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Alumna Helps Launch The Sanctuary Course and Equips Churches to Discuss Mental Health

May 24, 2022
"This is our vision for the church: it should be a place where people are known by name and not by diagnosis."

In celebration of her good work in helping launch Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries' latest resource, The Sanctuary Course, we sat down with Jane Born (MDiv '20) to discuss the course, its impact, and its relevance for the church.

Jane came to Regent with questions about mental health and wellbeing in the church. After six years in full-time ministry, she struggled to detect holistic, nuanced, and productive conversations about mental health within her evangelical landscape. While working on her Master of Divinity (MDiv), Jane discovered Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, where she soon became Sanctuary's first MDiv intern and developed a prototype of The Sanctuary Course. After years of careful work to expand and refine its content, Sanctuary launched this course in May 2022. 

The Sanctuary Course is an eight-session study guide that helps church communities host conversations about mental health. Developed in consultation with mental health professionals, theologians, and people with lived experience of mental health challenges, the course examines meaningful ways to offer companionship, support recovery, and promote wellbeing. Since launching its prototype in 2018, an estimated 165,000 people have participated in The Sanctuary Course. And since launching the new-and-improved version last week, almost 800 people from ninety-six different churches across six continents have registered for the course. 

To celebrate this successful launch, we got together with Jane, Sanctuary's Resource Development Manager, to learn more. Read our full interview with Jane below.

Who is The Sanctuary Course designed for? 

It's for the church. It's designed for community learning, so it works best in small groups. You don't need to be a pastor or an expert or a mental health professional in order to run this course. If you can gather a group of people together, play a film, and read through the discussion guide, that's all you need to lead a group through this course. People with lived experience of mental health challenges are often initial advocates for The Sanctuary Course, along with those who have loved ones with lived experience and want their community to grow in awareness, empathy, and understanding. Often, that's how it starts, and then participants become aware of their own mental health in new ways, and realize that this is a conversation that is relevant to everyone. 

Right—we all have mental health, we just don’t often think about it until we’re struggling with it. Why is it important to support mental health and wellbeing in the church specifically? And how does the course do that? 

Yes, everyone has mental health. It is dynamic and we will all experience seasons of flourishing and languishing. For some people that languishing may come with a diagnosis, while for others it may be subclinical or, for various reasons, there may never be a formal diagnosis. But it certainly affects us all. One in four people will be impacted by a mental health challenge globally. Mental health matters because it is part of being human. And the church is very much concerned with what it is to be human, and what it is to be human in relationship to God and to one another.

Often, when we're confronted with experiences of suffering, we jump into "fix it" mode. This turns a person into a problem to be solved, and can lead to expressions of ministry that are well-intentioned but marginalizing. What this course does is get at those deeper cultural dynamics and provide a shared, informed vocabulary to facilitate conversations that are often quite vulnerable. This matters, because the language used to discuss mental health can be stigmatizing.

So the course gives the church tools for these sorts of conversations in order to help everyone feel safe. The accompanying films also model how to make space for stories about suffering, and how to see those stories as part of the life of faith. The course helps us engage in practices like lament and invites a genuine diversity of testimony in church communities.

You and the Sanctuary team spent years travelling to film, research, and revise this course. Tell me about that process, and why you wanted to bring in so many different voices. 

Each session provides a psychological perspective, a social perspective, and a theological perspective. I thought it was really important to address each of those lenses individually before drawing them together in dialogue. There were also a lot of voices giving input behind the scenes. All our content is reviewed by at least one theologian, one mental health professional, and at least one person with lived experience of a mental health challenge. It was important to us to talk to pastors, to Christians with lived experience of mental health challenges, to hear their stories, and to talk to mental health professionals, and bring all of those voices together because no one has the full picture alone. 

How did your MDiv prepare you for your role at Sanctuary?

At Regent, I learned how to read the Bible and how not to read the Bible. Exegesis was a really important course for this. It's important to approach the Bible appropriately when discussing mental health. We can get in a lot of trouble if we just take a topical approach or round up a bunch of verses with the word "anxiety" in them and expect that to speak in helpful ways to the experience of living with an anxiety disorder, because that's not exactly what the text is addressing. Regent gave me the practical tools to understand what the text is saying in its context, and to step back and ask questions of the text. Scripture has a lot of really meaningful things to say about experiences of suffering, isolation, and the life of faith. There are riches to be mined there, and reading the Bible well will help us uncover those riches. 

What are your ultimate hopes for The Sanctuary Course? 

In his book Finding Jesus in the Storm, John Swinton talks about Adam's calling in Genesis to name the animals, and of the importance of calling something or someone by their true name—how important that is, how powerful that is. This is our vision for the church: it should be a place where people are known by name and not by diagnosis. The church shouldn't take the place of medical or professional mental healthcare, but mental healthcare can't take the place of the church either. Professional services are never going to be able to address the whole person, and they're not a substitute for community or relationships. They can't answer those bigger questions that we have about life and faith that often come up during dark and difficult seasons. So I hope The Sanctuary Course equips and empowers the church to call people by name, to see the whole person, and to love individuals in the midst of mental health challenges, helping people hold onto God in seasons when that might feel difficult to do.

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