Bishop Pat Storey on encouraging open conversations and reducing stigma.

Bishop Storey, who chairs the MindMatters project team and advisory group, expressed her joy at seeing  MindMatters develop and culminate in the gathering (on Friday, 20th October) at Dublin’s Radisson Blu Royal Hotel.

“Positive mental health is a journey, not a destination, and a journey that we tend to travel very quietly,” Bishop Pat Storey reflected as she introduced the proceedings for the recent MindMatters COI conference.  “And yet there can be healing,” she added, “so that’s why reducing stigma is the overall purpose of MindMatters.  And we hope that in addressing issues around mental health, at the very least we’ll be demonstrating that it’s good to talk.”

“Often those who struggle with poor mental health feel like failures as people of faith,” she noted.  “We feel we should be well, we should have joy.  As a community of faith, we’re meant to have wonderful good news to share – and we have good news to share – but perhaps our good news is the courage to face another day.  Perhaps our good news is the resilience to put one foot in front of the other.  Perhaps our good news is our perseverance when we want to pull the duvet over our head.”

While there probably wasn’t a family in Ireland that hadn’t experienced poor mental health, the issue is often a hidden one.  “We don’t hide our broken legs or our cuts and bruises,” Bishop Storey commented.  “We don’t even hide our broken hearts but so often we hide away our struggles with anxiety, depression or stress.  There are times when religious faith really helps in that struggle, and frankly there are times when it can make you feel worse.”

So how should Christians respond?  The comfort of the Scriptures, the fellowship of our church community, and the direct comfort of our wonderful God and his creation were among the ways in which faith can help.  Research for MindMatters, drawing on feedback from members of the Church of Ireland, indicated that personal connections, pastoral support from clergy, and medication (where required) also have a role – and, principally, being willing to talk about it and “knowing you’re not alone” made a positive difference.

If official statistics were correct, between 33 and 49 per cent of people in the room for the conference would have, at some stage, struggled with poor mental health – particularly after the pandemic.  This day was about “opening the gates” to talk about mental health in a non–judgmental and normal fashion.

If you would like to contribute a written piece to our Voices Team, please contact Caoimhe Leppard, MindMatters COI Digital Marketing and Voices Team Lead, at  for more information. 

Christian Meditation

The past few years have been difficult for everyone. At the start of the global pandemic, we walked anxiously into the unknown. Our oppressor was invisible and deadly. Our daily lives utterly changed. Our major life events were disrupted. The grieving process for loved ones was fraught with separation from the supportive community, at a critical time.  Behind our masks, we were worried and afraid. 

There were many media articles on how we could foster resilience as a coping strategy, in this changed environment.  One of these strategies was learning the practice of meditation.  

The concept of meditation has sometimes been approached warily in the Western world.

‘Surely this stems from Eastern religions, with practices such as Transcendental Meditation and Yoga, having roots in Hinduism and Buddhism’, is often the response.  Does this make meditation a questionable practice for Christians?

Not so, says John Main, (1926-1982) a Benedictine monk, who made the teaching of meditation his life’s work.  

Tracing its roots to the early desert mothers and fathers, John Main realised that the use of a mantra was an ancient Christian tradition. The mantra he recommended was ‘Maranatha’, an ancient Aramaic phrase meaning ‘Come Lord’.

He wrote “To many ordinary churchgoers and clergy, the mantra seems at first a suspiciously new-fangled technique of prayer, or some kind of therapy, that may help you relax, but has no claim to be called Christian.  This is a desperately sad state of affairs. So many Christians have lost touch with their own tradition of prayer”. (1) 

The real work of meditation is to attain harmony of body, mind and spirit. This is the aim given us by the psalmist “Be still and know that I am God”.  In meditation, we turn the searchlight of consciousness off ourselves.  In meditation we go beyond thoughts.

Meditation is not concerned with thinking but with being. Our aim in Christian prayer is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us, to become the reality which gives meaning to our lives.  The task of meditation is to bring our distracted mind to stillness, silence and concentration. 

