Bishop plants a vision for healthy healing churches

On 5th June, the Guild of Health and St Raphael in partnership with The Conservation Foundation, The Church Times and The Church of England ran a day conference at Lambeth Palace to mark World Environment Day and explore the links between gardening and mental health. Christians, including chaplains and other healthcare professionals, gathered at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence to learn more about the healing benefits of gardening and put their green fingers to the test on the palace grounds. Last year a survey of clergy found that the number one problem they faced in their parishes was mental health issues. Research shows that gardening can help to relieve the effects of depression, loneliness and a range of mental health issues, but many people, particularly in towns and cities, do not have gardens of their own. The Bishop of Carlise said, “Health and healing are a key part of our ministry. I think if we’re really concerned about the whole person, body, mind and spirit, then we have a huge responsibility to do everything we can to help and this is one way of doing it.” Guild President and Public health expert Professor Jim McManus shared some of the practical benefits of gardening and said: “Being in a garden really reduces your blood pressure and can reduce your stress. If you are gardening you have to focus on the task so that can help you put your other problems into context. He addeds that 24 per cent of the burden of ill health in the UK is mental health, which puts a huge strain on health services. He said church gardening projects can help to address this.

The Church of England is encouraging congregations across the country to work together with mental health charities and open up their green areas and host gardening projects to support mental health sufferers.  Jim McManus said these initiatives should be part of every churches mission to serve their local community. “Gardening is a very practical way of living the gospel, living the Gospel message of helping people flourish and find common peace and relationship with God,” he said. Towards the end of the event, there were a number of questions about who is coordinating the healing work of the church, which includes engagement with the environment. The Bishop of Carlisle ended the conference with his suggestion that the Healthy Healing Hub project from the Guild of Health and St Raphael is ideally suited to manage this task. Click here if you would like to learn more about the Healthy Healing Hub Project.

Other speakers at the event included Susanne Hyde from The Marylebone Centre of healing and counselling, The Revd. Jonathan Aitken who spoke about the value of gardening as a former prisoner, and now a prison chaplain and the journalist Rachel Kelly who shared her own mental health struggles and the healing that she found in gardening.

If you would like to download the resource launched at the conference which is aimed at churches who want to develop their green space to promote community health, please click here.