Daniel Whitehead interviewing Corin Pilling on Zoom

Mental Health, Faith & COVID-19 With Corin Pilling

Corin PillingPodcast, Podcast COVID

Episode Description:

Sanctuary’s UK National Director, Corin Pilling, shares the gifts and challenges he’s experienced in lockdown, particularly as a single person living in the centre of London. He highlights practical ways to maintain mental wellbeing amidst busy city life; what led him to his role at Sanctuary; and how churches can re-model and re-imagine community during COVID-19.

Unfortunately, no video recording is available.

Update on The Sanctuary Podcast:

During these extraordinary times, while we can’t be with each other physically, we can reach out through screens and over phones, and we can share our stories with each other. Join Sanctuary’s CEO, Daniel Whitehead, as he interviews pastors, front line workers, ministry leaders, and friends about their experience of the pandemic and where they are making meaning and finding hope in the ups and downs of this season.

Running time: 51:16

Release date: August 28, 2020

Resources mentioned in the show:

Sanctuary UK

COVID-19 mutual aid groups

John 15:15 (Jesus calls the disciples friends)


Lifting the Lid, free Livability resource on faith and mental health

The Mind and Soul Foundation

Renew Wellbeing

Rev. Isabelle Hamley, PhD, chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury

John Swinton on The Sanctuary Podcast

Kate Middleton on The Sanctuary Podcast

The Sanctuary Course

Crisis Resources:

For your quick reference, here are nationwide emergency numbers and crisis lines:

  • Canada: 911, Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566
  • British Columbia: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
  • United States: 911, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • United Kingdom: 999/112, Samaritans: 116 123
  • New Zealand: 111, 1737, Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800-543-354
  • Australia: 000, Lifeline: 13 11 14 

Daniel Whitehead: Welcome to The Sanctuary Podcast. My name is Daniel Whitehead. I am the CEO of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, and during COVID-19 I am also the host of our podcast. And today actually marks the final episode of our COVID-19 podcast series. Don’t worry, we will be back with more podcasts in the future, but yeah, this marks the last one. And today I am joined by a very, very special guest. I am joined by the new National Director for Sanctuary UK: Corin Pilling. Hi, Corin.

Corin Pilling: Dan, it’s great to be with you. Dan’s in Vancouver, he’s got up incredibly early for this, but it’s a delight to be here.

Daniel Whitehead: I have. It’s true, it’s true; it is very early in the morning. And, yeah, so Corin is only recently, like, I mean how many days [has it been] when we record this?

Corin Pilling: It’s three now, day three.

Daniel Whitehead: Three days. Three days. Wow okay so—he’s still here, he’s still surviving three days in. That’s quite an achievement. Corin, thank you for joining us. I know that you know what we’ve been doing in this series: we’ve been talking to people around the world in different places with different vocations, just hearing about their experiences of COVID-19 and, yeah, their vocations and their work. And today we thought we’d just explore a bit about you, and also a bit about our hopes for Sanctuary UK. So why don’t you, Corin, why don’t you start by—for those who don’t know—just sharing a bit about who you are, just practically where you live, yeah, just tell us a bit about yourself.

Corin Pilling: Very good. Well, I’m, I’m in the centre of London here, so for those of you that know the city, I’m about a ten-minute walk from Kings Cross Station, lived here for ten years and I moved here to become part of a, a wonderfully diverse church community which is next to the social housing estate that I now live on. So it’s been a wonderful thing. I’ve been in the area for about seventeen years entirely, and in London twenty-five years. So, I love the city. People often ask me, “How do you manage to live there at your age?” And what I tell them is that, well, it’s a bit like the metaphor of the—of boiling the frog in the pan, if that makes any sense to you. It’s kind of, I don’t know that anyone’s turning up the heat because I’ve been here for so long so it feels a bit like that, but actually I think living in a city healthily does take some intention. And for me there are a number of different rhythms of life that have become very important in terms of living well, but in terms of the entirety of who I am relationally, emotionally, the whole, the whole kind of gamut of my wellbeing. It can be a pressurized place, but it’s a place that I’ve often found to be an oasis, a place that’s very life-giving and full of good things, as well as often very visible challenges within, within a city such as London.

Daniel Whitehead: It’s really interesting, Corin, because obviously I, I get to visit England a couple of times a year, and it’s always London that I’m based—I have friends in Harlesden that I can stay with which is always handy, and I always go at the cheap times of the year, so it’s a relatively inexpensive trip for me. But the thing I love about London: I mean, London has been so life giving to me in those times, and they’re always busy times. They’re always meetings and going to and fro places, but I, I just find it so exhilarating. But the thought of living there all the time, I’m guessing, I’d like to think it would be like that all the time, but I’m guessing it isn’t. And when you, or maybe it is, but when you talk about those rhythms, those intentional practices, let’s talk about a few of those. What are some of those things that you would do to maintain wellbeing in the midst of a busy city life?