Father John said learning to meditate is the most practical thing in the world. All it requires is a desire to learn and commitment to daily practice.  The process is absolute simplicity.

To meditate, we seek a quiet place and find a comfortable upright sitting position.  We close our eyes gently, sitting relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly, we begin to say our mantra, ‘Maranatha’.  It is said with four equally stressed syllables- Ma-Ra-Na-Tha. Some say the word in conjunction with their calm, regular breathing. (2)

I have discovered from personal experience that when beginning to meditate, it does not feel quite as simple as Fr. John describes. All sorts of distracting thoughts can come to mind, and it is easy to say, ‘I’m no good at this’.  Also, the suggested time of 20 minutes for meditation, can seem too long. I found it easier to start with even 5 minutes and gradually build up to 20 minutes every morning and ideally, every evening. 

We start by saying the mantra in our head, and as we make progress, we find that we are sounding it in our heart. According to Father John, it is at this moment that meditation is really beginning. We are starting to concentrate away from ourselves, and to develop a growing awareness of the presence of God dwelling in our hearts. (2)

Sometimes, it seems that this progress is slow, and it can feel like nothing is happening.  The regular practice of Christian meditation, allowing the still presence within to calm mind, body and spirit, can nurture resilience. I began to understand what this means during particularly anxious and stressful life experiences. I was amazed that through it all, I felt an inner sense of calm and a deep peace.

John Main’s teaching did not end with his early death. but rather has grown and flourished.  After his passing in December 1982, his friend and colleague, Father Laurence Freeman, took over the work of teaching meditation. The practice of Christian Meditation is now worldwide.  Father Laurence established the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) in 1991. He continues to write, speak, and  hold seminars on this topic. On April 30th he visited Lviv, in global WCCM solidarity with Ukraine. (3)

In the context of the mental health initiative, MindMatters COI, perhaps as a church community, we could explore the development of Christian meditation. and connect with other local groups who are part of WCCM.

The fruits of this meditation are such that I believe the ‘peace which passes all understanding’ is available and accessible to people of all ages. 


  1. John Main (1980) Word into Silence; Darton Longman Todd: London
  2. John Main (1984) Moment of Christ: Darton Longman todd London
  3. World Community for Christian Meditation

Written by Mary Cunningham, MindMatters COI Champion

If you would like to contribute a written piece to our Voices Team, please contact Caoimhe Leppard, MindMatters COI Digital Marketing Lead, at for more information. 



What’s MindMatters COI got to do with me?

A progress report from a Diocesan Reader and MindMatters COI Champion

I freely admit that I missed the launch of this mental health promotion initiative in October 2020. At the time, my wife and I were trying to secure an offer on our house in Co. Antrim so that we could move down to the midlands in support of her new job in Dublin. In March 2021 we finally made the move. Relocation between jurisdictions during full COVID lockdown was about as stressful as it gets. But we had both come through past traumatic experiences unscathed and so we didn’t give any more thought to mental health, ours or anyone else’s.

Within a week of the move, we were back on-line and had new phone numbers. So I put in for the transfer of my Readers license from Connor diocese. My new bishop welcomed my application and then suggested that as lockdown had closed everything down, I should consider volunteering to get involved with MindMatters COI. I didn’t want to disappoint her, but I really did not see that I could contribute anything. After all, neither I nor or any of my immediate family had suffered from mental health issues. Furthermore, I was as convinced as anyone that mental health was a difficult subject that should be left to the professionals. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and all that. Nevertheless, I dutifully signed up for the awareness training.

I am glad that I volunteered as the training has been very good. I can now relate to the four bullet points shown with the logo, particularly the aims of ‘Reducing Stigma’ and ‘Promoting Connections’. I still have a lot to learn about these topics, but don’t we all?

