Cities and networking

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How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies. Lamentations 1v1-2

Humans have always built. Built places to live together, places to grow up and grow old together, places to die together. Like so many things, we sometimes do it very well, but more often there are profound problems. Two steps forwards, one step back.

Cities, our larger places of gathering, take this to the extreme. You can have culture, healthcare, potential – and you can have drabness, stigma and hopelessness. The cities of the Bible are a vivid illustration of this. They can be amazing and empowering, or deeply awful; places where people are built up, …or places where people are torn down. The words at the start of this video are the opening verses of the Book of Lamentations, as the prophet Jeremiah watches over a stream of people leaving Jerusalem to a life of exile. This time, the city itself will be torn down as God introduces a new plan. Not to build a repeat city that could fail again, but to build cities within cities, communities within conurbations, places of hope to shine light into the surrounding darkness. Development, change, progress – but with a personal touch as human beings care for human needs.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing us today as our culture grows and develops is to maintain a sense of community – to pull people together and to care for each and every person, making sure no one is left behind. The Bible encourages us to ask  ‘Who is our neighbour?” and if you are watching this video it’s likely that you know that people with mental health problems are part of your answer. They might also be closer than neighbours – they may be family, they may be friends, they may be you… 

So, as a church, how do we respond to the needs of those struggling with their emotional health?  How can we effectively support people and help them to be part of real community? The church has a long history in this area – for millennia, it has prayed for and cared for the sick; its system of parishes was the start of the welfare state, it opened the first psychiatric hospitals. And yet the church has a long history of controversy here too - seeing all problems as spiritual in origin; and thinking it can and should work alone – with a separation of church and state. I believe that working alone is neither necessary nor wise, as it is not only Christians who want to see the emotional health of our cities growing. Other groups may not share the church’s inner motivation, but they certainly share its passion and many of its goals.

One thing I also know, because much of my training has been in the NHS as a psychiatrist, is that we have a lot to learn from each other – the church from the others who care about minds and the discoveries they have made, the NHS from the church and other faith groups on the role of the soul in all of this. In any city, there are large networks that can be tapped into, some with significant funding. I wonder, do you know where you local psychiatric hospital is and have you ever been; do you know what mental health research there is in your University and whether you can help; do you know what policies the Government and local Council are currently putting together? And do you know how keen they are to talk to others who want to get involved because they know they can’t do this alone?!

Premier Mind and Soul is a growing network that we hope can help you answer some of these questions and give you resources to take you forward.
  • We run major conferences to raise awareness and encourage those who attend.
  • We have a website, filled with articles, audio and video, blogs, podcasts and an increasingly interactive section with forums, comments and links.
  • We’re writing a course that you can run in your local church, and we want to support you as you develop your local networks and put on events.
Most of all, we want to see cities where things are being redeemed, where people work in partnership and where people can find the help and hope they need to live life to the full – with God.
Rob Waller, 22/10/2010
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