Corin Pilling: Sure enough. Well, I think one of the things that’s really important is the—when you’re in a city and it’s crowded like London is, and continued—there have been continued pressures on the transport system—for me the most life-giving thing has been cycling in London. And again it’s one of those things: at the start it always feels a little bit overwhelming; traffic’s pretty heavy, but it also generally moves quite slowly, and so you find yourself in a place where you’re able to get around on a bike, and it gives you—it certainly gives me—a real sense of freedom, and it means that there are certain stresses that I’m just not dealing with when I, when I’m cycling in London. So wherever I can and increasingly now going through lockdown, and coming out of this particular time of lockdown, the bike’s been an absolute gift in terms of keeping fit, but also getting to see people around the city. And so I, you know, I had a lockdown birthday, Dan, that I feel I want to share with you, and this happened back in May and this was at a time when we, we couldn’t visit each other in our homes, and I was thinking, well, I could do a Zoom kind of birthday celebration. But to be honest, I was already a bit tired of it by that point, and it felt a bit like work, and I thought, “What can I do that might be more fun in light of everything?” So I got on my bike and I did a number of doorstep visits to friends across London. And I was very lucky; the weather was excellent, and I, you know, you know, we had a toast each time I went to someone’s doorstep, whether it was a coffee in the morning, or you know, something a little bit stronger by the evening. And I covered fifty-five miles in a day. So it was just one, I guess, one of the kind of more conventional ways I was able to navigate lockdown but still really enjoy the connection with friends, and, you know, just a real benefit. I felt very free in the city that was at that point empty of traffic; it’s not like that now, you know, it’s built back up again. But that was very much kind of about my kind of wellbeing in terms of my, you know, I’m a very sociable person, my friends are important to me, but also that physical element too of just being able to enjoy, you know, rarely clean air in a city and be able to get about on a bike very easily.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, very good. I love that. I love how, how practical that is; how, how that just speaks to how we’re holistically made, that, you know, these practices are, they’re kind of sacred practices, you know, riding a bike can be part of your rhythm of spiritual wellbeing, and with it physical and mental wellbeing. It’s really good. So, Corin, talk to us about lockdown, and I’m particularly interested, you know—a lot of the people we’ve had on this podcast: we’ll talk about lockdown, and they’ll talk about lockdown in the context of family life, but for you as a single man, I’m really interested—what have been some of the unique challenges of lockdown for you? So, let’s talk about lockdown and your experiences of that.

Corin Pilling: Sure. I mean, it’s been a really interesting journey, I guess, you know many of us have been through. We’ll talk about different seasons of lockdown, and I’m sure that many of the people who have shared on the podcast—in fact I know this—have talked a bit about the kind of the early period where there’s almost been quite a lot of activity; you feel really energized about making changes to your life; there’s a necessity that’s pushing it. And then after that comes a period where you start to think, well, well, I’ve experienced how can these rhythms work for me, and the reality of course is that when we talk about our wellbeing, it’s never just the one thing that keeps us going. There are actually lots of small and very subtle things that we’re reliant on for, you know, living well, having a stable mood, being connected to each other, feeling that we’ve got some sense of meaning and purpose within our lives. So all of those things were often interconnected. And suddenly within this time we’ve been through a collective experience of many of those things being stripped away. And so for me the big thing as a single person is that I’m in this great flat here in Kings Cross, but a lot of my life happened outside of it, and so I then went through a period of saying, “Okay well, hang on, I’m going to be home a lot, I can only go out an hour a day. What’s going to happen?” And so I got back into my running—that had been a bit sporadic—and that hour of exercise that we were allowed to do during that time, you know, apart from going to the shops—I really pushed into that and started to really appreciate the, the, you know, seeing nature change around me. And I became a lot more mindful of nature in the city during those times. So that little moment of, kind of, well, there’s loads of things I can’t do but here’s what I can—proved to be a real gift, and I think, you know, in a way that slightly offset some of the other things.

One of the things that, you know, if you don’t live in the centre of the city, this is something that’s not always obvious, but there’s a real sense of communal life in a city where people rub along each other. And it might be not even anyone you necessarily know, or say hello to, but there’s a sense in which kind of, you know, we’re thrown in this together; anytime when there’s a, you know, there’s population density, you are having to navigate the people around you all the time. And suddenly that sense of being in it together, even in a very implicit way, that all changed and there’s a sense that people were isolating; people were fearful. But it was within those moments that I became really, really thankful for the times when there was connection, and I—when I was out on the runs I would start to try and be a lot more proactive about smiling at people. And not everyone would smile back, but I started to see a bit of a pattern of more of that happening, just through my proactivity and perhaps, you know, not everyone can do that. Some people feel very, felt very fearful and probably still do around the possibility of catching the virus. But those small things became really important, again—if I’m not able to see people in person, where I wasn’t, those connections became much more meaningful to me. So there’ve been a few of those things that happened. I think, I think the other thing in terms of being single, I realize kind of there was a gift there. I mean it probably goes without saying, of not having to deal with the challenge of homeschooling that many of my friends and peers have been dealing with. And so there was a whole window that opened up in my mornings, by not having to travel to my workplace, where I was able to hit a much more healthy, physical, and spiritual rhythm, where one of—most days I would be able to be involved in quiet, contemplative prayer. That’s a practice that for me has been a really important spiritual practice in the last ten years, and like many people that do that, we’ll talk about our experience of the fact that, you know, some days it feels like we’re getting nowhere, other days you find a bit more of a rhythm through it, but I find it very grounding practice, this kind of approach to silent prayer, and it’s one that I felt like I was able to really step back into it fully due to the fact that two hours of my day was not spent travelling anymore. So that, with the running, and I was starting to even do yoga, even do yoga, I barely know what to call it, so, you know, I’ve been enjoying kind of the online practice of doing that. So, it felt like a time where, a lot of the relational things that fire me have gone or aren’t present the same way, but there are other things that I can do to kind of reconnect with myself, reconnect with God, and, you know, connect with my body in a new way. And those sorts of things are quite important, I think, when you are in a confined space, that you can find a way of kind of being physical within it, a way that feels healthy, that you, you know, there’s variety enough within your routine so you don’t get to that point where it just feels like a flat line, you know. Finding leads to pull where there might be some creativity, and for me that actually ended up being poetry. I’m a big fan of poetry. I wasn’t writing it and I won’t be sharing it.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, oh—

