Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Way of Companionship: Discovering the Heart of Mental Health Ministry

By: Robert Skrocki, Communications Liaison with Interfaith Mental Health Coalition

Faith communities that train ushers, faith community members and others in the different types of mental illnesses, and how to help people who might behave differently, are noteworthy efforts and important first steps in welcoming people with mental illnesses.

But Companionship, as defined by Rev. Craig Rennebohm, a chaplain with  the Mental Health Chaplaincy, Seattle, suggests a more profound response to mental illness and it compels us to become the people our faith traditions have long called us to become.

Companionship asks us to walk “side-by-side” a person and to share the journey toward health and wholeness. Through the side-by-side presence and orientation and through participation in the other four core practices of Companionship – listening, providing hospitality, “neighboring,” and expanding the circle of care – we become more acutely aware of a common humanity, of our experience of frailty and suffering, but also of the eternal significance of each human heart.

Through Companionship, we often witness courage in the face of suffering and deep disappointment. We find ourselves inspired by the indomitable human spirit and by the grace that seems to become abundantly clear as we walk together the road to recovery. We discover that mutuality is more powerful than a one-up, one-down helping relationship, and that people who have experienced mental illness have gifts and unique insights from which we would benefit, if we could only learn to see and embrace them.

Companionship is at once both elegantly simple and profoundly difficult.  Anyone can participate in Companionship.  Anyone can be a fellow human being who comes alongside another and in hospitality listens to that person’s dreams, hopes, and statements of faith. However, sometimes it is not so easy to avoid giving too much advice or to relinquish the lure of being a heroic helper. As “helpers,” whether consciously or subconsciously, we often strive to affirm how impressive we are by comparing ourselves to the “poor person” in front of us whose troubles appear to be greater than our own.

But through Companionship, we discover that embracing a common humanity and developing a wider and deeper appreciation of the work of grace lead us to an indescribable joy that surpasses any fleeting gratification that might come from being the heroic helper.

If you are interested in learning more about how to arrange for a Companionship training experience in your community, there are a number of trainers in our area. You can contact Rev. Dr. Darryl Jenkins to learn more.

A joint project of Advocate Health Care & the OCEAN-HP at the University of Illinois at Chicago.