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Can Churches Separate Mental Illness and Shame?
Saddleback Church
At Saddleback, 3,300 gathered to hear Rick Warren, Bishop Vann, and others address mental illness.

The thing about a conference called "The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church" is that most people there have been touched by mental illness. And most people at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, on March 28, probably felt like they were hearing their family's story preached from the pulpit.

I just didn't expect to hear my family's story literally discussed.

The conference was held on the sixth anniversary of my son Gabriel's death by suicide. One of its key speakers was Aaron Kheriaty, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Calfiornia, Irvine. He had delivered a beautiful, hope-filled homily at Gabriel's funeral in 2008 and dedicated his 2013 book, The Catholic Guide to Depression, to Gabe.

Hearing him mention that history in his plenary talk in front of a 3,300-person live audience, with another 6,000 watching via webcast, was surprising. But I also didn't envision my surviving son, whose church experiences have been marred by pain, would drive from the Pacific Northwest to sit through hours of talks about mental illness. Anticipating the day, I was filled with a mixture of hope and dread.

Faith-filled and Free

"I'm not okay, you're not okay, but that's okay because God's okay," said Rick Warren, Saddleback's senior pastor and founder in the opening plenary. Warren admitted having suffered a debilitating, year-long depression soon after he and his wife, Kay, launched Saddleback.

Like HIV/AIDS and orphan care, mental health is now one of the Saddleback's signature issues, said Warren. "We're going to be known for this whether or not anybody else does it," he said.

Kevin Vann, bishop ...

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Can Churches Separate Mental Illness and Shame?
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