Corin Pilling: Yeah, and I did—a friend challenged me; I started sharing poems because I, I was really enjoying reading poetry in lockdown. And a friend said to me, “Why don’t you read them to us? Do a film.” And so on Facebook I started—I do Poetry Tuesday, and I just pick through poems that, you know, have been, selected by friends and I, again it feels pretty luxurious if you’ve got kids around to be thinking about doing anything like that, but this was one of my benefits and the things that I enjoy doing, of just that process of curation, of connecting with someone else’s creativity, and then trying to present that work. So I did that for a few weeks, and that was a really enjoyable little project that I was able to kind of bring to myself and it helped me connect with friends again through the digital medium of Facebook so, you know, they were again gifts in that for me, and I hope friends as well, I’m sure a few people thought, “No, not another poem.” But I like…

Daniel Whitehead: I liked listening to it. I tuned in every week, so, yeah it’s great. And that’s so good, isn’t it, that—this theme keeps coming up but the weird, I mean, listen: what’s happening is terrible. We need to keep saying that, and the news certainly keep reminding us of that when we see stats from around the world and still what’s going on, but there are these weird opportunities that have emerged just—and people have rediscovered, yeah hobbies or, I mean, they’re more than hobbies, but people have rediscovered vocations they didn’t know they had because they’ve been forced to a place where they had to really ask the bigger questions of how do I stay well during this time.

Corin Pilling: How do we do this? And I think part of that there’s also been a bit of an honesty around the difficulty and not trying to put too much of a spin on the good. So obviously I’ve talked about a lot of the positives: we’re in a much easier place now, we’re socially distancing like, you know, I can see friends in groups outside, we, you know, if I want to, you know you can go into restaurants. My preference is not to do that, you know, I feel that’s a bit of a risk at the moment. But places are open and you can buy food, and you can buy a drink. So things have opened up, and a lot of the other activities I did, you know, I can’t do concerts, comedy all these things; they’re not possible at the moment, but I think that certainly there’s a period of time where I felt the importance of really being honest around some of the struggles, and just saying, you know, this virus is not equal. There are—my neighbours I know, who are maybe single-parent household, multiple children: they’re not experiencing this in the same way that I am. And the impact on their emotional wellbeing is way, way bigger than for me. And being mindful of that and for me that meant getting involved in—we’ve got in the UK what are called mutual aid groups; they may have sprung up elsewhere, it’s a locally organized, it’s not a government-run thing, it’s just a group of volunteers get together and we start to look out for our neighbours and find out what they need. And for me that was a very connecting thing of, you know, recognizing a very, very simple business of neighbouring could be a really, a real gift to me as well as other people. And the thing to say about that, I think, the penny dropped—it was like, well, this shouldn’t feel exceptional or heroic, it’s just doing normal stuff, but it’s something that sometimes gets lost, I think, within generations, within cities where we can get a little bit fragmented, and we can network and we can find some people who are very like us. But it’s something that most of our parents’ generation did without thinking; they didn’t need a medal for it, you know, they just got shopping for the neighbour and, and I reflected on it and was thinking, well, if this feels like a big ask once a week to do for a neighbour, it probably means that our lives are too busy.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, yeah.

Corin Pilling: And certainly, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve been, you know, finding other ways to connect with people who might be a little bit more on the edge and less, less likely to kind of ask for help within time too, and just recognize again that, there are these challenges and you can, you can’t always fix those things, it might not be your gift to do that, but you can provide some other comfort or a little bit of help within that situation that is meaningful.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah. It goes back to that thing, Corin—obviously I’ve lived in Canada for, how long have I lived here, like nearly six years. But I’m born and bred in Britain. I spent the first thirty-two years of my life in Britain. The whole British thing of when adversity comes, community spirit seems to take over; that whole Second World War kind of spirit seems to kick in. And it seems to me, it seems obvious to me but may not seem obvious to others, but at a point where things are stripped away, we’re forced to recognize and get to grips with who we really are as people. And it seems like, it’s so embarrassingly obvious isn’t it, like: do less, care for others, exercise, get outside—these are all parts of just how we’ve been made, and yet our cultural narrative of autonomy and busyness and productivity in the western world has just sent us off on a tangent which is making a lot of us unwell. And we don’t even know it, you know, we—and I know that that’s something that, that obviously speaks to the heart of the work that we’re committed to. I wonder if you could speak a bit about your own vocational journey of how you’ve got to this place; how you’ve got to this work where you’re now leading Sanctuary UK. Yeah, talk a bit about your journey.

