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Italian Chicken Proscuitto CasseroleIf there’s one thing most churches do well, it’s feed people. We have church suppers and potlucks and fundraisers.

But we’re especially good at organizing casserole brigades for families in crisis.

New baby? Heart attack? Death in family? Faster than you can say “Shepherd’s pie,” the church’s family care coordinator will have lined up at least two weeks of dinners to ease the load on whoever is at the house.

Psychiatric hospitalization? Not so likely. Families that have endured this crisis say that mental illness is the only “no casserole illness” the church knows.

Why the difference?

The Psych Hospital as Black Hole

Part of the difference has to be because psychiatric hospitalizations are still kept under wraps, not just because of stigma but because of hospital policy. Unlike other hospitals for other illnesses, there can’t be a steady flow of church friends through the psychiatric hospital room.

  • The patient usually has a limited visitor list.
  • The hospital has very limited visiting hours.

Nor can friends send the flowers, cards, candy and gifts they might to patients at different kinds of hospitals.

As a result, psychiatric hospitals function somewhat as “black holes.” A psychiatric hospitalization becomes somewhat “invisible” to the church community simply because the patient is isolated from the ministry of the church community, however much the church may care about the individual and family.

The Unending Cycle of Psychiatric Illnesses

But churches bear some responsibility, too. To a degree, some churches have jumped onto the cultural bandwagon that expects every disease and hurt to be quickly healed. Some psychiatric illnesses just don’t work that way. Families cycle in and out of hope and grief for years: hope that a new treatment might work; grief that their dearly loved relative may never achieve the imagined potential. It is wearing to hear last year’s story again this year … and yet again two years later … and yet again in five years and seven years and ten years.

Imagine how wearing it is not just to hear but to live that story! Casseroles, anyone?

Keeping Up a Good Image for Jesus

Some churches want their members to present at all times a joyful face that demonstrates God’s triumph over sin and death. These congregations believe that their best “witness” or “testimony” to God’s power is to claim God’s ability to triumph over every difficult circumstance they face in this world today.

Unfortunately, God’s ultimate triumph has yet to occur. People still suffer.

Feeling the Pain in God’s Body

God told us we would suffer in this world. We are supposed to trust God while we suffer — but we are supposed to care for each other in that suffering. We are supposed to feel the suffering of other parts of the Body. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (I Cor. 12: 26a).

When a parent or sibling is exhausted after finally taking someone to the magistrate’s court, could you ask them what the experience is like? And truly listen, over a cup of coffee or a casserole?

When a family is ready to beat their heads against a wall because their adult relative with mental illness has kept them awake through the night this week … and they know that sleepless nights mean trouble is coming … Could you take the time to ask what they anticipate? Could you line up casseroles because they haven’t slept for a week?

And when it’s your turn to bring the casserole, here’s a super easy, super fast dish to prepare.

Super Simple Crockpot Chicken Cacciatore

  • 2/3 fill your crockpot with skinless chicken parts: thighs, breasts, or mix. (Boneless lets you shred the meat most easily so the servings go furthest)
  • (Optional) Chop up some onions, green peppers, and/or mushrooms. Put them on top of the chicken parts.
  • Add one small can of tomato paste (to keep it from getting too runny)
  • Pour your favorite spaghetti sauce over all until covered.

Cover crockpot. Cook. Cooking time depends on the size of your crockpot, but you probably know how long chicken takes.

When it’s almost done, cook pasta to serve over. Or serve over steamed veggies (my favorite).