To bridge the gap between persons with disabilities and the church, the outreach group Faith and Fellowship held a prayer service and reception at St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Church of Oak Park last week.
Attended by residents of Austin’s live-in healthcare facility Central Plaza Residential Care, the Sept. 29 event kicked off at 7 p.m. with a dance performance from the St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy School Praise Dancers and the parish’s Celebration Choir. The evening offered prayer from the Rev. George Omwando, a presentation by Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, and ended with a reception in the school’s gym with beverages and snacks.
“It’s very special for me to be here tonight to celebrate with you the idea that each of us is a gift,” Benton said during her presentation.
The National Catholic Partnership on Disability is an organization that works to build access for persons with disabilities nationwide for the archdiocese.
“We need to make sure the church is doing everything it can to be open and make sure all of us have a chance to know Jesus, to love Jesus, and to bring Jesus to everybody else,” Benton said.
The religious and social outreach organization Faith and Fellowship has provided services to individuals with mental illness since 1979. The volunteer-based non-profit hosts weekly prayer sessions and socialization meetings for eight to 15 individuals per group. Other than the residency at St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Church, which often works with residents of Austin’s Central Plaza and Columbus Manor Residential Care, Faith and Fellowship also works out of two churches in Michigan.
“(Faith and Fellowship) has great inspiration; I love the environment, and the people in the church are nice,” said Theodis Buchanan, 62, a 30-year resident of Austin’s Central Plaza. “It’s a great change of scenery. I like to not be confined to just one building, but to be available in a new environment.”
“I think everyone (from Central Plaza) should come. The more people you can save with our Lord Jesus Christ, we would have a better world,” he said.
A 2011 study from Baylor University found that mental illness is not only prevalent in church communities, but is accompanied by significant distress, which often goes unnoticed.
The journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture published the results produced by the study of 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations. Members answered questions about family stresses, strengths, faith practices, and desires for assistance from the congregation. Mental illness was found in 27 percent of families surveyed, with those families reporting an average of twice as many stressors.
“There’s such a negative stigma about people with mental illness, but people with mental illnesses can be lonely and isolated, so it’s important to make a sense of community and social services available,” said Connie Rakitan, program director for Faith and Fellowship.
Rakitan, who was born in Austin but now resides on the Austin, Oak Park border, said the organization is founded on trust and acceptance.
“People come here and feel a sense of belonging – that’s what churches can do – people who are lonely, isolated or alienated have a chance to feel that they have a place in the sun,” she said.
Among members of the church’s congregation, and residents of Austin’s Central Plaza, State Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago) attended the event and mingled during the reception
“To see the church take special attention to this population, the mentally ill, that’s a blessing and I wanted to be a part of that,” said Lilly. “With all of the closings of mental health services at the state level, I wanted to see how the community was handling that.”
Illinois reduced its mental health funding by $114 million between 2009 and 2011, according to a 2011 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“We’ve made a lot of cuts, and there has been a lot of impact from these cuts, but what I’m seeing—and it’s awesome—is faith-based organizations stepping up,” she said.