John Smulo recently asked a question about why poor people are not well-represented in western churches. In responding to his post it raised other questions for me with regard to people with mental illness.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed the first of which is our level of comfort. Churches are often extremely comfortable places. The ambience, venue, expectations, sermons, events etc are all geared to maximise the comfort of the consumers, i.e. the congregation.
Church is not so much a gathering of Jesus followers meeting to worship and study Scripture with a view to moving out as living witnesses to the local, and wider, community; it has become an "event". Church attendees will often comment that the music wasn't what they liked, the sermon was too long or they, simply, didn't enjoy church.
Of course, if someone comes into this situation who is poor or mentally ill then it is going to disturb the comfort of the group and the event. In the Australian context there are parachurch groups and some churches that cater for those types of people but it is not for the rest of us.
I think it would help if Christians were to admit their prejudices and stop pretending that we are all fully committed to living life as Jesus followers. At the present time large sections of the Church mirror the world outside of the Church. Once Christians admit their biased viewpoints at least the starting point would be one of honesty and integrity. Also, from this foundation stronger teaching could come into the local church.
Then again, one of the issues is that the local Church is often very much informed by the attitudes of the wider society. I work with mentally ill men. I struggle with a form of mental illness myself. As an ordained pastor I am well integrated into the church "system" but many of these men are not. They are prone to anxiety, mood swings but most of all they are misunderstood and incorrectly judged by their "labels".
Churches like to think that they are "open" but the openness seems narrowly limited to a strict socio-economic demographic. The men that I work with are wonderful men. They all have a "story" and all respond to genuine love. If anyone would like to offer suggestions I'd be interested to hear them.