Perspectives in Central Victoria Palace International Chapel

Journal Entry: Mental Health (This entry corresponds to my diary entry of 20th January 2021)

I am the head pastor of Central Victoria Palace International Chapel in London. More recently, the church decided to establish a ‘Faith and Mental Health’ panel, which I also sat in. The panel hosts weekly meetings, whereby conversations are held around the issue of mental health and mental illness. Initially, the sessions were largely dominated by febrile debates around mental health problems (illnesses) based on the biomedical model of mental illness, which essentially suggests that mental illnesses are a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. I had a significant proportion of questions directed at me; of which I did my best to answer. However, with time, a majority of the questions changed in their form and started being in the version of, “A significant number of people are of the view that it is not necessary to visit the hospital or see a doctor for any ‘mental issues’, rather you just need to pray more and harder. What is your take on or response to that?”

These are questions that I had been grappling with for a few years. From my pastoral experience, I have encountered many cases of people suffering from different cases of mental illness, including stress, depression, anxiety, mood or sleeping disorders, personality disorders, drug and substance use, and so on. However, I have never been able to, as a matter of fact, attribute their conditions to chemical imbalances in the brain or to spirituality, or specifically classify them as purely psychiatric (biomedical) or spiritual (religious). Often, I felt that while mental illnesses were largely due to the present life circumstances, particularly social and economic, they were also, to some extent, due to the person’s spirituality or religiosity. As I considered the questions posed and their criticality, I was not sure how I could best answer them. One of the questions that arose to me following this dilemma was the association between spirituality and mental illness. I therefore resorted to learning more about the problem of mental health in the UK and the church’s response to it.

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I decided to research on the issue of mental health, particularly in London, and how the church is responding to it. I also wanted to find out the status of those who experienced or suffered from mental illness- whether they considered themselves spiritual or religious, or not. As part of my investigation, I searched the internet for the existing literature and previous studies into the topic. Mental health is a matter that has gained in popularity over the years, with mental disorders being cited as common and disabling throughout the world. In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in every 5 adults suffers from the common mental disorders, while between 1 and 7% suffer from the major mental disorders (Mental health- Office for National Statistics, 2021). Mental illnesses manifest in diverse signs and symptoms, which affect our life experiences as humans, including our beliefs, abilities and capacities, behaviors and relationships (Baker, 2020). These concerns are common among both healthcare professionals (psychiatrists) and Christians (and other religions) (Garssen, Visser and Pool, 2021). Mental illnesses have been observed to disproportionately affect the marginalized and disadvantaged populations- the poor, homeless, ethnic, religious and sexual minority groups and the disabled. Paradoxically, even the advantaged and wealthier nations (and populations) have been demonstrated to be highly vulnerable to mental illnesses and the accompanying social, health and economic burden (Kumar and Nayar, 2020). However, it is the disadvantaged and marginalized in each country or society that suffer the most.

The biomedical model of mental health (psychiatry) is an inter-disciplinary and professional endeavor aimed at caring for people with mental illnesses, and is majorly concerned with the brain and the mind (Fernandes et al., 2017). Over the years, the UK government has paid increasingly more attention to mental health and psychiatry, such that the National Health Service (NHS) introduced the concept of integrated care whereby all NHS hospitals and facilities are required to holistically address all the patients’ (physical and mental health) needs in one setting (The National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2018). Psychiatry pays attention to the patient’s social and economic circumstances and involves the use of scientific and evidence-based interventions, such as psychotropic medications (Holmes et al., 2018). My research made it clear to me that mental health is one area of major concern not only to individuals, but also societies and the governments due to the huge social and economic burden that was associated with it.

In the recent years, however, research and psychiatry have increasingly focused on spirituality as a key component in the issue of mental health/disorders. This has however, raised controversy and evoked professional debate among healthcare professionals (Cook, 2017).

To make more sense of the issue from the spiritual perspective, I looked up resources from the Bible. However, a look at the scriptures demonstrates that Jesus said the exact opposite when He stated, in Mark 2:17, that, “…it is the sick who need a doctor.” Praying for people with mental and other illnesses has been proven not to work (on its own). Jesus did not actually pray for the sick; rather He healed them. This is shown in Matthew 10:8 where He says, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” This shows that we should not use prayer as a way of detaching from or delaying to respond to those who are mentally ill, and He expects that we should do the same.

