In January 2002, four couples began meeting in the Cliff Temple Baptist parking lot, praying for a new way to serve. Along with Joel and Laura Pulis were Scott and Kristi Coleman. The Colemans had been involved in numerous ministries over the years: Scott had served as a pastor in South America, and the couple had a house church in their home for a decade. “We really wanted something different than just traditional worship,” Scott recalls. “We told God we were available and waited to see what happened.”
As the group realized the need for community among people in the Oak Cliff area living with serious mental illnesses, they began holding a weekly service where these individuals could worship in an environment in which they felt comfortable and accepted. Soon, they added a meal that provided a time of connection and fellowship, and then expanded to offer community-centered programs throughout the week.
Since these beginnings of the Well Community 20 years ago, Scott and Kristi have been involved as volunteers. They have helped with worship services and served meals. During the pandemic, Scott created video messages to encourage members.
From the very start, serving at the Well has been a family affair. The Coleman children joined their parents to experience the community and to serve.
Scott and Kristi’s daughter, Corrie (Coleman) Aune, says that some of her earliest memories are of Well Community worship services and events at the park. “I remember thinking it was nothing out of the ordinary. … I felt very comfortable there,” she recalls. “Even though I was so young, it really did shape the way I view the world.”
Thanks to her parents’ coaching, Corrie was at ease in a diverse community, and it wasn’t until years later that she recognized that many who live with serious mental illnesses don’t have a welcoming, accepting environment where they can belong, even at church. “I didn’t realize what a big deal that was.”
Differences Give a Broader Worldview
While in college Corrie recognized that many of her peers hadn’t had similar experiences to help them to see beyond differences they perceived in other people. “I didn’t think the world was as scary as others did,” she explains, adding that she tends not to jump to making judgements of others because she grew up knowing members of the Well. “It’s easy to feel that initial fear,” she empathizes. But “things are a lot more complex than they seem.”
This viewpoint has been an undercurrent of the family’s involvement at the Well. Scott shares that often, we fear those we perceive as different. “People don’t know how to react.” But, he says, “It’s those differences that give us a broader worldview.”
Scott and Kristi recall their children recognizing Well Community members by name as the family drove around Oak Cliff. According to Scott, getting to know people at the Well shaped their kids’ understanding of people who are dealing with diverse challenges. “That has helped them understand that everyone has a story,” he shares.
In addition to bringing their children to the Well Community, the Colemans helped others experience the unique blessings found in volunteering at the Well. For example, Kristi shares how working with groups of youth to serve meals helped these young people see those living with mental illnesses as real people.
“The Well folks are just so open—maskless. They don’t have pretenses,” Scott shares. He says Well members’ honesty in worship and conversations gives others the ability to be good listeners and love people differently. “That’s a gift.”
Understanding Mental Illness
Serving at the Well Community has also shaped their own understanding of mental illnesses and those who live with these challenges. Kristi recalls how, at the beginning, she’d be surprised when she learned a Well member had a college degree or a had enjoyed a successful career. “It was hard to picture them as healthy,” she recalls. But she and Scott have also seen the difference community can make in the lives of those who are struggling. “We’ve seen a lot of people function a lot better being in healthy relationships.”
Two decades later, the Colemans remain dear friends of the Well Community. “It has to do with the authenticity of the people in their relationship with God,” Scott shares. “I see the Well treating folks with dignity, with respect as God’s children.” At the Well, he and Kristi know people are accepted and included in ways many haven’t experienced in their families or churches. “It feels like a community of respect.”
Kristi adds that very few people living with serious mental illnesses have a safety net, and the Well enables people in the larger community to provide for its members what many of us take for granted. As members deal with both mental illness and poverty, the Well Community helps to address the multifaceted challenges members face daily.
Just Do It
When asked what they would tell other families who are considering serving at the Well Community, Scott is quick to answer: “Do it!” He emphasizes that when people simply go and talk with members, those conversations break down a lot of the barriers and hesitations that might prevent them from getting involved.
“You leave feeling so much better emotionally,” Kristi adds.
Corrie echoes with her own “Do it!” Though new volunteers may experience some uncomfortable moments, she shares how serving at the Well is an excellent opportunity for families to help young people grow—one that will impact children well into adulthood. “It’s a really rich experience that will have a big impact on kids,” she says, adding that the skills they develop, such as empathy, will be beneficial in every part of life. “I have such a tenderness toward the Well,” she adds. “It’s still a big part of my life.”
And, as Scott says, serving those living with serious mental illnesses is just the way to model what being a Christian is about. “We can talk all we want that God is love, but unless we treat people with dignity, they won’t believe it.”
Ready to find out how you or your group could serve at the Well Community? Contact us today.