Essex Mind and Spirit

Understanding the Journey

It takes courage to strike out on your own; independently to travel a different way. Essex Mind and Spirit (EMS) struck out on its own in 2012. Formerly the work of fostering a positive relationship between faith and spirituality and mental health issues fell under the auspices of the charity InterAct in Chelmsford. Financial insecurities meant that this work faced the axe, but it proved the catalyst for the establishment of an independent community voluntary organisation dedicated to ensuring that the conversation started between faith and belief and those working with and enduring mental health issues would continue.

Canon Ivor Moody is Chair of EMS, and his journey to that role began when he became Chaplain to Anglia Ruskin University (Chelmsford Campus). It was the first time as a priest in the Church of England that in a sustained way he had to grapple with mental health issues. For many the journey to university can mean that loneliness, isolation, debt, homesickness, academic rigour and much else besides can take its toll. Chaplaincy was able to draw alongside those experiencing marginalisation and disempowerment and explore how faith and spirituality could contribute positively to the pastoral care of those with difficult mental health journeys.

EMS operates through the formation of ‘cluster groups’ situated around Essex and coordinated by volunteers who themselves are either mental health professionals or members of faith communities. They seek to cluster together individuals and agencies living and working in local communities to explore different aspects of mental health care and provision. In short, to encourage thought and networking about what is often regarded as a neglected, ‘Cinderella’ subject.

A key tenet of EMS is that it is for all faiths and no faith. Mental ill health is no respecter of culture and creed, a fact which is reflected in the membership of a steering group which meets quarterly to support the work of the cluster groups and oversee the direction of travel of EMS. It confronts societal stigma around mental health issues, and a cultural reticence to talk about mental health problems, a phenomenon which crosses all sections of society. One of the cluster groups is based in Basildon, supported by Basildon Council, and is organised and Chaired by Sidra Naeem from the Muslim community. The group is called ‘Women Together’ and seeks to provide fellowship, support and encouragement for women, many of them refugees, and from various minority communities.

The last cluster group (currently) is based in Mid- Essex, at Chelmsford Cathedral. Its convenor is a Pastoral Assistant whose role is to work with clergy and volunteers at the cathedral in the care and nurture of the congregation and the community. As well as providing another networking forum for local charities, societies, faith leaders, service users and volunteers, the Mid- Essex cluster group also acts as a training hub for other Pastoral Assistants and those in preparation for the role to come and learn about the relationships between faith and spirituality and mental health as part of their ongoing training and formation for their work in their own parishes and communities. 

What will the landscape look like post-COVID-19? No one can be certain. But if there is one word which summarises all that has been described so far, it is ‘friendship’. A journeying alongside those who suffer and are sad. A non-condemnatory, non-judgemental listening to all those who have stories to tell, and a partnership with others, gently and without proselytization, who share the same intention to make a difference to other’s lives. This is something which has always defined EMS, and it will continue to do so, whatever the future holds.

Ivor Moody, Vice Dean & Canon Pastor of Chelmsford Cathedral
Chair, Essex Mind and Spirit.
Chair, Essex Faith Covenant
Chair, Mid-Essex Inter Faith Forum.

Chelmsford Counselling Foundation is looking for several trustees.  If you think you could help in this way, please click here.