Since my most recent training session, I have given much thought to the fourth bullet point of ‘Mental Health and Faith’. There was a line in the training that suggested that we need to engage in keep-fit exercises for our minds, just as much as for our bodies. Now, I don’t do much in the way of physical exercise. I content myself with eating sensibly and cutting the grass with a walk behind mower. I pride myself that I can still wear the cassock that first fitted me perfectly forty years ago. However, I have to admit that the credit for this has to be put down to an accident of metabolism rather than to my supposed physical prowess. I do not have a daily exercise routine, either for my physical wellbeing or for my mental health, but I have always followed some daily pattern of bible reading and prayer since coming to faith in my ‘teens.

So, what mental wellbeing exercises have I picked up by osmosis, as it were? Before I get into the specifics, I need to set out a disclaimer. I am sharing my recent thoughts, not a developed, comprehensive and peer reviewed theology. I am not offering any quick fix to the issues that any individual may face at this time. I am just sharing a few of the key Bible verses that  seem to have worked for me. Dig out your Bible and look up…

  • Matthew 22:37. Jesus sums up how the engagement of the mind transforms a dry intellectual understanding of God into a loving and transformative relationship with God. We should not try to hide the contents of our minds either from ourselves or from God. Rather, we should bring things into the open with those we trust and above all with God in prayer.
  • Matthew 5:27–30. Jesus spells out in graphic terms the consequences of allowing our minds to linger on sinful aspirations. The whole chapter is packed full of advice offered in the hope that we will enjoy the Kingdom of God by fulfilling the law rather than falling foul of it. Jesus speaks from a point of certainty, knowing that he has faced all the temptations that we face, and that he did so without sin.
  • Romans 12:2. St Paul spells out how we can put Jesus’ teaching into practice. Firstly, we are encouraged to stand out from the crowd. We do not have to conform to the various norms of society. We have permission to ignore the adverts and life styles promoted in the media. Secondly, we are not to look for a one-off spiritual experience to fix everything. Rather, we are offered a life-long process of transformation by the renewing of the mind; ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.

This is a progress report and not a conclusion. If you wish to take issue with anything I have written, any viewpoint that you feel that I represent, or you simply wish to share in my exploration of the Bible, please contact me through the MindMatters COI team. They will ensure that the vulnerabilities of all are protected.

Written by Michael High, Diocesan Reader, Dioceses of Meath and Kildare.

If you would like to contribute a written piece to our Voices Team, please contact Caoimhe Leppard, MindMatters COI Digital Marketing Lead, at for more information. 

Our identity is in Christ, not our poor mental health.

To declare to the world “I suffer from poor mental health” is one of the scariest things anyone could do. How will people react? Will I get that promotion? Will I be able to lead in church? Am I a lesser Christian?

I suffer from depression and I know these thoughts all too well. Looking back at my life, I see it has been with me well before I can remember, it’s only in adulthood that I decided to take action and find out what is going on in my brain as things were clearly not right.

I was once rebuked by a boss that I couldn’t have depression because I was always cheerful. And that, although harmful at the time, is where our faith comes in. Our identity is not in our mental well-being, but in the love that Jesus has for us. We can experience immense pain, but we can also experience the sense of joy in knowing that we are loved and forgiven.

Displaying a fruit of the spirit shows our broken world that God is far greater than any illness, and He is with us even when we’re at our most vulnerable. This display of God’s power in us isn’t something that is forced, or made up, but something the outside world witnesses while our inside self is crumbling with harmful thoughts of ‘you’re useless and worthless’.

Within scripture we read how God has helped those with poor mental health. Elijah wanted to end his life, but God gave him food for energy to live another day. While Jonah was feeling low, God grew a vine around him to ‘ease his discomfort’, as though God himself was wrapping His arms around him. Moses felt weak, but God provided two supportive friends just at the right time. Reading biblical stories like these though can make it very difficult, I have asked myself on difficult days “why doesn’t God embrace me like the vine?”. But in His silence, I am always reassured knowing that He is walking beside me. I guess our faith tells us that the embrace is there, and our hope is that it will come someday.