Corin Pilling: Of course, yeah, I mean—I think, you know, one of the things that’s really driven me since the beginning of my career, I guess, is I’ve been really interested in what it means for people to thrive. And, you know, a good amount of my, my early career has been spent working with homeless people, and my particular interest in developing services and providing, providing them to people who’ve experienced homelessness, was around employment and training and the recognition that, you know, we, we all need, we all need some level of, you know, both developing our skills and also a place where we feel connected and useful within our society. And in a way it comes under this broader banner of purpose and meaning that I feel that we, you know, we’re created to, to experience. And I mean, in fact, within recent, probably the last ten, fifteen years of the development of positive psychology, that’s become a real point of engagement for people—of faith and not—to, you know, recognizing basically if that’s something that people aren’t engaging with within their broader life then their level of life satisfaction is quite low.

For me, it really started as, you know, coming alongside people who were often deeply challenged, often people who were substance-addicted who often had quite severe mental health problems, sometimes undiagnosed. And being in an environment where I was, to start providing some comfort in their lives, and then latterly developing services that really were wanting to help people progress within their training and their employment. So I’ve done that across London for many different charities before, you know, again one thing I probably should say is in parallel to that, the sense of vocation around churches’ community felt, I felt really deeply and so I wanted to be in spaces and in communities, that were exploring that, that were, you know—I’ve talked a bit sometimes with others about this idea of being friends with people that aren’t like me, and I’ve really appreciated the gift of that within the different church settings that I’ve had, like, the very different experiences of people, you know, in terms of their life experience, you know, where they’re from, you know, the way in which they, they express who they are—all of those things within a very diverse inner city environment which, I mean, for me the gift of being people thrown together, and for me the gift has often been, you know, we’ve not, we’ve chosen to be, to go to church but we, we’re all mainly, the connection for us is a local thing, and that within that wonderful accident, we find community and we find God within the midst of that. So I’ve seen the way that kind of I’ve changed in it, you know, people have given me their experience. I’ve seen also that when, kind of, we get stuck into that business to gather and worshipping God and trying to follow Jesus, you know, what the impact of that could be like. There’s just a real richness effect that kind of—

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah.

Corin Pilling: —challenge, of course.

Daniel Whitehead: It’s interesting, Corin, you talk about friendship, that’s the second time you’ve talked about that, and like a redefining of friendship—one of my friends is a friendship theologian and she was talking to me about how—these aren’t her words these are mine, so I don’t want to butcher her thesis—but, but as I see it from talking to her, there is this sense in which friendship has been twisted to become something else in our, again in our western productivity-focussed driven culture, it’s almost like it serves a utilitarian purpose. It’s like, you know, I make friends with people who are like me, who ultimately serve me, and she was sort of saying, “Well, no, the more Biblical vision of friendship is: how do I get along with people who are nothing like me?” And in that sense that very much reflects the nature of our relationship to God. I mean, we’re made in God’s image but let’s make no mistake about it, like, God is very different to us, and yet he not only, you know, he doesn’t go, “Well, you’re my children.” He also calls us friends; we move from being sort of slaves to friends. And so there is this whole other way of understanding friendship, and that actually, the more theological, the more spiritual approach to friendship is to truly press into: how do I relate well to those who are nothing like me? And it seems to me like you’ve, you’ve made that your mandate for your life which is, I mean, it’s amazing but it’s also kind of handy, because it’s shaped you to be this theologically integrated person? I’m just throwing that out there.

Corin Pilling: Well we’re on that journey, I guess, and I think, you know, I really love that you refer to that piece of Scripture because I think it’s a really pivotal moment, you know, there are number of these epiphanies, aren’t there, in the Gospels, where we start to see more of who God is. And, you know, you could say, “Well, obviously all the Gospels are revealing that, that both testaments are doing that,” but there are these key moments where it’s, suddenly there’s this incredible awareness and it shines a light on everything. And that for me is so beautiful, because in a way it happens at a time of quite a level of vulnerability within the story of the disciples. And so you see that happening at a point where, you know, the, there’s, I mean, you know the building story that’s happening, of course, behind it is, is getting more and more dramatic and more pressure round it. And you get a sense of that, but Jesus calling his disciples friends, I think, is a really key moment for us. And I, you know, I’d love to hear more about the work of your friend, because I think that’s something that really resonates with me—that idea of a theology of friendship and how we can, I think, within our society again we’re becoming more atomized and, you know, again reflecting back on that moment I was talking earlier about these mutual aid groups, that actually we’re just doing what’s normal but it doesn’t feel normal, because of the fact that within our consumer society where a lot of our choices are being made about transactions—becoming a lot more transactional rather than relational—and so that feels countercultural, but actually it’s kind of normal. It’s the way we should be, the way more of our exchanges should be, in every sense kind of economically, in all kinds of ways within our communities. So I think often when I’m seeing that, when I’m seeing people’s choice to be relational in that way, I really want to celebrate it and highlight it, even if it feels really small, because there’s that sense of this is normal; maybe it feels countercultural. Let’s not call anyone a hero, but let’s just say: “Let’s make this more normal, let’s continue to practice in this way until it does.”

