Story by Jennie Trejo. Photos Provided by Beacon of Light.
In the months leading up to the pandemic, the St. Andrew Methodist Church community in Plano experienced the loss of several young members who took their own lives. Instead of taking it on the chin, pastors and staff knew they had to respond proactively. Consequently, they launched Beacon of Light, a new mental health ministry that serves not only the church community, but all North Texas residents and other centers of faith.
Even though the seed for Beacon of Light had been planted, the community initially struggled to find the right person to lead the effort. Doug Reed, a longtime member of the church, became involved in the hiring committee– but he never imagined being asked to become the executive director.
Doug understands the pain his neighbors were going through on a personal level. He lost his beautiful daughter, Natalie, then 29, to suicide in January 2020. He shares that she had been troubled by largely undiagnosed mental health issues that stemmed from post-partum depression. It caught their family entirely off guard and left them devastated.
“It was the worst thing a parent could experience,” says Doug. “And here I was trying to start the ministry. We couldn’t find the right person. One day I was at home in my office, and my wife came and said, ‘You know, you can do this.’ And I thought, ‘Who? I hadn’t even considered myself.’”
Doug shares that at that point, the question for him became not whether he could do it, but whether he could do it at his church with people he knew personally. St. Andrew has long been a place where his family shared many milestones. He and his wife baptized both of his daughters there, and it is also where they both got married.
“Through a lot of discussions and prayerful consideration, I pivoted from thinking, ‘Why me?’ to ‘Why not me?’”
While Doug has spent most of his career in banking, he has also managed several behavioral healthcare organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit. Once Doug realized he was the guy for the job in the summer of 2021, they got to work.
Doug and his peers knew raising conversations about mental health in a church setting would require a strategic plan. Step one: destigmatize the topic.
“If there was a silver lining from the pandemic, it is that the conversation around mental health has been elevated in the church,” says Doug. “If you had high cholesterol or torn cartilage in the knee, people would talk about that. But you wouldn’t discuss needing help in a mental health capacity.”
Statistics show that, on average, someone struggling with mental health takes 11 years to seek help. Doug says he would not be surprised if it were even longer in church environments.
“Often, you’ll find that people that are struggling will lean into the church and attend more often, read more scripture, and say they need to pray harder,” Doug says. “All of that is wonderful, but our approach combines evidence-based clinical practice with that faith component. Faith is the secret sauce for a long-lasting recovery.”
Doug shares that one of the main lessons they teach is that mental health is a spectrum. He says that too often, people equate mental health to mental illness, but it can also mean focusing on mental wellness practices.
“There are things we do daily to care for ourselves,” says Doug. “Best sleep practices, exercise, and sunlight contribute to positive mental health. It’s not just for people who are clinically diagnosed with major disorders. It’s for everyone.”
Today, Beacon of Light is located at 5700 West Plano Parkway, Suite 1600, in Plano, TX. It is strategically placed across the street from St. Andrew’s church. This is for confidentiality, but also so that the resource can be available to anyone in the community– whether you’re a member of the church or not.
They provide education that ranges everywhere from “Mental Health 101” to more intensive training on how to de-escalate a situation where someone is in crisis. Many of these resources, including newsletters, special events, and a podcast launching this month– can be found on the website.
Counseling services are provided by licensed, professional therapists on various common mental health concerns and disorders. They are all Christian by faith, but Doug reminds us they also have all their credentials. This helps them meet the client wherever they are, on their terms.
“Besides removing the barrier of being at the church, our therapists also accept major insurance coverage and Medicare. We’re trying to make treatment as accessible as possible for people.”
Beacon of Light is also not in this fight alone– they have partnered with other organizations to extend their reach further. They have worked alongside the Grant Halliburton Foundation to introduce Hope Squad, a program that raises suicide awareness and prevents bullying among school-aged children.
“Throughout the pandemic, so many churches hit the brakes and didn’t know what to do,” says Doug. “But St. Andrew took a different approach and put their foot on the gas. And this is really an example of that.”
Beacon of Light held its first event open to the community earlier this month. The panel discussion was titled “Thriving in Transition: How Healthy Families Navigate Life’s Next Season.” It focused on how change can impact mental health, ways to connect with family and friends, care for your mental well-being, and the role faith can play.
Thinking beyond their local community, Beacon of Light is also developing a comprehensive mental health framework and training program for churches to become mental health informed so they may deliver effective programming in their areas.
“We’re not trying to turn clergy into mental health clinicians, but we know that churches are on the front line of the mental health crisis,” says Doug.
More than 380,000 churches are embedded in communities throughout the country, but most lack the knowledge, resources, and partners to address even basic mental health needs.
“What if pastoral staff and lay leaders knew how to identify and triage various mental health conditions and illnesses? How many lives could be changed or saved? Multiple churches have already reached out to us, and our vision is to provide them with resources in the near future.”
Doug’s commitment to this program’s expansion and deep care for his community is truly inspiring. He has been able to take the unthinkable and turn it into a lasting legacy that is as honorable as it is necessary. Since its launch in 2021, Beacon of Light has served over 170 local families dealing with a variety of mental health situations, and that number grows every week.
“There are few families left untouched by mental health challenges,” Doug says. “In our case, the impact was immediate and devastating. Our vision for Beacon of Light, quite simply, is to combine the power of faith with expert clinical services to help save lives.”
If you would like to support Beacon of Light, you can donate via the website here. Beacon of Light’s new podcast, “Faith in Mind: Stories of Light and Hope” is also out now on both Apple Music and Spotify.