During the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across Indiana and Kentucky saw significant increases in suicides and other mental health challenges. Some of the congregations in the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, including Christ the King Lutheran Church in South Bend, IN, took practical steps to help those struggling with mental health issues.

Christ the King’s ministry is called Fresh Hope for Mental Health “Fresh Hope is a peer-to-peer, Christian support group for people living with a mental health diagnosis and their loved ones,” writes ministry director Hillary Doerries. “We started [it] as part of a larger effort to help our neighbors feel less lonely and isolated and more connected to their community.”

The program consists of weekly gatherings where participants “check in with one another, share our stories, pray, and discuss a mental health-related topic.”

Fresh Hope is an integral part of Christ the King’s ministry. “I think it’s essential that a church be a place where people feel like they can be themselves and still be loved and accepted,” says Hillary. “The Body of Christ is vast, diverse, and full of a variety of stories and experiences that are important to our family of faith and important to the heart of God. When the church speaks openly and lovingly about a topic like mental illness, it lessens the stigma and normalizes the experience of living with a mental health challenge. At Christ the King, we believe that loving, listening to, and supporting people with mental health challenges is essential to the ways in which we love and serve the world.”

Hillary sees great opportunities for other congregations to develop similar ministries. “I would love for other congregations in our area to discover ways to support individuals and families in our community living with mental illness. This can obviously be carried out in a variety of ways, but by offering a support group such as Fresh Hope, the church widens its welcome to people with mental and emotional disabilities. Because mental illness is so often a disease of loneliness, the opportunity to make meaningful connections with other people is essential to a person’s management and recovery from a serious mental illness.”

Through your partnership in ministry with the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, you participate in ministries like Fresh Hope: their ministry is also your ministry. Thanks be to God for Fresh Hope, for Christ the King, and for you!

by Pastor Jerry O’Neal, IN-KY Stewardship Director