Hillary Doerries, DPM ’22, is the Director of Music Ministries at Christ the King Lutheran Church (ELCA) of South Bend, Indiana, where she is also active in the congregation's mental health ministry. She leads Christ the King's Mental Health Ministries Team and is a facilitator for Fresh Hope for Mental Health, a weekly support group for people living with mental health diagnoses and their loved ones.
We Will Hold Onto You: The Liberating Power of Music and Liturgy to Break Open the Stories of Mental Illness in Communities of Faith
Thesis Advisor: C. Michael Hawn
Second Reader: Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner
Oral Defense: November 15, 2022
Doctor of Pastoral Music Conferred: December 17, 2022
One in five people lives with a diagnosable mental health problem in any given year. Thus, the presence of mental illness already permeates faith communities. The church’s history with mental illness remains complicated, especially as some communities of faith continue to espouse negative lay theologies that are harmful and dismissive to people living with mental health problems. Guided by the tenants of liberation theology, this thesis argues that mental health justice is a part of God’s overarching justice intended for all creation. When we, as God’s people, encounter or observe injustice, it is our theological task to gather the weary, the oppressed, and the marginalized and bring them back to their seat at the table of God’s grace where God calls them by name: beloved. This document proposes that pastoral musicians, clergy, and others charged with planning and facilitating worship are essential to developing a theology of mental health that welcomes and accepts all people into the family of God, regardless of physical or mental, or emotional disability. Within communities of faith, engagement with such a task begins within the context of worship, for the musical and liturgical choices we make as pastoral musicians shapes our community’s understanding of the Body of Christ in all its wonder and diversity. Therefore, when people with mental health challenges see and hear themselves and their lived realities of mental illness represented in the musical and liturgical landscape of their faith community, they are liberated from destructive stigmas and can break the chains of prejudice, stereotypes, and injustice.