselled who were suffering mental health distress. I think many of us carry automatic cultural scripts that are dismissive of anyone with mental health distress – it is amazing how sitting down face to face with people and listening to their stories brings those scripts into the light and shows them to be false.
Back in 2006 after a number of years of being in ministry and still training to be a counsellor I became very anxious, stressed, depressed and close to burnout. It was mindfulness, both for health and of God that glued me back together. However, on one particular day at Roehampton when I felt I was going to fall apart, a mindful lecturer noticed, took me aside and helped me to hold this distressing experience. I realised then the power of a mindful listener in helping others hold their distress.
It was at that point and as I came out of this experience of acute anxiety through mindfulness and counselling that I became a mental health advocate. I started to research mindfulness and did my dissertation at Roehampton on ‘why now for mindfulness?’ I came to a cross-road in my research where I could have continued my personal and professional development by signing up for mindfulness training available at places like Bangor University – but I began to get Christians asking me, in particular, ‘is it ok for me to use mindfulness?’ I decided to be an independent researcher looking at both mindfulness for health and mindfulness of God for Christians. This led me to doing a PhD project at London School of Theology in Northwood.
As part of my mental-health advocacy I wanted Christians to be able to make well-informed decisions about their mental health and about accessing secular mindfulness or other secular therapies. My training at Roehampton had been secular, focusing particularly on relational and integrative counselling and psychotherapy. I also wanted to explore the rich scriptural and historical Christian heritage when it comes to contemplation and the retrieval of ideas like mindfulness of God. I knew that my individual contribution was important, but when we advocate together we can stop the traffic of stigma!
This led to conversations with Richard Johnston of Christian Mindfulness based in Scotland, and the idea of a national mindfulness day for Christians to harness the power of working together. This happened earlier in the year in Ealing and then Leeds. I am really pleased to say that I am working with others (including Richard) on an East Midlands Christian Mindfulness day on Saturday 2nd February 2019. Richard is also taking the lead on another National Mindfulness Day for Christians, this time in Scotland on Saturday 23rd March 2019.
Part of wanting to work together on such events that are about psychological and spiritual education and helping Christians to be well informed in the area of mental health and wellbeing is the desire to work together with other Christian charities. I am particularly grateful to the directors of Mind and Soul Foundation who model this so graciously. I particularly benefited from their recent Lead Well Conference in London, and I know that resources are available now from that day. Let’s end stigma, let’s work together to be well informed and let us be advocates for mental health and wellbeing 365 days a year!