Jesus Himself couldn’t avoid stress. While His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow in Gethsemane, He asked His disciples to keep watch over Him, but they fell asleep. This can remind us, the church, to be awake and see that there are people suffering all the time. Staying awake and walking with our brothers and sisters who struggle with poor mental health is something we need to reflect on. Perhaps, like the disciples, we as a church have the challenge of being more aware and more alert to the suffering of those around us, even the suffering of ourselves. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to reach out and encouraging honest conversation, where we are comfortable talking about mental health within our church community, a safe place.

Telling the world you’re struggling should not be scary even though it is. How often are we reminded to fear not? But fear is what gets in the way of talking about how we feel (especially for us men), fear even prevents us approaching others who are struggling. Research suggests that at least 1 in 4 of us will suffer at some point in our lives, but in truth we will all have mental health struggles. Church leaders are far from exempt, and if they’re struggling we need to support them just like Moses’ friends.

Let us be a church that provides the food for the anxious just as God provided for Elijah. Let us become the vine that wraps our arms around those suffering with bipolar. Let us not fall asleep like the disciples, let us reach out and set the captives free through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Church of Ireland through MindMatters COI wants to address mental health within our communities and is taking the plight of so many of us seriously. It’s now time to talk, and remember if you’re suffering, you are no lesser a Christian and you’re definitely not alone.

Written by Andrew Brooking, a parishioner of St Patrick’s, Ballymoney, Diocese of Connor.

If you would like to contribute a written piece to our Voices Team, please contact Caoimhe Leppard, MindMatters COI Digital Marketing Lead, at for more information. 

Shhh you can’t share that, what will people think?

You may think that it’s strange for an ordained minister to be open and honest about their mental health struggles but I am not ashamed or scared to be vulnerable, I live life with C-PTSD. When I first heard PTSD, my response was that’s something people in the armed forces get isn’t it? My therapist turned to me and said no Claire, anyone who has experienced trauma in their life can have PTSD. It was like a light bulb moment for me, finally I could put a name to all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that would pulsate through my body at the most inconvenient moments. I could understand why my sleep patterns were messed up, why I was exhausted all the time even if I hadn’t been busy, I was living life in fight or flight mode. Adrenaline flowed through my body, keeping me on alert basically all the time. The slightest noise startled me, new surroundings or recurrent physical illness made me anxious and stressed, even normal everyday smells that reminded me of the tough times made my stomach do somersaults. I became a shadow of the person I once was. I couldn’t find my voice or my words, I struggled to identify what was going on within me, I would sit in silence at times when asked a question. I would avoid eye contact and to a certain degree I became withdrawn, life was passing by but for me it was just about surviving from one day to the next.

As I have learned more about C-PTSD I realised that I could begin to rebuild my life again, nothing was off limits. For so long I felt that I never was going to be able to live a fulfilling, enriching life, it seemed like a dream. Fast forward to now, as I have learned to manage my C-PTSD I have been able to achieve things that previously I would have been scared to even think about. I attained my Masters of Theology, was ordained and began to do some training in Mental Health. I’m able to use my new found voice to sit on a mental health work stream for the Western Trust and share my story with others to show them that recovery is possible.

Life maybe looks a little different than I had imagined, but that’s ok. I have found that I thrive on routine, there are times when I just need space to rest and restore my body and mind. Through my recovery journey I have learned coping mechanisms, and various techniques that help me manage my C-PTSD. No longer does it have that strong firm grip it once had on me, I have my strong grip on it. I am able to show others that it is possible to have a life, an enriching, fulfilling and rewarding life where hopes and dreams no longer seem so far away, they are just around the corner.

Written by Rev Claire Henderson (Derry and Raphoe)

If you would like to contribute a written piece to our Voices Team, please contact Caoimhe Leppard, MindMatters COI Digital Marketing Lead, at for more information.