Mothering the Multitudes

Mothering the Multitudes (Part II)

The Role of a Minister's Wife in Safeguarding the Mental Health of the Church

By a Minister's wife. 

Another way in which a minister's wife may help prevent mental illness within the church is by encouraging and co­operating in the promotion of the Home Coun­cil groups. These have been developed in many churches for the purpose of training in parent­hood, and of sharing the problems of child training. My mother was a charter member of the first such group ever organized in our de­nomination.

The young mothers and the older mothers met together once a month, sometimes oftener, in the homes of various members of the group to study ways of better training, caring for, and loving their children. This grew until the plan was taken up by the General Conference, and a special department formed within its or­ganization, called the Home Council, under the leadership of A. W. Spalding. Lessons were sent out, together with stories and other perti­nent material, for use in the Home Council groups to be organized in every church. These were now to include the fathers as well as the mothers, and meetings were conducted once a month in the afternoon for mothers alone, and once a month in the evening for both fathers and mothers.

Into this new setup I came as a young min­ister's wife in 1939. Although as yet we had no children, the ladies asked me to conduct a study group in child care. It was not sur­prising that I hesitated.

"But you can be chairman and teach us what is in the book," they suggested. Because I had taught primary grade children and had had kindergarten and cradle roll experience, the assignment was not completely foreign to my thinking, and I acceded. Our textbook was All About the Baby, by Dr. Belle Wood Comstock.

As I organized and conducted the studies, I discovered that all the members really needed was the enthusiasm of a chairman and the in­spiration of a good book.

Later I was chosen as leader of the cradle roll and kindergarten department of the Sab­bath school, in which I learned to know the little ones, and to love them, and through which I was able to reach the hearts of the mothers. My main endeavor was to make that Sabbath school so attractive that through it the children would learn to love the church. Thus their mental attitudes toward the habit of church attendance would be formed early.

The lessons were simple—little homely things like happy families of birds, kittens, and lambs, and children with their daddies and mothers. With Jesus in the family it was made still hap­pier. And if Mother showed the children Bible pictures at home and sang the little songs and prayed with them, they understood what it meant at Sabbath school.

One major purpose in my doing this was to show the mothers the possibilities of a well-conducted kindergarten, so that when I left, the work would not stop.

In another city, where the Seventh-day Ad­ventist church had a large membership, I found a high interest in the study of children, parent­hood, and education. The women were divided into seven Home Council groups that met each month. The group that I was invited to join had about forty members, including wives of dentists, optometrists, painters, contractors, businessmen, teachers—a good cross section of a middle-class group. Some of the women were nurses. They decided that they wanted to make theirs more than a social club. Most of them had young preschool children, and they were in­tensely interested in learning to be good mothers.

They chose their own textbook, which was new and just off the press, The Adventist Home, by Mrs. Ellen G. White. Would I consider teaching a study group once a month, going through this wonderful new book with them? By this time we had children of our own.

Here was a chance to grasp an attitude that was already forming and carry it on through the whole group of women. Of course I would do it At the same time I was teaching home economics in the local academy and could study the daughters of some of the mothers, and per­haps influence their attitudes toward their par­ents in the discussions we had on family life.

It was a wonderful experience. I can see now how valuable it really was to us all. Of course there never was enough time to discuss all of the subject chosen, but I usually chose about three major questions for the women to talk about. Opening the discussion was all I needed to do, in addition to relating illustra­tions and giving transition comments between the remarks of the women themselves.

Although the fathers were not present, I know they benefited, because frequently some­one would give her husband's recent opinion on what we were discussing, or another would say, "I'm going to tell that to my husband."

At school with the girls in the seventh and eighth grades, and with those of high school age, we considered mothers and fathers, broth­ers and sisters, our homes and responsibilities there. We discussed our friends, recreation, love, courtship, marriage, founding a home, and of course cooking, sewing, interior decorating, and home nursing. Once in a while I had the youngsters make a compilation of their ideas. On one occasion it was their definitions of love; on another, ways they could have whole­some fun with their boy friends (they listed fifty-two activities suitable for Christians), and the kinds of work they liked to do at home, together with the tasks they did not enjoy.

These findings I sometimes shared with the mothers in my study group, without divulging any names. It always aroused a most interesting and highly stimulating discussion.

This is a rather detailed example of one of the ways a minister's wife may preserve the mental health of the church, reaching down to the very foundations of personality develop­ment. In my opinion it is worth her major effort.

In Clubs

Churches vary in their kinds of clubs and organizations. Usually there is the social welfare group, which looks after the material needs of church members and others in sudden want. By supplying the physical needs first, the mental capacities are released for greater development, Thus here again the minister's wife may join in real missionary endeavor. Through this or­ganization she is able to direct needy ones to clinics where they can be treated for either physical or mental ailments.

