Participating in a church leaders panel discussion on mental health several years ago, I was asked what Bible verse summed up my philosophy on serving those living with mental health conditions. I suppose some might have gone first to Jesus’ teaching about “caring for the least of these.” But I have always been uncomfortable with the application of that passage to this topic. It feels a little patronizing.
The members of The Well Community, who struggle to find stability and meaningful lives amid severe mental illnesses, are far from “the least of these.” In fact, I’m bold enough to say they should be counted among “the last shall be first” crowd. They are often the last to receive services, the last to be greeted, the last to be welcomed, the last to receive a friendly smile, the last to be treated with dignity and respect, but they are in no way the least. While it is true they have few worldly goods, I believe they are among the first Christ invites to come to him.
My answer to the question posed to me as a panelist that day wasn’t about the last becoming first, though. Nor was it based on The Well’s founding passage from the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, where Christ offers the Samaritan woman “living water.”
My response was much more basic than that: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The Well Community is a faith-based organization. Whether our members share our Christian faith or not, we aim to follow Christ’s teaching to love them as we love ourselves. Our faith includes the belief that each member of The Well Community should have the opportunity to be loved, respected and valued, just as Jesus demonstrated to all he encountered. Our philosophy of service is based on the belief that it is in community that we both give and receive that kind of love.
Throughout each month various churches, families and community groups stop by to serve at The Well. It is through their kindnesses and generosity that I see Christ’s love demonstrated. Each day our staff, interns and Community Life volunteers approach each member with patience and understanding. There I see God at work. And continually I watch our members encourage and care for each other—living examples of loving others as they want to be loved.
In my own experience at The Well Community I have learned that mental illness is no barrier to faith. And for many of our members, faith is the anchor that keeps them tethered to the One who knows them best and loves them most.