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah that’s very good, that’s very good. So you’ve talked about—you were working with homeless people, very much a calling to the centre of London, to the estate you live on, to the Church, so these are things—and then you would have moved to your, your previous role so maybe just tell us a bit about your previous role, because you moved from working with homeless people to that role?

Corin Pilling: That’s right, absolutely. So I sort of got to a point where I felt it was time for a change, and I started thinking about the ways in which some of these passions can come together in new ways. And so some of my experience in our family is one of disability, my dad is disabled and I was increasingly interested—he has a progressive disability, progressive illness, and that’s his experience of disability—and I was interested in digging in a bit more in terms of the experience of people who are disabled. Also I found myself in a situation where, you know, my, the element of church that I was doing—I was starting to see more of a need for community development within our approach. And those two things came together with me working for a charity called Livability. And Livability work across the UK; they provide services to people who are disabled, and at that particular point there was a whole strain of work that was offering support for churches to engage in community development and so within that time, I’d started looking at, well, what, what does it mean to become a church that’s truly inclusive, where there aren’t barriers to involvement? And that drew me further on into this question of mental health. Mental health is something that, you know, we all experience. It’s something that we, we often at different times—and I speak for myself here—we need to help to be able to thrive. We either need new learning, new practices. Sometimes we really need, you know, huge amounts of support in order to kind of help us through those times. So thinking—feel like this is an area the Church could really grow in, so we generally started exploring that. We already—when I arrived at Livability there was a course that was looking at wellbeing together, but we then went onto develop more, more expressions of, of this area of mental health. I guess in the very beginning, thinking, “Well, it does feel like church isn’t really talking about mental health in a way that’s engaging to them.” And the two things that came together at Livability was: if we provide people with really good models to engage in things they do, and if we combine that with really good theology, then that’s a winning combination for those two things, like almost be understanding things from a Biblical perspective, a theological perspective, and one which is drawing from their faith tradition alongside—this is stuff that really works—how do we understand that within our Christian faith? And how can we open up conversations that help people really dig deep into the reasons why this is important from a Christian perspective? And you tend to find that that leads to change, these moments where these kind of paradigm shifts happen are in those conversations where we’re offering those questions to that material. And so that process really was very much at the heart of how we developed a lot of our material around mental health, and, you know, a guide that we produced at that time, written by a very gifted colleague of mine, Mat Ray, called Lifting the Lid: it was—really opened up, it was a free download—it really opened up looking at mental health from a Biblical perspective. We also had some great input from the British homelessness charity Mind and Soul, and within that resource it was drawing from a mental health access pack that we produced together. So, but—the main thing was here’s the first opportunity, as it were, for you; if you’re not talking about mental health in the Church, then here’s a great way for you to start doing that in a way that gives you permission to look at that. And I’m not saying that people weren’t talking about it in any spaces before that, but I think it leaded things for people to get a lot of permission, and then it started us down the journey of digging deeper, and say, “Well we need to go further than this. How do we extend this conversation so we can start to change people’s thought practice around it?”

Daniel Whitehead: Very good. So I’m now piecing the history together, because I’m thinking I first met you in January 2019 when I went over to England. We launched The Sanctuary Course in October 2018. [In] January 2019 I was put in touch with Ruth Rice, who leads Renew Wellbeing, who is our mutual, good mutual friend.

Corin Pilling: Yeah.

Daniel Whitehead: And I’d actually connected with Ruth in the middle of 2018 on—just as we were coming to land on the Sanctuary resource—and I let her see it, she really liked it, and said, “Well we could use this in Renew” as building a foundation of knowledge, and a shared learning experience from which churches could start these Renew Wellbeing Centres, which are just these—everyone should look up Renew Wellbeing; it’s a brilliant, brilliantly simple model, but really powerful how they create space for people to, I think, do recovery together, but to do it in a very natural, relational way, and it really just places the Church as this safe place, this place where it’s okay to not be okay. And I just think their vision of how they do that and how they integrate with the health service, how they make sure that people are being cared for holistically, and how they don’t, they’re very clear on what they don’t do, and it’s just, it’s wonderfully simple. And I just, if I get my way, Renewal Wellbeing Centres are going to be everywhere, all over the world because I think they’re brilliant. So I connected with Ruth, and I went over to England to do a bit of networking with her, and we went and did an event up in the North of England at a Baptist pastors Conference. And then we came down to London and we announced our partnership—Renew and Sanctuary’s partnership at Lambeth Palace—and we invited some people to sit round the table, and you were one of them! And I remember, you know, feeling, it was a strange moment because I was, had all these Brits—I’m a Brit, but I’m from Canada which is a bit confusing for people—and it’s kind of like this feeling of, “Who’s this foreigner who’s just turned up?” And I was kind of going, “Well, Ruth invited me, I’m not, you know, I’m not pushing myself in here.” But after that meeting, you—Corin—yeah, you came and spoke with me, and I know Will at Mind and Soul, Will Van Der Hart also spoke with me specifically, just to say, “Hey if there’s any way we can work together,” and you made a point of saying that. And so it began a friendship, and we met a few times during that year, and I’m thinking, now maybe we should talk about how we got to here—the transition from your role at Livability to this moment. Maybe speak a bit to that.

