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Liturgy: Count on me

Geraldine Martin  |  20 July 2017

Eleanor Rosalynn Carter the wife of the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter has for decades been a leading advocate for numerous causes, perhaps most prominently mental health research. She once said ‘People with mental problems are our neighbours. They are members of our congregations, members of our families;  they are everywhere in this country.  If we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish from which those cries for help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go away. Because it will not go away, and because of our spiritual commitments, we are compelled to take action.

We, in Australia, are no different. More and more of our students are suffering from mental health problems or are in families where mental health problems exist. The more we bring it to the fore and treat it like any other illness and not something that needs to be buried under the carpet, the better. There is such a stigma attached to mental illness that it precludes those who experience the effects from talking publicly about it. Liturgy and worship have a pastoral heart and can offer an appropriate occasion in which the faith community can open their arms in response to the challenging question in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ The following is a liturgy for your school or parish, highlighting mental health awareness.

Setting the scene

Set seven tall candles on a table in the front of the room in which you are holding the liturgy, or if you are in a chapel, place the candles on the altar. On each candle have a label with one word: Hope, Grace, Truth, Justice, Faith, Peace and Love. (Don't forget matches or taper for lighting the candles.) You will need seven students to light them and read the appropriate prayer. In addition to the candles, leaders could display some dry leaves, some fruit and some flowers with new buds on the table or altar. 

Items needed:

1. Table or altar

2. Seven candles (labelled)

3. Matches or taper 

4. Decorative leaves, fruits and budding flowers

Opening Prayer

Leader: Lord of the excluded, open my eyes to those I would prefer not to see. 

Open my life to those I would prefer not to know.  

Open my heart to those I would prefer not to love. 

And open my eyes to see where I exclude You.

Hymn: Open My Eyes Lord

Open my eyes, Lord, 

Help me to see your face,

Open my eyes, Lord,

Help me to see.

Open my ears, Lord,

Help me to hear your voice

Open my ears, Lord, 

Help me to hear

Open my heart, Lord,

Help me love like you

Open my heart, Lord,

Help me to love. 

Leader: The Power of Story

I believe one of the most powerful ways to break down the stigma associated with mental illness is story. Stories have great power …transforming power.  Part of this transforming power comes from the intimacy of storytelling that allows us to connect with others at a deep level. Stories can be vehicles for change and healing because they involve the listener or the reader in ways known only to him or her. We never know how the sharing of our stories may touch the lives of others.  

Reader: The Tree that survived the Winter

This is a story about a tree coming to grips with the pain of the long, cold months, and the feeling of being abandoned by the sun to endure the winter alone. This is the conversation between the tree and the sun.    

The sun’s glow only intensified and the message was repeated. ‘You have survived the winter because you are very much loved.’ Loved? She hesitated, not wanting to challenge the statement but needing to be reassured.

‘It is true,’ replied the sun, ‘that there were days when the clouds seemed to separate us, but I was really there, even when you couldn’t see me. And those days I was visible but remote – when you could not feel my warmth – those were the days when I sent a concentration of light. Why, there were even times when I gave you light and snow at the same time so that my brightness would be reflected up at you as well as shining down. Those were the days when you thought the glare was too strong, the light was too bright.  You were seeing more than you wanted to see. Remember?

The tree stood dumbfounded.

The sun continued. ‘The chills and ice and bitter cold have toughened your timber to just the right degree, for you needed to be strong to carry the fruit that will appear on the branches. If I had stayed too close all winter, you would not have grown this strong. In fact, you could not have become at all what IU had hoped and dreamed you would be. But now just look at you!’ A blush of pink coursed through her petals. The tree stood speechless.

‘You have believed’, sparked the sun. ‘You have always believed, and that is what enabled you to grow. For had you not kept faith with me in the centre of your being, you could not have blossomed into you.  

Teacher Reflection

Leader: This tree having faith in the sun is like us having faith in God. Trees and their leaves go through cold and windy times, as well as warm and sunny times. We people, we too go through harsh and bitter times, as well as warm and easy times. Our faith and our connection to others is what helps us weather the storms of life and come out of them OK, sometimes even better than before!

Reader:  A Reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians

1 Corinthians 12:14-26

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. 

The Word of the Lord.

All:  Thanks be to God

Teacher Reflection

Leader: Sometimes we miss the radical challenge of this reading, not only to the Corinthian community but also to Christians today. On one level, Paul is challenging his readers to recognise that we all have some part to play in the body of Christ, for no other reason than we are made by God and believed of God.  But the really crucial words lie in the phrases ’the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable’ (v22) and ‘God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member’ (v24).

If we take these words at face value, those who suffer from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual distress (which at some time will be all of us) are to be the most valued members of our community. Being mentally ill is a stigma laden label.  It is often attached to people whom society sees as threatening in some way and often leads to the isolation of the person to whom it is attached.  Yet here is Paul telling us that this is not God’s way of looking at things.  He challenges us to be counter-cultural in our attitudes and behaviour, radical in our thinking and prophetic in our actions.   

Lighting of the candles

Leader: The flame of a candle lights up the darkest corners, bringing comfort, courage and hope.  

Student 1: We light this candle of Hope to dispel the darkness of discouragement and despair. Let us pray for those who have serious illnesses of mind and body.  

All:  Lord, hear our prayer

Student 2: We light this candle of Grace to dispel the darkness of guilt, blame, and loss.  Let us pray for those with broken lives and broken relationships.  

All: Lord, hear our prayer. 

Student 3: We light this candle of Truth to dispel the darkness of stigma and misinformation.  Let us pray for ourselves and for others as we learn more about and seek to understand our journey and the journeys of others.  

All: Lord, hear our prayer. 

Student 4: We light this candle of Justice to dispel the darkness of inequity and injustice. Let us pray for those with mental illness who are in prison.  

All: Lord, hear our prayer.

Student 5: We light this candle of Faith to dispel the darkness of doubt and discouragement. Let us pray for those who have lost hope and are in despair.  

All:  Lord, hear our prayer.

Student 6:  We light this candle of Peace to dispel the darkness of trauma and torment around the world.  Let us pray for those who have experienced violence and abuse.  

All:  Lord, hear our prayer.

Student 7:  We light this candle of Love to dispel the darkness of indifference and judgment. 

All:  Lord, hear our prayer.

(Lighting of the Candles and prayers adapted from a resource prepared for the Uniting Church in Australia Social Responsibility by Pastor Beatriz Skippen, 2016.)

Final Blessing: A Celtic Blessing

All:  May the Lord be with us to guide us,

within us to strengthen us,

without us to protect us,

above us to raise us,

beneath us to uphold us,

before us to lead us,

behind us to guard us,

ever about us this day and evermore. Amen.   

Finish with ‘Count on me’ Bruno Mars



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