Navigating the first bumpy road course

Living with mental health issues is hard. Bumpy Road sets out to explore whether Christian spiritual practices can help. Our pilot course has just finished, and a revised course will run again soon.

The Bumpy Road course is an @acnbchurch initiative to help people affected by mental health issues look at how Christian spiritual practices might improve their quality of life. We believe that the truest understanding what it means to have hope and a future is found in Jesus Christ. But we know that the way is narrow and that each of us must find the gate on our own. So at Bumpy Road we don’t require faith, because God is loving and true and desires us to approach him. As the course material says:

Because Bumpy Road is grounded in Christian spirituality we can’t do an honest job without helping you explore how the big story of faith in God might affect you. We will support you in trying out spiritual practices like prayer, centring, and meditation from the present and history of Christian practice. We are not trying to persuade you to believe anything If you find a practice helpful we don’t mind at all if you borrow it without buying the ‘whole package’ so to speak. God is plenty big enough to cope with that.

Bumpy Road is about being well with God, whatever life and mental health are doing to you at the time. We know that lots of people with mental health issues have felt they have failed in the eyes of the church, or that their difficulties exclude them. That’s a tragedy given what the Gospel actually has to say about who God is.

Sandy said "One could share as little or as much as one wanted in this safe group. As someone who has had enduring mental health problems, I have always struggled with feeling ‘an outsider’, ‘different’ , ‘not a good enough Christian’ and ‘unworthy’. However this course showed me that, even if others judge me, God does not. He accepts and loves me as I am. That was a complete revelation to me."

Bumpy Road reflects the solid research evidence linking spiritual activity by people with mental health issues with better quality of life and health outcomes. The course introduces people to spiritual practices from Christian traditions without assuming faith or prior knowledge. Based on feedback, next time we’ll be including more interactive activities, and practical opportunities to try different approaches to spirituality out. The initial design work for the course drew on Revd Vanessa’s experience as a Mental Health Trust chaplain and Ian’s in co-leading hodos.org.uk a church based mental health project.

Stephen said: "Bumpy Road has reminded me of the importance of our spirituality being at the heart of our mental health wellbeing, inseparable. Bumpy Road hasn’t so much as changed the way I practise [spiritually] as to reinforce and emphasise the importance of these practices. It had shown me the importance of … responding to God’s word, and talking the time to “be” with God in prayer and silent meditation."

We want spirituality, spiritual enquiry and the profession of hope to be welded into the very core of our beings. In a Christian conception of things these cannot be simply added on. It must penetrate to the very centre. Likewise we do not wish to displace mental health from the centre of our beings. To do so is to deny our humanity, and so to re-enter a cycle of denial and illness.

With feedback from our lovely volunteers we are busy reworking parts of the course and scheduling another course to run after Christmas.

Revd Vanessa Lawrence said “It’s been a really fascinating few weeks - sharing with others our experiences of mental wellbeing and the Christian faith. Every one of us is on the mental health spectrum, and exploring how our faith connects with wellbeing can only help us on our journey!”

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