Corin Pilling: Absolutely. So I think, you know, just picking up from that thread—the fruit of that meeting at Lambeth was, we then went on to meet—the Sanctuary team met with me and others at Livability, and it was the sense I think of which we’ve really got shared values and approach here. And the more I got to know about The Sanctuary Course, the more I thought, “Well, this is something that would really enhance the work that we’re doing.” And so very kind and generously, that was provided to those that had trained on our mental health course, and people were then able to follow up, so it was a way of again really consolidating the learning that we were starting to offer at that point. And so, cut to a few months later, the change in direction of Livability: a lot of people that Livability support are those who are in residential settings. Some of them are in other day provision; many of them have very complex impairments, and their experience of disability often means that there’s a lot of exclusion. And Livability decided that it’s really important for them to focus their resources on, on attacking that particular issue; they really wanted to also place and emphasis on the spiritual lives of those that they were supporting. And so, after a good amount of the session, it was then decided that they would redirect and form a new strategy around this, and that they would then seek to find a home for some of this other work that we’d developed as a team. And, you know, we, we then started looking at, well, with all this great work, where can it be housed? And at that point, Dan—ever the man to see a good opportunity—said, “Well, it looks like there’s a, there’s a window opening up here.” And so that’s when you and I started talking about, maybe there’s a way in which we could kind of continue to build on the work that was started with Livability around mental health, drawing in all the excellent practice and resources that had been formed by Sanctuary, and then find a way of continuing to build on that and develop it within the UK.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, that’s—that’s so true. And I’m thinking that was last October, that was October 2019 when I was in England, and we were presenting at a few different, quite a few different events in a two-week period. And we were at the racecourse in Esher, and we had lunch together and just had this conversation that began to explore—not that I was anticipating that, but explore what would it look like if, if you were to come and work for Sanctuary. I mean how would that, how would that even work? And so yeah, winding forward a few months, we were able to find funding for the UK, specifically for the UK, that was an amazing provision. And we were able to find, we were able to get you over to Canada to meet people, which happened just before lockdown, like I remember when you were over here, we were kind of watching the news going, “Maybe Corin’s staying; maybe like, maybe he can’t go home,” because you were here for like six days weren’t you, it was a really short trip.

Corin Pilling: That’s right, it was very short, yeah.

Daniel Whitehead: And every day it was building up, and you left right at the beginning of March, and I think within five or six days—maybe four or five days of you leaving, everything kind of shut down.

Corin Pilling: Yeah.

Daniel Whitehead: So we were grateful to get you over here, but again you had a chance to—the Board, our Canadian Board had a chance to meet you, and a few donors got to meet you. And yeah, and, and here we are. And this is—it’s been an amazing journey. We’re enjoying seeing where it goes, and just so grateful for all the work that you’re—your experience but also the, the practical work you’re bringing with you. Maybe speak a bit about, particularly the resource that you’ve brought with you, or rehoused at Sanctuary—

Corin Pilling: Of course.

Daniel Whitehead: —which is Live Well Together. Talk a bit about that.

Corin Pilling: Yeah, absolutely. So, well, Live Well Together came about by, really, me looking at this question of what is the unique gift that the Church can bring around this topic of mental health? And what I realised is that within something like mental health, unless as many of us within a community are coming on a journey, where we’re developing our awareness around it, it will always be one of those issues where it’s a kind of—it will be seen as purely a pastoral issue. It might be seen in the terms of deficit: there’s a problem; how do we support this person? And I felt that you know some of the, the learning that I’d been involved in Livability really took on much more strength-based approaches to this question, and, you know, it’s a bit of a wordy descriptor, but asset-based community development is something that’s underpinning this. And it was something that I felt, you know, we need to be proud of the resources that we have and bring to bear as a community, but unless we see that we all have a resource, then we’re going to be very limited in our response. So, Live Well Together is a training offer: that what it does is essentially it introduces some, some theology around mental health, some models around mental health. And the transformative element is within each community being able to hear each other’s experiences, that then we hope will lead to people making practical changes within their community in terms of their response to mental health. So it brings everybody’s awareness up, but not only that—it brings their, their knowledge of each other and their shared experience up within an environment that we, we ensure is as safe as possible. And it’s, you know, that can, that’s a process that is a very, very powerful one, I think, for a community to share, because mental health then is suddenly not—that’s just,you know, a problem that somebody who has got very, a very severe and troubling experience of something that all of this is having, and again not to say that that’s a level playing field, you know. My experience, for example, with low mood will not be the same as somebody who has, you know, a much more challenging diagnosis of mental health. But what it does do is it starts us to help talk about those experiences in a way that we can be a lot more shoulder-to-shoulder with each other, and then hopefully demystify some of those experiences as we share them, and as we hear about them in the context of that training. So we’ve been really excited of what communities have started to do with that, and I’m excited about the possibility of us being able to deliver that; involve more people in those conversations so we can start to see that shift, and so that mental health isn’t just something that one specialist does within the pastoral team but it’s something that the whole church is on a journey on: building wellbeing together as well as awareness around it, and changing our practice.

