Executive Director’s Blog: Juneteenth

On June 19 we acknowledge and observe Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the day that the end of slavery was announced in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth has been celebrated by the Black community since the late 1800s. Juneteenth represents freedom and justice for Black Americans, and in recognition of that it is appropriate for us to pause and reflect on how important ending structural racism and promoting mental health equity is for the Black community, other communities of color, and our society at large.

For my newsletter reflections this month I’m stitching together a number of different citations and resources to help us deepen our understanding of this holiday and its relation to our mission.

What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19th to honor the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The holiday can be traced to Galveston, Texas, where approximately 2,000 troops arrived on June 19, 1865, and announced the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas. Before this day, some people remained enslaved despite the Emancipation Proclamation, which was passed in 1863 to free slaves in the U.S. In places still under Confederate control – which included Galveston, Texas – many people remained enslaved until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all enslaved people free. But it was more than two years later, on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas to inform enslaved Black people there that they were in fact “free.” Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to receive word that the Civil War had ended, and slavery had been abolished. Of course, what followed that day was an ongoing series of efforts to continue denying Black Americans their freedom and ultimately their humanity.

On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday

The holiday is the undeterred and celebratory response to systemic oppression. Juneteenth also relates to another event, Black History Month, which strives to celebrate the contributions and acknowledge the sacrifices made by African Americans. Juneteenth is a declaration of Black humanity and identity. An identity that directly informs mental health and well-being. We decided in 2020 to make Juneteenth one of the annual holidays during which the Center is closed. There are intimate connections between this holiday and our mission of providing quality mental health services. The holiday gives us a chance to step back and reflect on how we might improve any gaps in our services.

Racial Inequity in Mental Health Care

Resilience. Joy. Community. Liberation. There are an infinite number of concepts wrapped up in this holiday. However, underscoring all of those is one fundamental idea that gives rise to all the others:


With history in mind, Juneteenth is an opportunity to point out and condemn modern examples of racial inequity in all areas of life – including mental health care. These injustices persist in the U.S. and elsewhere, and as advocates for equity, we must remember that the end of slavery did not mark the end of all racial injustice.

In the context of mental health, the difference between equity and equality influences our ability to support people of all backgrounds, especially those who belong to racial and ethnic minority groups. For some of us, Juneteenth may be one of the few days of the year when we openly discuss this distinction – but for lasting change, these discussions must continue past June.

Based on national details gathered by the American Psychological Association (APA), people from racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental health care. In 2015, they found that among adults with a mental illness, 48% of white people received mental health services, compared to 31% of Black and Hispanic people and 22% of Asians.

Racial discrimination as well as cultural norms can prevent people from getting quality mental health care. Our cultural upbringings shape our perspectives on mental illness, and in some cultures, mental illness is more stigmatized and may be viewed as a source of shame, rather than a legitimate health concern.

Though we do our best to avoid inequity in our services, we must acknowledge that in many mental health settings cultural nuances are often complicated by racism itself. Care providers are much more likely to diagnose Black American clients with schizophrenia and overlook the symptoms of major depression, compared to their treatment of clients with other racial or ethnic backgrounds. Similarly, Black children are over-diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder relative to white peers, which promotes poorer educational and health outcomes.

Research clearly demonstrates the impacts of racial discrimination on healthcare and long-term wellbeing. Juneteenth might occur just once a year, but it’s an enduring reminder that racial equity is both a historical and modern-day issue, and it impacts all dimensions of a human life.

What Does Mental Health Equity Look Like?

Mental health equity looks like equitable, fair reach to quality mental health care: a vision that can only be achieved through structural changes. By considering the U.S.’s historical background and diverse cultural makeup, we can restructure programs and services that support mental health equity.

In pursuit of this vision, many clinicians, researchers, and politicians are working toward the following structural changes:

• Promoting culturally responsive care
• Integrating mental health care into primary care
• Increasing funding for the education and ongoing training of mental health professionals
• Making mental health care more affordable and customizable to individuals’ budgets

Concern for these inequities undergird some foundational objectives in our future strategy at the Center. Our goal is to have the demographics of the people we serve match the demographics of Central Iowa as closely as possible. The first steps in this strategy include increased diversity in our board and staff so that we have leaders within the organization who understand what it takes to achieve such a lofty demographic goal.

