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Mennonite Publishing tackles tough pastoral care issues

   
 


Part of the Closer to Home series

   

Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Publishing Network joint release
May 14, 2007

Scottdale, Pa. and Waterloo, Ont. — Thousands of people in Mennonite churches are suffering in silence because they don’t get the help they need in facing their addictions, mental disorders, experiences of abuse, and other personal issues.

That assumption, confirmed by therapists and pastors alike, has propelled Mennonite Publishing Network (MPN) to spearhead the development of a series of pastoral care pamphlets that bring together professional therapy, Christian faith, and congregational care.

The first three of a projected series of 21 pamphlets will be released in June: Dealing with Pornography, Dealing with Spouse Abuse, and Dealing with Eating Disorders. Others, to be released over three years, tackle anxiety disorders, alcoholism, marital discord, and other personal problems. Many topics, such as date rape and suicide, will be developed particularly with youth and young adult audiences in mind.

Entitled Close to Home, the series draws on the expertise of professional counselors, seminary staff, and pastoral caregivers in the Mennonite Church and Mennonite Brethren denominations. While MPN is the publisher, Mennonite Brethren Kindred Productions is a key partner in the project. Funding support comes from a variety of denominational sources and foundations.

Matthew Isert-Bender, pastor of Nith Valley (Ontario) Mennonite Church, is excited to see the integrated healing that the Close to Home series promotes. As a trained counselor, he has noticed that many church people drive a wedge between therapy and biblical faith.

“Either they have experienced the church as a place that devalues the role of therapy,” Isert-Bender notes, “or they see the church devaluing the role that biblical faith and congregational care have in the healing process.”

Beyond bridging that gap, however, the series is intended to get conversations flowing. According to Linda Gehman Peachey of Mennonite Central Committee USA, they are “a wonderful way for congregations to invite people to share their struggles and take additional steps on the journey toward wholeness."

The series took shape when a group of 11 therapists, seminary teachers, pastors, and publishing staff met in Waterloo in November 2006, and hammered out a development plan.

Byron Rempel-Burkholder, the MPN editor who has led the project from idea to reality, was inspired by the synergy in that meeting. “Here were a group of publishing folks, therapists, church leaders, and pastors all agreeing that there was a gap in Mennonite churches that they could work together to fill,” he said. “Both the process and the eventual product seemed to bring out the best in Anabaptist values of compassion, truth-telling, and ecclesiology.”

MPN then began inviting Mennonites with appropriate expertise to contribute content and review manuscripts. Writers and consultants were recommended by a variety of partners: the steering group itself; staff from Mennonite Central Committee, which has dealt with abuse and mental health issues in the US and Canada; and administrators of mental health institutions associated with the Mennonite Health Services Alliance.

Each pamphlet contains a story of healing; a brief explanation of the problem; a reflection on how faith relates to the issue; and practical steps toward healing. In only 12 small pages, the pamphlet does not pretend to say all there is to say on the issue – it is explicitly designed to lead toward more in-depth responses.

The pamphlets can be displayed on literature racks in counseling offices, church foyers, and even church restrooms (for anonymous pickup), or used as discussion resources for adults.

According to psychologist Al Dueck, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and member of the steering group, the pamphlets “have the potential to sensitize us to the emotional needs of individuals in our own congregations. … The church as a community can be a place of healing for the emotionally broken.”

Release schedules, order information and excerpts are posted on two parallel web sites of Kindred Productions (www.mbconf.ca/closetohome) and Mennonite Publishing Network (www.mph.org/closetohome). Mennonite Publishing Network is the publisher for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.


The germ of an idea

Close to Home was conceived a year ago following a conversation between MPN editor Byron Rempel-Burkholder and an acquaintance recovering from an eating disorder.

“We ruminated on how awkward it was for her to reach out for help, even in her church community,” recalls Rempel-Burkholder, editor and coordinator for the series. “While she felt fortunate to be part of a supportive community, she observed that church people generally do not know enough about eating disorders and other close-to-home issues that people are hesitant to talk about.” As a result the church’s responses are lacking – or worse – at times inappropriate and unhealthy.

In consultation with pastors and other caregivers, Rempel-Burkholder compiled a list of other closeted issues that the church could be addressing, including depression, several forms of abuse, pornography, self-mutilation, and alcoholism. From there, the idea of a pamphlet series took shape and MPN began rallying partners for the project.