I am often struck that government services are funded by cabinet-level offices called “ministries” (such as the Ministry of Health, and its associate ministry in Ontario, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions). As a faith-based mental health organization, Shalem is also engaged in “ministry.” This kind of word association goes back a long way. Apparently, government officials in ancient Greece were called “liturgists,” and their work was labelled “liturgy.”
“Ministry” is thus a word that has many layers of meaning, layers that go back centuries. By definition it simultaneously involves both public collective action and faith. “Ministry” means something like “service,” serving others. Ministry therefore involves not just faith but also love. And love carries a connotation of not receiving anything back, particularly in the area of financial return. A lot of “ministry” happens with low-income people who simply cannot pay for the “service” they are receiving.
Interestingly enough, however, reciprocity is often a crucial part of healing, of getting back on track. When life’s circumstances have knocked us down, the ability to give something back, to be able to offer something meaningful to others in response to being ministered to, can be part of our healing journey. If in our “ministry” to others we do not offer a path for that to happen, our ministry can actually cause harm to others. That adds a lot to the complexity of the word “ministry.” Jesus’ words sometimes haunt me: “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Who is being blessed in the “ministry” exchange? How can we support people who “receive” to be able to be “more blessed”?
These complex meanings and nuances simply set the context for a basic, fundamental challenge that confronts all “ministries”: how do we pay for them, particularly when those on the receiving end simply cannot afford to pay? This challenge applies equally (if in different ways) to government ministries and to faith-based or church, synagogue or mosque-based ministries.
Mental health and addiction services provided through government ministries today are overwhelmed with rising need and face crises of under-funding and unsustainable waiting lists. Meanwhile, there is no business model in community-based mental health that suggests that community-based mental health services can be funded solely on fees for service and donations. The business models do not exist because it cannot be done. There are no such examples anywhere. All community-based mental health requires some form of third-party annualized funding to exist.
That leaves an organization like Shalem in a tough, challenging place. We receive very little Ministry government funding—though, as a matter of public justice, the rightful obligations of government, and our best practices in mental health, the government ministries ought to be financially supporting our mental health ministry.
Shalem has extraordinary, sacrificial donors and supporters who enable us to minister to others. But without some form of third-party annualized funding, that support in and of itself, combined with fees for people who can pay them, is not sufficient to carry the financial load. Where then can that third-party sustainable funding for Shalem’s mental health ministry come from?
Our Shalem Mental Health Foundation is working on that. We need your help with it. I would love to hear your ideas for solutions to the perennial challenge of funding mental health ministry in a sustainable way. I would also be delighted to describe Shalem’s funding structure and needs. Please do contact me, even to brainstorm! Send me an email at [email protected] or call me at 905-531-7227. And thank you for all that you do to minister to others.
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W., is Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network.