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The Porter’s Gate Hopes to Bridge Gap Between Mental Health and Faith With New Album

Before arriving at the retreat center, artists were asked to complete The Sanctuary Course, an eight-session film-based series with discussion guides available for free on the Sanctuary website. The flagship ecumenical tool, which has been out since 2018, builds what Whitehead described as a “doctrine” of faith and mental health that defines terms and outlines the church’s role in addressing mental health. It’s since been used in 80 countries.

Niki Jung, from left, Valerie Guerra, Daniel Whitehead and Paul Lee huddle around a keyboard during a day of the retreat. Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries staff members joined with songwriters to spend five days collaborating and creating the album “Sanctuary Songs.” Photo courtesy of The Porter’s Gate

“The Sanctuary course brings these two worlds together and helps people to see that you shouldn’t have to leave your diagnoses or mental health challenges at the door when you come to church, nor should you have to leave your faith at the door when you enter a therapist’s office,” Whitehead explained.

At the retreat center, they discussed the course and were led through what Wardell described as “group therapy” for three days by psychologist Hillary McBride. The musicians and staff members took part in breathing exercises and meditation, dwelling on the psalms and focusing on being aware of their bodies in the present. One song on the album, “Centering Prayer,” was musicians Brian Eichelberger, Nick Chambers and Kate Bluett’s attempt at putting that meditation experience to music.

“I wanna be where my feet are,” the refrain repeats rhythmically. “I wanna breathe the life around me.”

Matt Maher plays guitar and sings during the retreat along the Canadian West coast. Photo courtesy The Porter’s Gate

Matt Maher plays guitar and sings during the retreat in western Canada. Photo courtesy of The Porter’s Gate

Wardell also teamed up with theologian John Swinton, who chairs the divinity and religious studies department at the University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland, to lead a workshop. They discussed “Christ of the Abyss,” a bronze statue of Jesus reaching out, arms extended, that is submerged in the Mediterranean Sea.

“The only way for a person to experience it is you have to swim down, down, all the way to the bottom … and as you go down there underneath all the weight of the ocean, you find Jesus looking up to you,” said Wardell. “Can we imagine a world in which church is a place that helps us not just to go up to the hill of the Lord to find Jesus, but actually church being the place that helps us to go down to the depths to find Jesus?”