A theological theme that arose from this was the doctrine of faith. The Bible, in James 2:17, says, ‘In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ Despite the scriptures talking about faith in multiple instances- Hebrews 11:1; Psalms 46:10; Mark 5:36; Matthew 21:22; Mark 5:34- more is expected, and prayer, however well-intentioned, will fail to adequately respond to mental illness. This implies that prayer (faith) should not be a substitute for action (Mental Illness in a Theological Context, 2021). Therefore, perceiving prayer as action, and as the only response to mental illness, will not work.

Following my research, I was able to find a better response to the arising questions. While the Church has a long history of responding to distress, it has largely remained silent on mental health. Due to this silence (that breeds ignorance and fosters misinformation and promoting fear), along with the stigma associated with mental disorders, Church members have been unable to effectively understand and/or respond to mental illness. This has led to the persistence of the largely held belief by many that the sick (mentally ill, in this case) are not spiritual enough or do not have enough faith. As a result, it makes more sense for them to turn to God who they believe is all-powerful, through prayer. However, the teachings of Jesus (about the sick needing a doctor, as well as accompanying faith with action) show that it would not suffice to simply pray as a way of tackling mental illness. It is therefore, suggested that Christians, besides praying about their medical conditions, should also seek medical or psychiatric help. Following the findings of my research, I took it upon myself as the head pastor to have more panel sessions, to increasingly talk about mental health to the congregation during general church service, as well as find out more ways through which we can engage and assist those with mental disorders not only in the church, but also the society at large.

Bibliography

Baker, C., 2020. Mental health statistics for England: prevalence, services and funding.

Cook, C.C., 2017. Spirituality and religion in psychiatry: the impact of policy. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 20(6), pp.589-594.

Fernandes, B.S., Williams, L.M., Steiner, J., Leboyer, M., Carvalho, A.F. and Berk, M., 2017. The new field of ‘precision psychiatry’. BMC medicine, 15(1), pp.1-7.

Garssen, B., Visser, A. and Pool, G., 2021. Does spirituality or religion positively affect mental health? Meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 31(1), pp.4-20.

Holmes, E.A., Ghaderi, A., Harmer, C.J., Ramchandani, P.G., Cuijpers, P., Morrison, A.P., Roiser, J.P., Bockting, C.L., O'Connor, R.C., Shafran, R. and Moulds, M.L., 2018. The Lancet Psychiatry Commission on psychological treatments research in tomorrow's science. The Lancet Psychiatry, 5(3), pp.237-286.

Kumar, A. and Nayar, K.R., 2020. COVID 19 and its mental health consequences. Journal of Mental Health, 180(6), pp.817-8.

Ons.gov.uk. 2021. Mental health - Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021].

WIT. 2021. An Introduction to Mental Illness in a Theological Context. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021].

Bible Gateway. 2021. Bible Gateway passage: James 2:17 - New International Version. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021].

Bible Gateway. 2021. Bible Gateway passage: Mark 2:17 - New International Version. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021].

Bible Gateway. 2021. Bible Gateway passage: Matthew 10:8 - New International Version. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021].

Journal Entry: Child Abuse (This entry corresponds to my diary entry of 14th February 2021)

I am the senior pastor of the International Chapel of Central Victoria Palace in London. A friend invited me to visit a Christian child violence project in February on 14th of 2021, and I accepted. I have seen children begging for money and sleeping rough on the streets while living in London, but I've never considered it part of my calling as a pastor to assist them. In reality, I had the impression that they were to blame for their current predicament. When I passed these people on the street, however, I felt a little uneasy. I debated if I could visit the children's home project when my time could be better spent in Bible study and evangelism when I contemplated my friend's invitation.

My time is scarce as both a Roehampton student and a pastor. Job and family obligations are also a part of my life. One of the issues that this brought up for me was the relationship between evangelism and social action, taking precedence. I was also interested in learning more about homelessness in the United Kingdom and how the church could react to this social issue of child abuse, especially the sexual abuse of children.

I wanted to look at the topic of child violence in London and how churches are dealing with it. I was also interested in learning more about this specific child violence prevention program. Volunteers ran it from an Anglican congregation, according to one of my friends. The church helps homeless children by providing food and clothes, attempting to reduce child violence in society, and condemning child sexual abuse.

It also has a drop-in centre where volunteers provide youths with information on housing, welfare services, and jobs. Some of those who join the programmer, according to my friend, are young people who have left home as a result of child neglect and sexual abuse since they were young; others have become homeless as a result of sexual abuse by their elder relatives, prompting them to flee their homes and even drop out of school.