Daniel Whitehead: Very good. And one of the things I think is key to say about that is, you know, our approach—we’re working together; we would see Corin as in, in essence, I mean technically you’re—Sanctuary UK is its own charity, and Sanctuary Canada is its own charity, but we are working collaboratively and really asking the questions of, you know, what, what does Canada need? What does Canada, North America need? And you’re asking the question: what does the UK need? And this is an example of a resource that I think is really made for purpose, for a UK context, but the thing that’s exciting for us is, but—is there space for that here? Is that something we can replicate? And, and you know, and the answer probably is yes, but we’re looking forward to having this more collaborative approach to creating resources. And I know that we’ve created a resource for the UK, Deeply Rooted, which people in the UK can download, I guess, anyone anywhere can download, but it’s written with the UK church in mind. And just thinking around resources, when I think about the resources we’re currently working on, like we’re working on The Sanctuary Course for Catholics, we’re actually just coming in to land on that project, which has been a big undertaking, but that’s one that’ll go out onto an internationally renowned platform called Formed. And we actually intentionally did some filming in the UK to give that resource more of a feel of being an international resource, and certainly with The Sanctuary Course, the second version which, again, I mean—we launched the first version two years ago, but we’ve already had to start thinking about refreshing that because that’s the nature of these, these things, so we’ll be launching the second version, and again we were able to film with people like Reverend Dr. Isabelle Hamley, who’s an Anglican Priest and works at Lambeth Palace [as] the Archbishop’s Chaplain; Professor Chris Cook in Durham; Ruth Rice from Renew Wellbeing—we filmed with her; Rachael Newham from Think Twice, another partner organisation—we filmed with her. So we’ve tried to—we’re going to actually intentionally give it this more international feel. We’re working with reviewers in the UK as well: people like Chris Cook, and obviously John Swinton, one of our ambassadors. So, yeah, I think there are some ways we can work collaboratively and create things that are “one size fits all”, but we’re also looking at: what are the specific needs of each culture, and creating resources that fit. So it’s just great to have your skillset and your expertise and your contacts and, yeah, and just all you have, Corin. I, I don’t, I actually don’t think we could have found a more perfect person for the role, and I, and I don’t think—we felt this is very much a God thing; this was an opportunity that God presented, and it was one that we’d been able to seize and grab, and we’re really excited to see where it goes, and I know you are too. Corin, maybe you can just, as we sort of come into land, maybe talk just a little bit about the vision for Sanctuary UK: what are the unique opportunities and challenges and things we see in the UK context for Sanctuary?

Corin Pilling: Sure, of course. I mean, I think one of the, one of the wonderful things about operating in the UK is there’s a lot of really good partnership already happening between others. There are a number of colleagues who’ve been involved in really raising the game, in terms of opening up the conversation around mental health. And so it does feel like within the last few years, it’s definitely shifted to, yeah, we’re talking about mental health way more, and the individual contributions that each of these organizations have made are really important. Now I think: here we are; we’re on the cusp of what are the practical changes that we’re making, so it’s not just the conversation we’ve had, but it’s now: how are we re-modelling? How are we looking at our practices, individually and collectively, that are helping us to maintain our wellbeing, and also helping us to respond where we need to, when people are in a level of mental distress? And I think both of those things are really key; they’re part of the same coin. So we’re certainly in a challenging environment where people’s access to statutory mental health services is becoming increasingly problematic. Often it’s maybe at emergency stage that people are getting the help that they need, and I think that that’s something that is a real issue, and I think the level of awareness that we develop in churches around that and advocacy is going to be really important, but also I think the general health of how we’re modelling communities are really important as church leaders, as congregations, and again, there are challenges to that, you know, we are in an environment where many people are often running multiple congregations if they’re in a church environment: that’s starting to happen more, and even within lockdown, you know, there’s been huge impact on church buildings because of the fact that obviously we’re not meeting, but also there’s not an income coming from those buildings; that’s been, there’s been a huge impact there that will mean the congregations will have to probably join together, and when we get back together we’ll see massive changes in the way that we’re doing that. So, we are in this space at the moment, when everyone thinks disruption’s always a possibility, so I think it’s really important that we start always looking for: where are the opportunities for us to maybe remodel, you know, how can we make choices that are going to make our life as community together honouring to God, honouring to each other, healthy fundamentally, rather than just overstretched and pressurized, which is sometimes the experience many of us have being in church. So, I think there’s a really great opportunity for us to really open up that conversation and, you know, and to model it. And that’s a challenge, you know, there’s a lot to do but also we need to do it in a way that’s healthy, and honouring to ourselves and reflective of the way God sees us.

