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Covenant Pastors Collaborate to address Mental Health, ACEs


I couldn't be prouder of my home church, Headwaters Covenant Church in Helena, MT. Throughout the fall, we have been purposefully and carefully addressing subjects that the church often avoids. Among these topics are the family dysfunction that results from generational trauma, the prevalence of adversity in childhood within families in Montana, training in suicide awareness and prevention, and moral injury (especially among our veterans and service men and women).

Just this last Sunday we had mental health advocate, author, and pastor Jill Riley preach and then bring an informative and engaging seminar on the Church and Mental Health. Through humor and her own personal story of working through trauma and a variety of mental health diagnoses, she created a very safe space in which participants were able to let down their guard and connect with one another in authentic relationship.

Pastor Seth Dombach has been preaching through Rene Howitt's Bible study, Family: It's Complicated, using the study as a spring board to delve deeper into the trauma-stories that weave their way through the narrative of scripture. Rene's study focuses on the dysfunctional families of Genesis, and not only have congregants been able to see their own experiences of trauma and adversity reflected in the texts, they have also gained a deeper appreciation of the love and grace of God reflected in these sometimes difficult passages of scripture. Pastor Seth's introductory sermon on the traumatic origins of the Bible, inspired by David M. Carr's excellent work, Holy Resilience, had me in tears... I have longed for years to hear the perspective he holds shared from the pulpit in a worship setting. Seth has also been interviewed by the Covenant Church's national publication about the work that Headwaters is doing to reach out to the community through practical acts of service and charity, a ministry cleaverly named "The Current."

And, I guess that leaves me... like I said at the top of this article, I am proud to call Headwaters my church home. I helped to fundraise and an set up a Sensory Break room in the church and serve on the church's leadership team. My position as chaplain at a residential service program for severely emotionally disturbed children gives me first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing trauma-affected young people every day. Through the curriculum, Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks: An 8-week study for small groups in trauma-informed ministry and compassionate outreach to individuals with adversity in childhood, and in occasional training and speaking opportunities throughout the United States, I have been honored to carry the spirit and character of the ministry of Headwaters Covenant Church to others.

I am not sure these ministries, and our collective ministry together as pastors and advocates for a variety of mental health issues in Montana, are where any of us (pictured together above) would have seen ourselves ten years ago. But faithfully, God has taken the good and the bad and everything in between and called us to be in this work together. 


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Thank you Chris for plugging my bible study "Family. It's Complicated." We just completed the 6th week of my study at The Journey Church in St Louis. This is a womens group of about 20. I've participated in plenty of bible study groups over my adult life. Often the group fades as the weeks progress but I'm not seeing that on the topic of ACEs which is the focus of "Bruised Reeds...." and "Family...". Many of the members of the ACEs Connection groups are also members of the faith community. I recommend as you advocate for education on ACEs, you  discuss these bible studies with the person responsible at your local place of worship. Our church leaders often talk about our brokeness but does the local minister actually understand the cycle? These are great tools for getting congregations to have a deeper understanding of themself, their families and then have an ability to begin breaking the cycles that exist. I'm encouraging all of you to reach out to Chris and I for these studies. Once you have read them I think you will see the value in moving your own churches in this direction.

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