As part of my research, I looked up information on the Internet and the literature. During the 1990s, successive governments launched a set of initiatives known as the WeProtect (styled WePROTECT), a multinational coalition led by the United Kingdom leadership (Claeys et al., 2020). WePROTECT's goal is to stop the global crime of online child sexual abuse (Zagaris & B, 2020) and exploitation, which was established by Baroness Joanna Shields and is sponsored by over 84 countries, 24 technology firms, and 20 civil society organizations (Chang & Brian, 2017).

A practical action plan was created, promising to increase the options available to single children at risk of sexual exploitation (Westendorf et al., 2017). In addition, it extends charity-run street stop child abuse initiatives. It collaborates with charities and businesses to help victims of child sexual abuse get off the streets and into jobs and education. Child trafficking is on the increase once again due to the economic crisis, rapid technological advancements, and cuts in social benefits.

Along with conventional professional organizations, a slew of smaller organizations, many of which are underfunded and depend on volunteers, continue to raise awareness about the negative consequences of child violence, such as sexual abuse, underage employment, and marriage to an underage female. I noticed that several organizations in London had launched anti-child-abuse programs and initiatives, providing a range of services such as counselling. Besides, it helps campaign for stricter laws against those who exploit children and advise the government on how to combat the national problem of child abuse, welfare benefits, housing, and health.

For instance, St. Cathedral Brampton hosts an awareness campaign to educate people about how to combat child abuse and provide shelter to homeless children. Thus, preventing exploitation by impostors posing as good Samaritans only to abuse children sexually and provide food, guidance, and friendship to affected children. Another example is the Christian Charity Group "I Care" stop sexual child exploitation Project, an African Pentecostal initiative based in Central London that provides food and clothes to over a thousand children on a monthly basis. It also offers a referral advisory service to the impacted children who need information about dealing with stress, welfare benefits, depression, educational difficulties, and health issues. My research revealed that, despite government policies and provisions, child abuse, especially sexual abuse among children, is a significant problem in London. Some churches are actively involved in helping to stop child abuse as part of their Christian mission (Sanou et al., 2015).

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I wanted to see what biblical and later theological tools I could use to help me make sense of child abuse and how our church could react. • “Let the children come to me, do not impede them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” says one important biblical verse. I tell you the truth, whoever does not obtain the kingdom of God as a child will not join it” (Mark 10:14-15, New International Version). “Talk up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8) according to another biblical/theological theme specific to the topic of child violence.

In conclusion, I agreed to accompany my friend to the stop child abuse program after researching and spiritual reflection. I considered the experience highly beneficial. It has increased my awareness of child abuse, especially sexual harassment in London, and the need for our church to respond in practical ways by assisting those in need. I approached the church committee, and we agreed to have a meeting with church members to discuss the possibility of launching a campaign to prevent child exploitation in our church and the country. I will chair the meeting, as the committee has requested. They have also asked me to learn more about how other churches in London are participating in a campaign to condemn child abuse in the city. Whether any churches or Christian organizations are working to hold the government accountable for its promises to address issues such as child sexual exploitation, underage employment, and underage marriage in the United Kingdom.

Bibliography

Chang, Brian. "From Internet Referral Units to International Agreements; Censorship of the Internet by the UK and EU." Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 49 (2017): 114. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/colhr49§ion=18

Claeys, Priscilla, and Marc Edelman. "The United Nations Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas." The Journal of Peasant Studies 47.1 (2020): 1-68. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.

Sanou, Boubakar. "Ethnicity, tribalism and racism: A global challenge for the Christian church and its mission." Journal of Applied Christian Leadership 9.1 (2015): 94-104. https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jacl/vol9/iss1/9/

Westendorf, Jasmine-Kim, and Louise Searle. "Sexual exploitation and abuse in peace operations: trends, policy responses and future directions." International Affairs 93.2 (2017): 365-387. https://academic.oup.com/ia/article-abstract/93/2/365/2982811

Zagaris, B. (2020). Online Child Sex Exploitation Abuse. IELR, 36, 161. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/ielr36§ion=53

Journal Entry: Divorce (This entry corresponds to my diary entry of 20th April 2021)

I am the head pastor of Central Victoria Palace International Chapel in London. Contemporarily, divorce is the legal separation of married couples. It is an act that is currently to many individuals as it is part of the present society. The society has given out the option of separation of two married individuals to themselves as they know the reason why they had to come together and why they are now separating. In the societies currently marriage is the only way that makes divorce to take place. Without people getting married there could be no divorce. The conceptualized answer to this ideology is agreeable in the sense that the individuals planning to divorce or the individuals who have divorced were ones happily married. Marriage as a cause towards this concept takes various forms, it can either be civil marriage, religious marriage, traditional marriage or come we stay (Richards, 1990). All these are acceptable depending to the reason why the couples chose it. As a pastor I will always agree that I have officiated various marriages that have not lasted forever.

