Mothering the Multitudes

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

By a minister's wife. 

The Youth of the Church

There is a problem that may be met very specifically—and that concerns the youth, the young men of draft age who are fearful and bewildered at the thought of leaving their community and friends and being incor­porated into an entirely new way of living. The boys in the Seventh-day Adventist Church have the added problems of being noncombatants and of being strict observers of the seventh day instead of the first. This has in the past caused much trouble in the way of stress situations in the armed services.

The pastor's wife may encourage all mothers to send their sons to the medical cadet camps that have been developed to meet this need, for in them is a great means of prevention of men­tal illness under stress as these boys approach new situations. To face it with their friends is easier. And once they know what many things are like, they will not be tormented by the fears that frequently paralyze the minds of inductees, and later bring on severe combat exhaustion under fire.

From one of our churches we had encouraged two boys to go to the camp held at Grand Ledge. They were country boys, a little awk­ward, very much attached to home. In fact, when they had been sent off to boarding school, they had become homesick and left school. It was not just for Mother; it was for Father, too, and the "place." How they loved home!

With induction facing them, they somehow mustered up courage to attend this training camp. When we went down the last Sabbath afternoon of the session and arrived just as the boys were standing at attention preparatory to lowering the flag, we saw these two in their clean uniforms, straight and alert. As they marched past us later we could see that they were thor­oughly oriented. And so it was not surprising to have them greet us heartily after the "fall out" had been given and to bear their praises of the camp.

"We're not scared anymore," they said.

Later as we talked things over with Colonel Dick he told us that many boys had expressed

that same feeling about the camp experiences.

Real veterans were there to tell the boys dur­ing assembly about the battlefield. Corp.

Desmond T. Doss was among them, the first conscientious objector in this country ever to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor,

("Conscientious cooperator," Doss suggested, for actually Seventh-day Adventists are not con­scientious objectors.) Alone and unaided on Okinawa he had rescued seventy-five wounded before the Japanese advancing army, getting them all safely back of his own retreating line. Thus the boys are given a glimpse of the pos­sibilities of heroism and courage.

The Army is glad to receive the boys trained in these medical cadet camps. And here is something definite that the pastor's wife can recommend to mothers and fathers worried about their sons of draft age. Thus she can allay the fears of the parents as well as help to prevent future mental illness among the boys who are drafted.

In Prayer Meeting

One of the ever-present and ever-puzzling problems of the church pastor is how to get his people to attend a midweek prayer meeting. Attractive music features, beautiful, inspira­tional moving pictures or Kodachrome slides, and evangelistic lectures have all been incor­porated or tried in an endeavor to secure an attendance that merits the time of a minister.

Constant reiteration of Spirit of prophecy admonitions is given in Sabbath morning services; but the people still remain lukewarm in their interest in the prayer meeting. Can it be that we have not seen the full vision of its possibilities?

"When the Spirit of God shall work upon the heart, cleansing the soul-temple of its defilement of worldliness and pleasure-loving, all will be seen in the prayer meeting, faithful to do their duty and earnest and anxious to reap all the benefit they can gain. . . . As often as once each week a praise meeting should be held. Here the goodness and manifold mercies of God should be dwelt upon. Were we as free to give expression to our thank­fulness for mercies received as we are to speak of grievances, doubts, and unbelief, we might bring joy to the hearts of others, instead of casting dis­couragement and gloom upon them."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 461.

Some have felt that the unwise revealing in public of personal problems in the prayer serv­ice is not fitting. Others are bored by prolonged prayers and testimonies, the latter often being full of self-praise rather than praise for God. And so gradually many churches have grown away from making the prayer meeting a social type of service. And insofar as the human reasoning is concerned they cannot altogether be blamed.

But as when our people in Battle Creek had developed the dry breakfast cereals and other health foods, only to lapse into lethargy and allow worldly enterprise to absorb the beneficial business, so it may be the world has come forth with new methods of mental therapy that we have had within our reach these many years and have not appreciated.