Daniel Whitehead: And it’s great. I love that; you’re so right about the culture of the UK. What’s already in place in some of the partner organisations: we’ve talked a lot about Renew Wellbeing and Ruth Rice, and we’ve talked about Mind and Soul with, you know, we had Kate, Dr Kate Middleton on our podcast recently; Dr Chi-Chi, who is one of the, also one of the Directors, we’ve actually filmed with him. So his footage is being used in the Sanctuary Course for Catholics, and his footage will be used in Sanctuary, the second version of the course; and we talked about Will Van Der Hart, and they’ve been a really, really encouraging organisation to us and helping us network and promote stuff for us. They’re a great signposting organisation; I love how clear they are on their vision. Very early on we were talking about what they did, and they were just like, “No we don’t do that, we do this: we are like this advocacy signposting organization who sort of hold this space, and we point people to other organisations doing good work.” So, really grateful for them and that, that partnership. And yeah, I think about Rachael Newham at Think Twice, and there are others but, there’s just, there’s some great work going on, and I think my feeling is that Sanctuary’s offer is quite unique in that, but there is something there that we can help be part of that, that team. And, yeah, so it’s just really exciting, and really excited for you, Corin, and really, really grateful for you. Corin, this is your moment: is there anything else you want to share with people before we wrap this up?

Corin Pilling: I think the only thing I’d like to do is just really point out the, the Deeply Rooted resource. Really, that tries to tackle this idea of making sure that we stop and pause and really think about our wellbeing, and it’s aimed at church and community leaders, but it’s good for anyone that’s busy and feeling overstretched, and just needs to reroute a little bit within; spiritualize and reassess how things are going in terms of their wellbeing. It’s, you know, yeah, my greatest wish is that our material directly impacts people, and it’s not just a nice idea, but we’re able to really stop and think about, “Okay, how can our practice change?” And you know, that’s not easy to do. The first thing is committing some time to that, so I just really would encourage people to do that. We’ve entered August which is often a quiet time, certainly in the UK in terms of people going away. I’d really just encourage people to download Deeply Rooted, bring it with you on your holiday reading, and just take some time out to think about how things can improve, or whether that’s something that someone else needs that you know that would really help them.

Daniel Whitehead: Great, and how would people download that, Corin, where would they go?

Corin Pilling: So if you go to www.sanctuarymentalhealth.org/UK I think that’s the important part of the address; I think I got that address right, then you’ll find it there and you can type your details in, that will give you the download. And yeah it’s free, and we hope it’s helpful.

Daniel Whitehead: That’s great, thanks Corin—that was actually just a test to see if you know our web address. Trust me, when I was early on, it wasn’t day three; it was probably like month three, I would sit there going, “Ah, just google Sanctuary Mental Health.” Anyway, Corin, thank you for joining us. We are very grateful for you, and we’re grateful that you’re part of the Sanctuary family and helping this work expand into new places, and to help people and communities in the UK. Thanks for joining us.

Corin Pilling: It’s a privilege to be here, Dan. Thank you so much.

Daniel Whitehead: Great, well, this actually not only concludes this episode, but it concludes this series. Thank you for joining me, thank you for bearing with me; I’ve never done podcasts before so I’ve learned a lot—or maybe I haven’t, maybe I’m doing the same things wrong that I did in the beginning, but at least I’ve been consistent. But thank you for joining us, and as I said, there will be other podcasts in the future; they just probably won’t be starring me, so look forward to those and in all seriousness, this has been a difficult season for us all, and from all of us at Sanctuary, we care profoundly about the work of the Church, and we believe in you. We believe in the work of the Church, and we believe that the Church is really well placed, to help society particularly in this time. So keep talking to us, telling us how we can better support you, resources you need—we are here to create them, and the good news for you is they’re all free. Everything’s free. Just go on our website—sanctuarymentalhealth.org or sanctuarymentalhealth.org/UK—and you’ll find great resources for the church. Okay, God bless you, see you again.

Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries exists to equip the church to be a sanctuary for all people, at all stages of their mental wellness journey, may this podcast encourage you to create safe space for your own story, and the stories of others as well as create change in communities that stigmatize those suffering with mental health challenges. 

The Sanctuary Course is a small group resource designed to help initiate and guide conversations about mental health and faith, it is a starting point, creating a base of shared knowledge from which churches can explore the next steps, perhaps most importantly through the simple act of talking openly about mental health, the course helps churches begin to create safe spaces for people to share their mental health stories, and receive support in community. 

Each theme in the course is explored from a psychological, social and theological perspective, and each session is accompanied by a compelling film focussed on an individual story, a person of faith whose journeyed through mental health challenges. 

This podcast is released under creative commons attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives 4.0 license. Don’t change it or sell it but please share it all you like.