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Christ on Capitol Hill was grateful to receive a Mental Health Mini-Grant from the ELCA through the Saint Paul Area Synod to reflect on how we as a community build healthy safe spaces for those in a variety of places on the spectrum of mental health. Some of us are obviously struggling but many of us have mental health challenges that are more invisible, so together, our first step into this area was a valuable training with Reconciling Works called Consent in Community Building. We thought that this fit with mental health in a variety of ways, including holding brave, inclusive spaces and extending hospitality through asking permission.
Over several months, our congregation was able to send 14 people to the online training, including our rostered leaders, staff and volunteers. We met afterward to consider how the training helped us reflect. Given that our congregation has not met in person for worship for over a year, we also noticed how this is an opportune time to “re-set” expectations about how we interact physically, how we practice boundaries in a way that empowers people to ask for and give consent. Sometimes, one person reflected, these practices are looked at as “self-centered” but it’s not, it’s how we build good, safe community.
We reflected around people’s different ways of entering worship — some people are looking for a space for hugs and some just want to take it all in from more of a distance. In this COVID-time, we’ll ask people not to hug and no one would think “it’s because they are cold or don’t like me.” This is a re-set for parts of our community, to assume that a person can say “no” to what the giver might perceive as a loving gesture without hurting their feelings.
We talked about name tags that indicate a person's pronouns and how this act of all of us sharing pronouns takes the pressure off those in our community who might want those name tags most.
One mother shared how she had to tip off members of the community to ask her daughter about her interests, rather than always commenting on how she looked. Others talked about modeling the many ways, not just one way, that we can share the peace.
All of these ideas and conversations energized us about the work that is coming—as we return to our worship space, but in a new season, with new expectations, when all of us have experienced a challenging year for mental health.
We give thanks for the Mental Health Mini-Grant that made all this possible, and we highly recommend the Reconciling Works Consent for Community Building workshop, as well as their other training opportunities, as very valuable in expanding how we extend hospitality to one another across all our differences.
The Rev. Dr. Joy McDonald Coltvet
Christ on Capitol Hill, St. Paul