During World War II, when psychiatric casualties far outbalanced the possibilities for individual therapy, a form of group treatment was developed that is now considered by psychiatrists as one of our most important ther­apeutic approaches. This is because the social give and take of the situation is more like real life.

Knowing that others have difficulties similar to ours, feeling that we belong to a group, finding support and assistance in working through our problems, no longer fearing isola­tion—these help to bring into proper balance the powers of the mind. And if the therapist is skillful, each member in such a group may find increased insight into his needs, a clarifi­cation of his character and personality, and a way to adjust to the pressures, the responsibili­ties, and the challenges of life. The rehabilita­tion of one who is mentally ill usually requires from five to twelve months. The sessions usually last an hour and a half and are held from one to three times a week.

Another interesting discovery is that better results are attained when the group is not too heterogeneous nor too homogeneous. That is, members resolve their problems better when they are not separated from one another by great differences in age, education, or other factors, so that they have little in common with one an­other. However, it has also been found that peo­ple who are too much alike and whose knowl­edge encompasses too nearly the same subjects do not find satisfactory benefits from this type of group interaction.

These group meetings are fascinating to watch, for there is a give and take of hostility, warmth, fear, support, rejection, and accept­ance. The members usually find it a most satisfy­ing experience and look forward to the hour of meeting. (See James C. Coleman, Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life, Scott, Foresman 8c Co., Chicago, 1950, pp. 531, 532.)

Do not these findings call forth an almost forgotten custom of our early days as a church?

"What is the object of assembling together? Is it to inform God, to instruct Him by telling Him all we know in prayer? We meet together to edify one an­other by an interchange of thoughts and feelings, to gather strength, and light, and courage by becom­ing acquainted with one another's hopes and as­pirations; and by our earnest, heartfelt prayers, offered up in faith, we receive refreshment and vigor from the Source of our strength. These meetings should be most precious seasons and should be made interesting to all who have any relish for religious things."—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 578.

This admonition comes not from the research of the psychiatrists but from the Spirit of proph­ecy itself! How much we have lost in steadying ourselves for these troublous times by not giving heed to wisdom that is now also being recom­mended by the world!

Can the pastor's wife not recognize this wonderful opportunity for stabilizing the mind, for herself and for the members of the church, and encourage all in faithful allegiance to the prayer meeting?

Perhaps she can help also by reminding her husband that the prayer meeting must be kept "lively and interesting" (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 146), and that this is not best accomplished when he does all the talking. In group therapy medical science has found that the lecture method of approach to individual problems is generally ineffective, and it is rarely used. (See Coleman, op. cit., p. 531.) Can there be a lesson in this for the pastor himself?

"The prayer meetings should be the most interest­ing gatherings that are held, but these are fre­quently poorly managed. Many attend preaching, but neglect the prayer meeting. Here, again, thought is required. Wisdom should be sought of God, and plans should be laid to conduct the meetings so that they will be interesting and attractive.... Long, prosy talks and prayers are out of place."—Testi­monies, vol. 4, p. 70.

In psychotherapy the therapist is a highly skilled person; not just any doctor or nurse can conduct these group sessions with success. He must be trained especially in working with groups, in promoting unity, in understanding the workings of the mind, in evaluating pro­cedures and results. Likewise the pastor who is to reap a rich harvest from the prayer meetings must seek to be trained along these lines, must be skilled in handling people and in guiding discussion. But he has the greater aid of the Holy Spirit to work on all the minds present as well as to guide his own, and to unify thought and purpose and courage, so that there is no greater group method of preserving the mental balance of the church than it has—and has always had—within its reach!

There may be new meaning for us in these words of Scripture:

"Let us draw near with a true heart in full as­surance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to pro­voke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:22-25).

To the alert and sympathetic shepherdess there will open many means of guarding the • mental health of the people. Herein I have named a few of the ways in which I might have done better during the past years had I known more of the dynamics and the diagnosis of abnormal behavior.

And always, above all else, the pastor's wife can help to preserve mental health by loving the multitudes!

(End of Series)

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