June 24, 2022

God is My Helper

When I arrived as the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in 2014, there was one topic on the hearts and minds of many of the members. The original sanctuary built in 1970, which was converted into the Parish Hall in the early 1990s, was no longer meeting the needs of the congregation. It is too small to hold all of us at one time; we need a more functional kitchen both for our preschool and the church; and we want to add showers and laundry facilities, so it could serve as an emergency shelter when we experience extreme temperatures. Despite these identified needs, I kept coming back to the fact that it would be labor intensive and expensive, only to see the space stand empty most of the week.

As part of my spiritual discipline, I go on a visioning retreat twice a year. I spend time reflecting on where we’ve been, and where God would have us be. I read theological reflections; I review notes from Vestry meetings and goal setting exercises; I read former strategic plans for the congregation; and I pray. Time and time again, I found myself praying, “Lord Jesus, if you want us to have a new parish hall, please bring to my awareness a non-profit organization, with whom we can partner, enabling us to be a greater blessing to the community around us.” In my mind, a new parish hall only made sense if we could welcome others in. It had to be a blessing not only to us, but to the communities that surround us. Only then would it be in line with our commitment to serving others. I prayed this prayer for several years, and it was always in the back of my mind, as a possibility and an opportunity, even if it remained unrealized.

As I was holding this in the back of my mind, I also became increasingly aware of the need for affordable and free mental health care. It became apparent on many occasions as people expressed their own needs or sought recommendations from therapists in our area. I knew students in nearby schools who were under increasing stress and felt the pull to do something about it. A few years later, I found myself listening to a podcast where a mention was made of a person who had started a non-profit organization, whose primary aim was to bring affordable and free mental healthcare to local communities. They were able to offer affordable and free mental healthcare because they were saving the expense of maintaining facilities, by partnering with churches and other organizations, to use space that typically goes unused during the week.

Empty space, mental healthcare, and reaching more people who need it most. This concept was clearly an answer to my prayers. The next business day, I sent an email to Heather Lundy, Founder and CEO of Khesed Wellness, to ask if they would be willing to help me with the logistics of starting something similar in our area. I expected an email introduction to someone who could help but was surprised when I received an email directly from Heather, suggesting we have a conversation. I was even more surprised when Heather said it was part of the vision of Khesed to expand their services to additional states, and that Texas was a leading candidate.

After a virtual site visit, it was determined that Annunciation already had the perfect space to meet the requirements of Khesed’s therapist. Khesed began the search for our onsite therapist, which was hampered by the pandemic, but were eventually successful in recruiting a therapist. She has now become the manager for all sites in Texas, in addition to providing services and building relationships within our community.

Khesed’s model is based upon providing affordable and free care to the uninsured and underinsured and they do so not only by keeping the overhead costs low, but also through obtaining grants to support their efforts. After speaking with key city leaders of the mental health care needs in our area, Annunciation was able to secure a $20,000 grant from the City of Lewisville to help reach more people, a grant which we fully expect will be renewed, as Khesed is one of only three low to no-cost mental health care providers, outside of the overtaxed government funded programs in our area.

The Vestry and Strategic Planning Team of Annunciation are currently drawing up plans to rebuild our Parish Hall. When we do, we intend to provide a dedicated suite for Khesed, which would enable them to offer more hours of care in a dedicated space. We also intend to build more classrooms for our preschool because it has outgrown our current configuration. Additionally, one of our strategic goals is to offer more services to our community, helping everyone grow spiritually, mentally, and physically in a center dedicated to achieving wellness in every area of our lives.

The Psalmist is known for being bold in daring to give God direct orders, but I must admit that I’m becoming a little pushy myself. Like the Psalmist, however, I know where to put my trust and faith. I know who carries this vision for me, as we continue to wait patiently for God to show us the way. This vision will not be borne on the shoulders of earthly wisdom that says bigger is better, or newer is more appealing to consumers. That would be contrary to God’s call for our church. No, this vision will be borne by the One who knows how to reach those in need of healing, who offers a word of hope to the downtrodden, and who makes a way where there seems to be no way. I’m not saying this vision will come to pass right away, but I will be faithful in praying that God would continue to be our helper and our sustainer as we wait. As the Psalmist says, “Behold, God is my helper; it is the Lord who sustains my life” (Psalm 54:4).