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Keeping the Faith – Meet Bette Large

Inside a downtown church of 3,400 congregants, the FaithNet support group sometimes attracts just a few men and women. Often, they’re not even members of First Presbyterian Church – they’re just locals with loved ones touched by mental illness, who have found the group online.

Considering that 1 in 5 people experience a mental health issue in a given year, the participation level doesn’t track. But, says FaithNet coordinator Bette Large, “stigma is ever-present.

“From my perspective, a church community is much like the general public – lacking correct information that mental illness is a biological brain disorder. That it’s a disease, like heart disease. More education is necessary.”

     Bette Large

Bette’s own mental-health education started 13 years ago, when her daughter – then a new mom – was diagnosed with a mental illness. After a period of logistical and emotional upheaval, Bette responded in a way true to her background as a schoolteacher: by doing research. A friend told her about NAMI, and she attended one of its free, 12-week Family-to-Family courses.

After that, Bette took Visions (now called Basics) for parents, grandparents and caregivers. Then she trained to become a NAMI group facilitator. Still, there remained a disconnect between two major interests in her life: the biology of mental illness and her Christian faith.

That disconnect has received increased scrutiny in recent years. It’s due in part to the story of evangelical pastor and author Rick Warren, whose son completed suicide in April 2013. Less than a year later, his California-based Saddleback Church responded by launching a mental health ministry, and Bette references the library of information it has made available online. “Locally,” she adds, “a spike in teen suicides has more people talking about mental health than ever before.”

NAMI’s national organization encourages the creation of faith-based support groups in its affiliate cities and provides resources to help get them started. Working with fellow congregant Ellen Broughton, Bette started broaching the subject with First Presbyterian leaders a couple of years ago.

FaithNet launched in October 2015, with the church’s co-sponsorship. Ellen serves as its spiritual director, writing devotionals and praying during the entirety of each 90-minute meeting. At age 74, Bette handles the administration: finding and working with facilitators, handling the schedule, and doing the countless little things it takes to run a group that’s both professional and genuinely welcoming.

Separate from her FaithNet volunteering, Bette and her husband Bob choose to donate financially to NAMI-Colorado Springs as well. Asked why she gives back in both ways, Bette – who grew up in Michigan but has lived in Colorado Springs since 1965 – responds with Midwestern pragmatism.

“It takes money to run the programs,” she says simply. “I feel that the money is being used wisely, and this is just an additional way of being able to support people who need help at no cost to the participant.”

On those nights when the group is small, you might imagine doubt creeping in about FaithNet’s future. On the contrary, Bette says she and Ellen now are working toward having the group meet weekly, rather than just on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.

“Just as someone might ask for prayer about heart disease,” she says, “I have faith that God will continue to assist and lead in helping people to feel more safe in asking for prayer about mental health issues.”

Imagine, she says, hearing this at church: “I am bipolar – would you please pray for me?”

 

Click here to learn more about NAMI’s support groups.

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