By Reverend Brian Janssen
The following is adapted from the testimonial that Rev. Janssen delivered at the 2014 Golden Anchor Gala: Celebrating People of Hope in Our Community
There is an old piece of advice that is given to seminary students getting close to graduation and that first job out in God’s mission field known as the church: Gather unto yourself as many names of as many counseling services as possible. This is to give people options. If this place doesn’t work out you can try that place, etc. When I arrived at my first church in Harrisburg that is exactly what I did. Fast forward a couple of years. I found myself in the North Hills of Pittsburgh pastoring a small church in Franklin Park. I set about the task of getting to know the area, its people, and yes, its counseling services. Over the course of the last five years I have had the remarkable pleasure to work with an organization that puts the needs of its clients and more than that, the needs of the community ahead of its own: Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry.
My counseling services rolodex, digital obviously, now has only one name in it: Anchorpoint. The reason this name is necessary is that there are a number of issues that come up in the lives of parishioners. There is usually a crisis point that is reached and while it is vitally necessary for pastors to be there in a crisis, to meet those immediate needs; we know that the process of integration of the crisis can be long term. It is amazing how quickly pastors reach the limits of their counseling abilities. We do not have and often cannot have the training that licensed counselors do and must have. More importantly, if pastors are doing their jobs well they will not be disinterested parties. Very often the grief that is being felt by our parishioners is our grief…A breaking marriage, a struggling teenager, or the death of a beloved congregant that leaves the church wondering collectively how it is going to survive the loss. These losses involve the pastor. Family members need places to go beyond the church to walk, what can often be, the long road of grief.
Anchorpoint continually shows itself willing, ready, and able to step into the breach. One of the things that makes it possible for them to do this a sliding scale payment method. As the specter of poverty, decreased spending power, and rising health care costs invade the suburban landscape, a word which used to be synonymous with not worrying about those things, the ability of people to get the mental health care, which they need has also diminished. Your contributions to Anchorpoint matter and make help possible.
As a young field education intern at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital I saw and met with people made in the image of God who, through the debilitating effects of mental illness, had that image distorted. A fellow intern remarked in a sermon that mental illness is an identity thief. Of course these particular children of God were dealing with deep issues ranging from bi-polar with psychotic features to schizophrenia and everything in between. What I learned there was this: anxiety, depression, fear, and all the rest of it are likewise capable of robbing us of some part of our identity and distorting the image of God in which we are all made. Anchorpoint, its counselors, tutors, volunteers, and staff join with people who are suffering, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to work with God in restoring that image to its fullest.
As the reality of God fades from the lives of those in the West there has been a corresponding increase in the pressure placed on relationships to provide us with the things that only God can; We place pressure on our jobs to be fulfilling places to work and make money, pressure on our marriages to meet our desires and needs, and pressure on our children to make up for the mistakes of our youth. The brokenness of all of these bring us back to a place where we must learn once again that God is not one part of our life but resides deeply at the center of our lives.
In his magnum opus, “A Grace Disguised,” Jerry Sittser in two ways that matter for understanding what Anchorpoint does; reminds us, out of his own deep grief, that most people when experiencing a sense of loss continually run away from grief as one might run away from a setting sun so that it will never set on them. Anchorpoint is engaged in the work of helping people to stop running, face the setting sun, walk through the darkness, to reach the light of a glorious sunrise. Secondly, he describes his loss as though someone has come along and cut down a beautiful tree in your yard so that all you are left with is a stump which you are forced to stare at. Working through grief is the process of planting a garden around the stump, so that while immeasurably different that place in our yards can be beautiful once more. As a colleague of mine once remarked in a sermon, “grief and loss may be a companion for a time but they are not our soul mates.” Thank God for the master gardeners at Anchorpoint.
Brian Janssen is the pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church. He has a passion for mental health issues, having served as a chaplain intern at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital in the summer of 2005 as part of his field education requirement while at Princeton Seminary. Brian’s relationship with Anchorpoint began almost immediately upon his arrival in Pittsburgh in 2009, when he learned that several of his members had served Anchorpoint in a number of capacities from volunteering to sitting on the Board of Directors. Anchorpoint and its director, Ron Barnes, have been an incredible support to Brian’s ministry at Heritage Presbyterian Church and to him personally over the past five years.