Who knew an empty church parking lot could solve the greatest mental health industry issues within the United States today?
I will always remember that drive home from my mental health job. It was a Tuesday evening in early 2015. My worn out mind was swirling as the bright red brake lights in front of me came in and out of focus.
My mind was mulling over realities within my profession, like the average cost for an outpatient mental health session is $120 and in some states it is double. The national median pay for a mental health counselor is $44,630. Up to two out of three clinicians meet criteria for burnout. Most U.S. residents with private health insurance do not have sufficient outpatient mental health coverage, and many do not have health insurance at all.
If workers are barely surviving and clients cannot afford care, how can we address suicide as the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34, and the fourth leading cause of death for ages 35-54 nationwide?
The little street light 20 yards ahead changed from red to green, and that is when it caught my eye: the empty church parking lot just to the left. If you grew up around church, you may be surprised by my reaction. Churches are usually empty apart from weekend services and small group activities.
What is so amazing about an empty church parking lot?
It is the same kind of amazing as a roof hole that helped heal a paralyzed man within an ancient Jesus story. Abundance can be found in the places we least expect it.
Jesus was teaching in a home, and religious elites from surrounding cities had come to hear him teach. In fact, people from all socioeconomic classes were present. The room was so full that a group of friends, carrying another friend who was paralyzed lying on his mat, could not get through the front door — and no one was budging.
These friends believed if their friend could get near Jesus, he would be able to walk. Or, at least one of them was convincing enough about this belief, that all the friends agreed to carry this friend on his mat onto the roof. Then, these friends dug a hole through the ceiling!
Imagine the debris falling onto the people inside the room. Like most live venues, I imagine the VIP’s were closest to Jesus, the religious elite in this case, and they were getting covered in dirt, straw, and dust. The general population surrounded the edges speechless by the commotion.
A paralyzed man was being lowered down in the center of the room in front of Jesus. What would Jesus, this popular spiritual teacher, say? His first word to this man lying in front of him, lowered through a freshly dug ceiling hole was, “Friend….”
How great is that? This major unconventional disturbance while Jesus was speaking was met with friendship. So many social, religious, and property conventions were flipped upside down within that moment. The friends eliminated their society’s glass ceiling by digging a hole through a literal ceiling so their friend could experience liberation.
Within that switch from red to green to squinting at this empty church parking lot to reflecting on this ceiling hole, I thought, That’s it
Many organizations, whatever their mission, vision, orthodoxy, or political color, exist for the well-being and liberation of humanity, especially churches. Meanwhile, many churches wish they could do more for their community, and they lack the resources.
However, churches usually have part-time unused space. Space is the greatest overhead cost for outpatient mental health organizations. In that moment, an empty church parking lot became a roof hole, and Khesed Wellness was born.
I founded Khesed Wellness in August 2016. We make outpatient mental health and wellness services affordable for the underinsured, which is most of us. Our mission is possible because of partnerships with organizations that have part-time unused space. We provided more than 2,000 sessions across our 10 locations in the past year, and half of our partnerships are with churches.
Khesed means loving kindness, however, it is more about living kindness. When organizations align with the spirit of this ancient Hebrew word “khesed,” all have the potential to thrive. What if everyone in the United States had access to local high-quality mental health services they could afford?
When our psychology, theology, and economics are out-of-balance, we are in chaos, but when our psychology, theology, and economics are aligned, all have a chance to thrive. Prophets, like Jesus, know this best. Often abundance is about our perspective on scarcity.
Friends, what holes can you dig?