Mental health awareness incorporates art and poetry

Amy Rinner Waddell | B.C. Correspondent
Abbotsford, B.C.

Poetry and visual art proved to be a powerful combination as members of Emmanuel Mennonite Church observed Mental Health Sunday this year on May 1.

In 2015, Angelika Dawson, member of Emmanuel and communications manager for Communitas Supportive Care Society, helped develop worship resources for Communitas called “God of All Comfort: Mental Health Resources for Church Worship.” Communitas is a faith-based organization that ministers to British Columbians living with disabilities, both physical and mental.

Dawson wanted to incorporate art into her congregation’s Mental Health Sunday worship experience, speculating that an art display could help convey a message about mental health. When it comes to the fine arts, churches have traditionally concentrated on music, she realized.

Dawson contacted four writers in the church to compose a poem on an aspect of mental health, then matched an artist or photographer to each poet to create an original work on his/her theme. Each of the poets and artists has either experienced a mental health challenge or is close to someone who has.

 “I love it when we give artists the opportunity to see into our worship,” Dawson said. Unlike visual art which is experienced by looking at it, she noted, “Poetry is not always accessible [to everyone]; sometimes you just have to hear it read out loud.”

The adult Sunday school class on May 1 gave the authors the opportunity to read their poems and the artists to explain how they had depicted those words visually. It proved to be an emotional experience. Many in the class were moved to tears, commenting later how powerful it had been to experience both poetry and art in such a way. (To see the art and poetry, click here.)

In the worship service that followed, Dawson shared her own journey with mental health. She was encouraged that later two people contacted her to say that because of her openness in sharing, they had the courage to seek professional help for their own mental health needs.

The Communitas materials for worship are free and available on the Communitas at:

See more in the Focus on Mental Health series:
Guard your heart and mind
A living death
One way your church can stop hiding mental illness
Depression resurrection
‘We all need counsellors’
Helping to prevent suicide
Leaders being equipped to build up the church
‘There is love in this room’
‘I am still holding out hope that I will be free of this one day’
Six steps for better self-care

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