By Megan Kilpatrick
I’ve been decompressing from General Conference–there’s been a lot that’s happened over the past two weeks. A lot of meanness and ugliness and division, in a space supposedly called church. I’m definitely a bit more cynical of my church, but thankfully not my faith. There’s been one experience that has stuck with me the past few days, and the more I think about it, the more I pray.
Thursday, the night before the last day of General Conference, a group of us went out for pizza after the day’s work had finished. We decided to walk back to our hotel since it wasn’t too far. About halfway through that walk, a woman started walking alongside us. She was homeless, with an obvious mental illness, and talking in a way that didn’t make any sort of coherent sense. I was concerned and vigilant, but not too concerned for my safety; she wasn’t mean, threatening, cursing, or angry–all signs of potential violence, mental illness or not. As we all walked together, I noticed she was telling some sort of story, over and over again. A few blocks away from our hotel she left us, and we continued on our way.
My training and experience as a healthcare professional tells me this: the chances of this woman getting any sort of quality mental health care are woefully slim. If Oregon is anything like Washington in this matter, she would need to either present as a danger to herself or others, or be harmed herself in order to receive immediate mental health care. Often times this is in the form of an involuntary 72 hour mental health commitment, and most often that takes place in either an emergency room or a jail cell. Both of those places are heartbreakingly insufficient. She is also more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted, have many untreated chronic health conditions, and lack permanent housing. Often those with severe mental illness have had very rough life trajectories, either because of or precipitating their illness.
All I could do for this woman was pray. She needed far more help than I would be able to give her on a 15 minute walk downtown. I prayed that God would be with her and keep her safe. I prayed that we will somehow be able to fix our mental healthcare system that is so, so broken. I prayed that she would somehow be seen and truly known by people who could care for her and give her the help she needed.
Friends, with all that was General Conference–the unending legislation, the hurt and pain, the long days–we need to remember that that was not church. There is still so much work to be done, and so much good that we can do. Jesus’ entire ministry was with the marginalized, the outsiders, the people that society forgot or simply didn’t want to see–like that homeless woman. We are still called to Therefore Go; not simply until 2020, not to write more legislation, but to go do the important ministry of the church. Right here, right now, with all whom we meet.
Megan Kilpatrick is the mother of a very rambunctious toddler, other half to her husband, and Clinical Nurse Specialist (RN) who helps nurses reach their fullest potential. She spends most days juggling, putting out fires, and walking on tightropes, but in her spare time she likes to cook, craft, and get outside.