In the fast-paced world of today, stress has become an overwhelming burden for many people. In Denmark alone, around 430,000 individuals experience severe symptoms of stress daily, with some taking sick leave, while others suffer from stress-induced depression or anxiety. These symptoms often result in isolation and loneliness, making it challenging for individuals to fit into typical social settings. This is where Menighedsplejen in Denmark has stepped in, offering a haven of peace and equality within the church for those struggling with mental health issues.

Menighedsplejen recognizes the importance of Diaconia in today’s society. In this spirit, they have created projects where the tranquillity of the church and the therapeutic potential of nature are harnessed to provide relief to those dealing with stress. The Apostle Church in Vesterbro and Frederiksberg Church host initiatives such as “Stress-free i Gårdhaven” and “The Stress-free Garden”, where participants engage in gardening and nature-based activities for two hours, followed by an hour of meditation. Winter activities include crafting wreaths, rolling beeswax candles, and making Christmas cakes – all of which engage the senses and bring peace to the mind.

The meditation sessions start with a half-hour of guided presence exercises, encouraging concentration and inner gathering. After a short break, participants can choose to engage in Christian meditation for another half-hour. These sessions are open to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Kierkegaard’s notion of nature as a “Divine Distraction” resonates profoundly within the Stressfree project. Participants have consistently reported that their engagement in the project has significantly alleviated their depression and effectively mitigated stress. What they cherish most is the non-judgmental environment, where they find camaraderie with fellow participants who share similar mental health issues. The sense of community provides a much-needed respite from the loneliness and isolation often encountered when one has to take time off work due to mental health issues. As one participant poignantly expressed it, “Engaging in the project has been nothing short of therapeutic and de-stressing. The loving acceptance and interaction with others, coupled with the soothing embrace of nature, have done wonders for my mind.”

The Stressfree initiatives serve as a template for churches seeking to create activities for the stressed and at risk of mental health illnesses. While the gardening and meditation model might not be feasible for every church, similar benefits can be achieved through other activities. For example, a “Stress-free Café in the Church” could offer community and space for reflection. The café could be held once a month or weekly and could provide an opportunity for individuals to discuss stress and mental vulnerability while sharing coffee and tea. Other options include engaging in creative activities, like pre-sprouting in spring, making jam during berry season, or pickling crops in the fall.

To help churches initiate similar projects, the “Manual to hold Stressfree” offers invaluable guidance. By adopting these innovative initiatives, churches can become a sanctuary for those at risk of mental health illnesses, offering solace from the tumult of contemporary life and creating a connection to the peace and healing inherent in both nature and the church.