Sometimes there is a purely educational and social club formed within the church mem­bership, and in these groups, where refresh­ments are served and chitchat is indulged, the wife of the pastor may help to broaden the in­terests of the women, for the mind that dwells upon the petty, common things of life does not grow, but becomes fruitful ground for seeds of mental ill health.

She might suggest that the women send min­istering groups into the mental institutions, the county home, and the convalescent homes of the vicinity to survey the needs and the pos­sibilities for brightening the lives of these peo­ple who may be either hopelessly or men­tally ill.

One group of women arranged to make a weekly visit to the local mental hospital. They made their first visit at Christmastime, armed. with small presents attractively wrapped, such as books, magazines, and interesting little odds and ends. With her eyes full of tears one of the patients said it was the first book she had had in two years.

"We used to be allowed to receive maga­zines," she said, "but when it got so crowded there were never enough to go around and we quarreled over them. They were taken away then."

Every Thursday for over a year the women have visited these people and done interesting things for them. "It means so much to them," one of the women said, "but it means even more to us."

The pastor's wife might suggest this as a project for a women's club, or for the Young People's Missionary Volunteer Society of the church. In my college days I used to organize a program group and take the young people each Sabbath afternoon to one of the children's wards in the orthopedic hospital, to bring cheer to the children. Our society also sponsored groups of storytellers and musicians who regu­larly visited the veterans' hospital, the orphan­age, the county farm, and the penitentiary. As I have told stories and given readings to these groups I have seen tears of joy in their eyes and received their words of appreciation. Sometimes I would accompany the old ladies to their rooms and look over all their precious me­mentos of former years. Sometimes I would bring something to add to their collection.

People need to think of things outside of themselves, away from their locale, beyond their own professional circle or religious belief. They ought not to think and talk about the same things all the time.

In a small church where I once worked as a Bible teacher, one of the deacons began to consider the way the church building was being redecorated. Something had been changed from the original plan, and although the majority of the board had assented, he could not forget his own objection. He worried about it and talked about it constantly at home with his family. On occasions when they were invited out to dinner in the same home where I was a guest, I heard him hash the whole thing through again.

One Saturday evening as I was passing through the city park in the center of town I chanced to see him on a bench beside the walk. Here I overheard him telling all this purely church business to a total stranger—someone who happened to sit down to rest awhile.

Next day I suggested to the pastor that per­haps this deacon should be relieved of his church office in the coming election, so that he would not need to consider the problems of the church, because I feared he was about to lose his mind. I was told that he had once been committed to an institution, and that his daughter, who was a nurse, had asked that he not be given an office. They did, however, assign him to an altogether different type of work in order to oc­cupy his mind with something else.

It reminded me of the story of the mule who refused to pull on the long hill. The driver got out and dropped pebbles in her ear, and she moved on, forgetful of balkiness, with the greater trouble of the pebbles in her ear.

As Church Hostess

As a general hostess for the church the pas­tor's wife may do much in showing a genuine interest in all who attend services, especially in the visitors and new members, making them feel accepted and wanted by the group. In­directly, and sometimes directly, she can nur­ture an atmosphere of love and security.

An experience that I have enjoyed a number of times has been to superintend the Sabbath school. Especially was this a valuable opportu­nity for me when my husband was pastor of one of our churches in a large city. With so many new names to learn, here was an opportunity to organize them into classes, to see their names in writing, to hear them discussed in officers' council, and then to greet them on Sabbath morning. I tried always to say their names when I shook their hands, which of course pleased them immensely, and it became a sort of mental game with me.

Then visitors! I enjoyed them too, and I al­ways looked through the guest book during the last part of the study session, noting the names and the home towns. Sometimes I would go and speak to them personally and find out about their work, the purpose of their visit in the city, and with whom they were staying.

Because I had lived in so many different parts of the country, it was easy for me to think up comments on almost all the names as I read them in welcome to the entire group at the close of the Sabbath school. These words of comment often gave other members something in common about which to speak to the visitors. Thus many strangers would be greeted by in­dividual members following the services, and a spirit of friendliness and security was engen­dered. This, I discovered from many comments made, was appreciated as much as anything I incorporated into the program. These little personal touches here and there by the minister's wife will show others how to make peo­ple feel accepted and wanted.

In every church there seems to be a family whose members, because of their inappropriate aggressiveness, are rejected by many. I think of one such family, a widow with two small sons. The boys were ill-trained, but very friendly and especially affectionate, often holding my husband's hand while he talked to others after a service. We were always kind to this widowed mother, and gradually the other members began to forget the family's objectionable points and show consideration. The doctor gave her all his reception room furniture when he redecorated his office. Others gave her clothing for the boys, and some began to offer her a ride in their cars.

This sort of person is benefited mentally by kindness. But those who reach out to help are also renewed in their mental attitudes by think­ing of something besides themselves.

(Continued next month)

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By a Minister's wife. 

May 1956

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