About Living Room
Living Room is a name coined by Dr. John Toews, author of No Longer Alone: Mental Health and the Church (Herald Press, 1995). When his church saw the need to support people going through mental health crises, he formed a group that met in his living room at home. Thus, the simple name Living Room.
Living Room offers peer-support groups for people living with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders.
Living Room is a Christ-centered ministry founded on the belief that people who have a faith need a place where they can discuss their faith and their mental health problems. Nowhere else—neither in secular groups nor in church groups—is it possible to freely and comfortably discuss these two topics together.
In the words of one participant, "Living Room is the only place where I can talk openly about everything that's on my mind. It's easier to talk to the people here than it is to my psychiatrist or therapist." And in the words of another, "At Living Room I learned to accept my disorder. I found out there are others like me. I'm an OK person."
Some Living Rooms meet in the daytime, offering a simple lunch for participants; others meet in the evening. Meetings include a devotional time and an opportunity for participants to share what is happening in their lives. Through listening, and without trying to advise, save, fix or set each other straight, participants support each other. At Living Room, they find a level of understanding seldom available elsewhere.
Most Living Room groups work in partnership with a mental health agency. The British Columbia groups, for example, work with the Mood Disorders Association of BC, a secular organization that gives advice and supplies resources and training for facilitators. MDA lets their members know of the spiritual option Living Room offers.
The first Living Room group started in September 2006 at Brentwood Park Alliance Church in Burnaby, British Columbia, under the leadership of author Marja Bergen. Thanks to the publication of manuals and a website, as well as a story on the TV program 100 Huntley Street, news about Living Room has spread. This ministry is quickly gaining recognition as an effective model for faith-based assistance for people with mental illness. Church support through Living Room groups is now going global.
The basis for Living Room's support model, the foundation on which it rests, is the love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Knowledge of His love, the depth of which we try to but can never quite grasp, is what we believe is our key to wholeness. We learn to trust God, asking Him to fill us with His love and to help us share that love with others. This is how we can bring healing to our lives and to the lives of others.
Living Room is a network of Christian peer-facilitated support groups for people with mood disorders, creating places of safety, acceptance, understanding, healing and community. Support groups are sponsored by local churches and para-church agencies in partnership with mental health professionals, agencies and associations.
- To decrease stigmatization of mental illness
- To increase accessibility to Living Room support groups
- To provide resources to support group facilitators
- To promote networking to benefit from collaboration with others
Marja Bergen is the founder of Living Room and the facilitator of the group that meets at Brentwood Park Alliance Church in Burnaby. She is the author of Riding the Roller Coaster: Living with Mood Disorders and A Firm Place to Stand: Finding Meaning in a Life with Bipolar Disorder, both written from her perspective as someone living with bipolar disorder. A long-time mental health activist, she has written many articles about faith and mental health issues and is a contributor to www.canadianchristianity.com. Her blog, Roller Coaster, also deals with such issues. Marja is devoted to serving God by helping those who deal with mental health issues and those who want to support them.
A message from Pastor Don Dyck:
I believe the best place to live is at the intersection of heaven and earth, praying and working to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth. I am convinced that Living Room is just that. It draws people together who are wrestling with the issues of this life but want to find their place in the community of faith. Sadly, those who deal with mental health issues have not always found the love and acceptance, the compassion and grace in the church that they so need to experience a measure of healing and wholeness. Living Room is part of the intentional effort our church is making to change that. Our vision for our church is to be "a church without walls," making every effort to remove the barriers that keep people from being part of a community of faith, as well as moving beyond the walls of our church to make a difference in our community. Our vision and our hope for Living Room is to see this ministry become contagious so that other churches start up similar groups.
On a more personal note, as I have sat in on group meetings with Living Room, I have learned much. I have at times been overwhelmed by the pain that is in the room represented by the lives of those in attendance. But, at the same time, I have been inspired by the resilience of those same people as they battled to overcome their issues and live as best they can in spite of their treatment by others. I am deeply indebted to them, and particularly to Marja, for opening up my understanding of what it means to be a person with a mental illness. My hope and prayer is that through Living Room we will see not only our church but also many other churches become places where people don't need to hide these issues but can be open about them because they know they will be loved and accepted. Is that not what Jesus wants for his church?