Did you send or receive a Valentine card last week? If you received one you may have guessed who sent it, but was it welcome? Were you expecting one and would you have been put out if it hadn’t arrived?
On Thursday last, 60 or more delegates to the annual Methodist Safeguarding Conference were grappling with a series of statements about behaviour in church settings as part of an exercise called the Boundary Game, led for us by a team from the Quakers. The conference theme was Mental Health and Safeguarding and our friends the Quakers (pun intended) have invested time and energy in developing resources to help their meetings understand better and safely meet the needs of individuals whose emotional wellbeing is less good. In the Boundary Game, which is a training aid, participants are asked to consider whether the 30 or so statements represent behaviours that are either OK, or not OK.
One of the statements simply said ’send a card’. No context was provided and the group I was in quickly thought it was OK for a church or an individual to send a card to someone who was perhaps unwell. Time did not allow for all 8 tables to compare their results, and besides some groups considered each statement for a much longer period than we did so may not have reached this particular statement. So I don’t know if we all reached the same conclusion.
As I drove home through the glorious Cotswold landscape, I wondered if we had got it right, and also whether we are consistent with our card sending. Sending a card to someone who is physically unwell or has suffered an injury, is perhaps easier than sending one to someone with depression, an eating disorder or schizophrenia for example. We know when and where to send a card and the message will be either suitably upbeat or sympathetic. Mental illness, often hidden, is more difficult to spot and so sending a card at the wrong time or with an ill-judged sentiment may just make matters worse.
Equally sending cards of a more personal nature, such as a Valentine card, may be indicative of an unhealthy or unrequested interest in another person. This may also be indicative of poor judgement derived from being unwell. In the long term, obsessional, stalking behaviour is clearly a safeguarding concern.
So this is a reminder to think through with care some of those things that we do in church that many of us take for granted as being part of showing love for our neighbours, in case they are not always received as intended.
Grahame is writing in a personal capacity. Views expressed may not reflect those of the Methodist Church