Black Church leaders coordinate this weekend’s sermons on mental health

Dozens of pastors plan to deliver the same message from their pulpits this weekend.

Their goal? To divide the sea of ​​stigma around mental health services and direct parishioners to care.

“We have talked a lot about physical healing in our church but not about mental health treatment,” said Reverend Leslie Sanders of Hope Presbyterian Church, 1354 West 61st Street, in West Englewood. “In addition to our relationship with God, it is important to reach out to try and get professional help to navigate these waters.”

On Sunday, Sanders plans to speak about mental health as part of his regular services at 11 a.m. Sunday. So do 80 other pastors in black churches around Chicago, talking to their parishioners.

The coordinated messages come ahead of World Mental Health Day Monday — and amid concern about the suicide rate among black residents in Cook County.

Black residents accounted for 94 of the 432 suicides in Cook County in 2020, an increase of 65% from 2019, when there were 57 suicides among the black population. In 2021, black residents again recorded 94 suicides, according to data from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. There have been 69 suicides among black residents in Cook County this year so far.

said Rev. Ira Acre, of Greater St. John’s Evangelical Church, at 1256 N. Waller Ave. in Austin.

The Arkansas-born pastor attributes the crisis to several factors, from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s shutdown of mental health clinics to the instability caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

“The global pandemic has put the mental health pandemic on steroids,” Acre said. He will speak at a 10 am service in his church.

Reverend Ira Acre inside the Greater Bible Church of St. John, 1256 N.  Waller Ave.  in Austin.

Reverend Ira Acre inside St. John’s Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Avenue in Austin, where he will speak Sunday about the importance of mental health during a regular 10 a.m. church service. Acre is among about 80 ministers speaking on the subject on Sunday.

Anthony Vasquez/Sun Times

Pastors flocked last week to Pearl’s Place, 3901 S. Michigan Ave. In Bronzeville, to break bread and coordinate their mental health messages.

They heard from three black mental health experts who answered questions about stigma, specific resources and general advice.

Sanders organized the effort with Cook County Council Commissioner Dennis Deere and health care advisor Evolent Health. The southern pastor has worked with the group before to reach black congregations, particularly in urging them to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Black church leaders heard mental health experts speak at Pearl's Place Restaurant 3901 S. Michigan Ave.  in Bronzeville last Thursday.

Black church leaders listen to mental health experts speak at Pearl’s Place 3901 S. Michigan Ave. in Bronzeville last Thursday.

Among the experts who spoke to the minister was Donald Dew, President of Rehabilitation systemsIt is a nonprofit social service for behavioral health.

Dew said most of the ministers’ questions focused on building trust and removing stigma.

Deo said the stigma around mental health in the black community stems in part from an unwillingness to be seen as incapable of taking responsibility. Instead, he added, those with mental health issues are being asked to deal with it.

“We’ve been asked to be the man – but with whom are you talking about how to do it?” Dew said.

Dew and others have provided ministers with information on a range of resources, from hotlines to free counseling services, that they can promote in Sunday sermons.

Mental health experts (from left) Adrienne McCue, Donald Dew, and Obari Cartman at Pearl's Place, 3901 S. Michigan Ave.  , in Bronzeville.

Mental health experts (from left) Adrienne McCue, Donald Dew, and Obari Cartman at Pearl’s Place, 3901 S. Michigan Ave. , in Bronzeville.

Phalese Binion is president of the Westside Ministers’ Alliance, a group of about 25 churches. She and five of her members attended a planning meeting last weekend and are scheduled to speak at Liberty Temple Full Gospel Church, 2223 W. 79th St. , at 11 am on Sunday.

“When there is a crisis, any counseling you can get can save lives. This information is invaluable,” said Binion, who preaches at several churches across Chicago.

Michael Luria is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times Via Report on Americaa non-profit journalistic program that aims to enhance the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the southern and western sides.

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