STATE of Our MINDS PART
shortly after leaving, Finston broke the news to the guests who’d known him. Couldn’t hearing this have set back their progress? “Recovery isn’t linear,” she says. “You go up; you go back down. We’re honest about that.” On the trail, the just-returned man speaks in a slurred stream. Talk of his parents morphs into the tale of a longago slight perpetrated by his brother. There is no thread to follow. “I see,” says the staffer. “That must have been tough.” The group walks on, footfalls and hoofbeats muffled by the trail’s moss. AT DINNER on Thursday, the damp heat is persistent. The kitchen serves chicken potpie, peas, a watermelonfeta salad. At the picnic tables, Gould Farmers talk, dig into second helpings. A therapist’s child climbs a sapling and hangs from her knees. The young man about to leave the farm eats with friends, bent over his plate. Opposite him sits the girl who spent Wednesday’s meeting plucking grass. Her face is blank. They all eat in silence. Then the soon-to-be-gone boy turns to the girl. “I’m going to miss you,” he says, nodding. “It’s been awesome getting to be friends.” She smiles in response, her eyes softening, her face radiant. Tomorrow, that young man will travel down the hill—past the cows, barn, greenhouse, and woods. To leave Gould Farm via Gould Road, you must pass through a hundred-yard stretch of foliage, where the road narrows and the trees form a tunnel of pine. Branches block the sky. It’s dark in there, even in daylight. Because the road bends, it’s difficult to discern where you’re going. But then you reach the pavement. The world mercifully widens. And the way forward opens once again.
BEYOND BELIEF Reverend Donna Allen, PhD, uses her pulpit to preach the gospel of self-care.
OURS ISN’T A large congregation. There are about 45 of us. So when you come here, you can’t be hidden. We’re gonna see you. We have older people, a few young adults, children. We call ourselves “radically inclusive.” It’s our desire to be a place for men and women, people with different spiritual journeys, people with different physical or mental abilities, people who, like me, are same-gender-loving, people who’ve suffered “church burns”—who’ve been left out, overlooked. We don’t feel Jesus is the only path to God. We talk about the importance of diverse experiences. I’m transparent about mine. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve dealt with depression, flashbacks. I’ve spoken in sermons about seeing a therapist for PTSD, taking medication. For years, I got rhetoric from the church that mental illness was equivalent to a lack of faith. Here, we don’t do that kind of harm. We challenge that stigma. We don’t tell people God won’t give you more than you can bear, or that it’s gonna be better in the morning. No. The black community often doesn’t seek care. The messages we get from family can become our lexicon for mental health. My grandmother would say, “Pray it away.” A therapist wasn’t in her arsenal of things you turned to when you were sad. You were “too blessed to be stressed.” Well, no, I’m blessed and I’m stressed, and I need more. I need to pray, and. I grew up in North Jersey, the inner city. My parents were from Southern, churchgoing families, but they didn’t always take my brother and me. When I was 8, I decided I wanted to go myself because other kids were there. The only place close enough was an Episcopal church, so that’s where I went. When my mother came to see me perform my little part in the Sunday school program and saw I was the only black child, she started taking us to an African Methodist Episcopal church. We made it our home. That’s where I was ordained, and, later, my mother, too. I moved to the Bay Area and began to raise questions about the role of inclusiveness in the church. My bishop said, “What you do when gays come to church is preach conversion.” That wasn’t acceptable to me. I said, “I feel called to be in a faith community that welcomes all people.” So I left to create one and called it New Revelation Community Church. Our first Bible study was in November 2004 at a Marriott in downtown Oakland. I told very few people—I kind of hoped it would fail so I could say,