I hope my last post, Healing, didn’t give the impression that I had any special gifts for, or insights into, the healing of mind and spirit. All of us can be conduits of healing power although there are some few, like Jesus, who even facilitate miracles of physical healing. (I suppose we should remember that body and mind are not really two separate entities.) I also want to acknowledge that there is a limit to being present with someone else’s pain. If the other seems to be using us as a crutch to avoid healing, we are not obligated to repetitively make ourselves available to that individual.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, in any given year about one in four American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. So, odds are that a Monthly Meeting of twenty members and attenders might have five mentally troubled people at about the same time. Such individuals may even negatively impact the worship and business of the meeting. While I can’t personally speak to that point, I do recall an e-retreat where one participant was overly sensitive and regularly misconstrued neutral statements as personal criticism or evidence of prejudice on the part of others. I also recall a schizophrenic gentleman who sometimes served up a meaningless word salad during a worship sharing group. And I have heard tales of a Friend with anger management issues who literally frightened novice members.
That my musings may have some validity is evidenced by a 2018 pamphlet published by Britain Yearly Meeting. Mental Health in Our Meetings tries to strike a balance between accepting the mentally ill while not allowing their behavior to disrupt the Monthly Meeting. A Mr. Kevin Camp has written a blunter blog article entitled Confronting Mental Illness in Monthly Meetings.
Presumably, members of Ministry and Counsel would be the persons to formally confront or elder a problem member. (Of course, ideally, Quakers should never see anybody as a mere problem!) Perhaps an ad hoc solution could be negotiated. If, for example, a member were engaging in vocal ministry two or three times in each meeting, perhaps that member could be persuaded to speak only once per meeting.
Or, if no ad hoc solution were possible, and the member were willing, mental health resources in the larger community could be recommended. If that same member were financially needy, the meeting might even pay for a limited number of therapy sessions. In fact, these days shorter-term treatments like cognitive behavior therapy are the norm rather than the exception.
In extreme cases, a disruptive member might be—at least temporarily—separated from the meeting. Obviously, this last remedy won’t work if the problem behavior is the person’s withdrawal from meeting activities! Passive aggression is no more desirable than active aggression (although certainly less disruptive). Prevention and education is another possibility. A meeting can certainly schedule workshops on techniques for relieving anxiety or coping with mild depression.
Well, enough of theoretical possibilities! I’m glad to report that, as far as I can tell, Old Chatham Monthly Meeting has dodged the statistical bullet. From my newcomer’s perspective, it appears that Friends at OCMM have long-standing relationships which have only grown in mutual love as the years have passed by.
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