In the bible it is denoted that the marriage couples should be permanently together until death separates them. But the idea of having a huge number of widows and widowers in the churches is amazing. Away from the doctrinal understanding I will personally portray divorce in various perspective. It is of great humility and tolerance that one must accept to strictly live with one individual forever in his or her life. What outcome does such a personal have at the end of the life in one rounded type of life? Human beings are social beings therefore letting this scenario of marriage to be permanent does not justify the social aspect of life. Similarly, at the time people are getting married they were attracted to various personalities and human traits. It is noted that human growth and development is continuous and lifelong (Schramm, and Becher, 2020). This therefore makes it possible for the individual personalities to change and be intolerable. If one married a person who was generous and had good interpersonal traits, why should the same person continue living with an individual who is ungenerous and totally lacks interpersonal skills. Should marriage be considered a lifelong jail to the couples? It is unjustifiable to tolerate unbearable behaviours in all life in the name of marriage.

I have happened to have been approached by a couple that needed marital advice as they believed something was not wrong in their marriage. As a pastor I could not wish them away forthwith but I endeavoured to listen a maybe perhaps help. What amazed me was the fact that these two grown-ups knew what was wrong in their marriage but they could solve it and continue with their life. Marriage is like an egg that everyone has been trained never to let go (Schramm, and Becher, 2020). The couple are afraid of losing the marriage but they are also not ready to solve the problem despite knowing what the problem was. The couple opened that drinking spree has attacked their marriage and they were afraid that they have been already into addiction to the brew to the extent a day could not end. Luckily enough the case was not only to one of them but to all of them. I thought if it was an individual, I could have advised the one not drinking to be able to move on to better life. The couple was not able to trace the origin of the menace but they able to know what the menace can cost their ones admired marriage. I have never endowed the aspect of tolerance to unacceptable traits but this case was unique and I had to take them through various guiding and counselling and later to a rehabilitation program that later reinstated the marriage.

Through research of various a literature material it is noted that globally there are divorce cases being reported on the daily basis. The UNICEF report 2016 various divorce cases have led to various children to be homeless and unable to access basic requirements of life such as food, water, and education. The main reason why divorce is rampant in the modern world is the aspect of economic strain that has made many couples to be unable to sustain their life thus opting for a separation. The current decline in the observance of moral values such as faithfulness and being responsible has made it difficult for marriages to sustain themselves. In all cases of divorce that involved couples that have children, the most affected were the kids.

Biblically, divorce has been disallowed but could there are cases when it is acceptable. For instance, in Mathew 5: 32 “But I tell you, whoever dismisses and repudiates and divorces his wife except on the grounds of unfaithfulness (sexual immorality), causes her to commit adultery and whoever marries a woman who has been divorced commits adultery.” In this verse the doctrines give no room for divorce and the knife cuts both sides. This sexual immorality needs to be either tolerated or considered never to be done and it could be good if the individuals maintain a good life that is shy of sexual immoral (Instone-Brewer, 2002). This is also emphasized in Mark 10: 11-12 and Luke 16: 18. The consent of marriage should be critically re-evaluated before a marriage decision is made as the bible is clear in 1 Corinthian 7: 13 that if a person consents to a partner through marriage should not leave or divorce. Christians therefore are not given the opportunity of figuring out how to leave marriage.

All the findings directly discourage the act of divorce however in some other sectors of the society its accepted or a better alternative given. For instance, in case of a marriage that proves not to be able to get children then it is suggested that an alternative way of getting children is given a chance but biblically marriage is regarded complete with or without children. The theological aspect of making divorce unacceptable makes it unscrupulous to the specific individuals who might take the advantage since they are aware of not being able to lose their partners (Raley, and Sweeney, 2020). I therefore believe that everything should be given an opportunity before it is considered either good or bad, and a decision should be thought for well enough before an action is determined.

Bibliography

Instone-Brewer, D., 2002. Divorce and remarriage in the Bible: The social and literary context. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Laney, J.C., Heth, W.A., Edgar, T.R. and Richards, L., 1990. Divorce and remarriage: Four Christian views. InterVarsity Press.

Raley, R.K. and Sweeney, M.M., 2020. Divorce, re-partnering, and stepfamilies: A decade in review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 82(1), pp.81-99.

Schramm, D.G. and Becher, E.H., 2020. Common practices for divorce education. Family Relations, 69(3), pp.543-558.


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