We need to go beyond our internal strategies in order to seek some practical ways to celebrate Juneteenth and reflect on our individual and collective responsibilities to effect positive social change. For now, here is a link to some events to celebrate Juneteenth in Central Iowa:


Ways to seek change on Juneteenth and beyond

Juneteenth is central to Black American mental health and well-being because it’s defined by Black humanity and liberation. It’s a part of Black identity formation. So, for those of us who want to honor the day and help safeguard and celebrate that humanity, what should we do? Here are three simple guidelines for supporting Black mental health in honor of Juneteenth:

  1. Listen to Black Voices. Juneteenth is about centering and celebrating Black liberation and the Black American experience. Seek out rallies, articles, stories, artwork, poetry readings, music and social media accounts and Black-owned businesses that offer rich, authentic Black perspectives to learn from.
  2. Respect Black Spaces. Juneteenth isn’t just a Black holiday. It’s an American holiday. It’s a date that is part of our history and that every American should learn about and honor. However, for those of us who are not Black—especially white people—it’s important to remember that supporting Black mental health means not dominating or appropriating Black voices and spaces. Work to bolster, not burden. Aim to amplify, not invade.
  3. Learn Your History. Honoring Juneteenth and respecting Black identity means working to fill the significant gaps in our knowledge of American history. Look for documentaries, books, workshops, professional development seminars and other educational opportunities that will challenge your understanding and beliefs as they relate to race in America.

And finally, stop to think about the meaning behind the different holidays we do or don’t acknowledge and why, and how those inclusions and omissions affect the mental health and identity development of those who are celebrated or omitted as a result. Frederick Douglass’ “Fourth of July” speech is a great place to start.

Juneteenth is a day of celebration, community, and reflection. This June, take an opportunity to pause and notice the systems of privilege and oppression around you. With time and self-education, we can begin dismantling these systems by committing to our mental health, investing in our communities, and choosing to celebrate and uplift one another, all of which connect directly to our mission at the Mind and Spirit Counseling Center.

A blessed holiday to you and yours,


Executive Director’s Blog: Black History Month

I recently attended an event celebrating Black History Month, and one of the organizers concluded with the admonishment: “Every month is black history month.”

It got me thinking. Thinking often leads me to internet research, where I explored the history of “Black History Month” a bit further.

As I continued chasing new thoughts and insights, I noticed a theme each year during these February celebrations. Here’s the theme for 2024:

Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.

The Black History Month 2024 theme, “African Americans and the Arts,” explores the key influence African Americans have had in the fields of “visual and performing arts, literature, fashion, folklore, language, film, music, architecture, culinary and other forms of cultural expression.”

Which brings me back to the event I attended at the Varsity Cinema. An artistic celebration of a documentary film directed by Craig Farley, Jr.: Through the Lens: Black Visionaries on Mental Wellness. The project was born of a cohort of the African American Leadership Academy, sponsored by The Directors Council. If you don’t know their work, it’s worth a visit.

The Directors Council, in their own words:

As a coalition of leaders, The Directors Council seeks to improve the conditions of the individuals in the neighborhoods we serve. We pool our collective expertise to develop programs and launch unique initiatives that meet unaddressed needs. 

How does all this relate to our work at the Center? Some of the visionaries highlighted in this project include Kayla Bell-Consolver and Breanne Ward. Kayla led us in some training around the effects of racism and generational trauma a couple of years back. It gave our therapists numerous insights about how to address such issues for clients therapeutically. Breanne has served on our board and continues to inspire us on how we might best serve our community, particularly if we want to be a welcoming place for communities of color.

The documentary struck me in many ways. What does mental wellness mean, given the diversity of definitions based on our communities of origin? How does stigma affect diverse communities? What are the resources for mental wellness beyond professional therapy? What is the role each of us offers when it comes to the well-being of others?

Lots to ponder—and the documentary was only 38 minutes!

One of our strategic objectives at the Center is that the demographics of the people we serve match the demographics of Central Iowa. We stand with The Directors Council, looking to explore and develop programs that meet unaddressed needs. To do this, we need to focus on hospitality and being present to our community to be a trusted resource for the many communities represented in our neighborhoods

It’s nice to have a reminder in February of the many contributions made by the African American community to improve mental health and wellness. As a wise person told me recently, such acknowledgment isn’t just for one month, but every month.

Be well,

Executive Director’s Blog: Transformational Love

Our mission is to walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing—and to live a fulfilling life.

All people.

Early on in my time at the Center, I had a conversation with an esteemed therapist who described the importance of how the healing process happens here. I was told that we’re not here to fix people, but to meet them where they are and then walk together–to accompany them as they navigate the challenges they are facing at that moment in time. We don’t diagnose what’s broken and needs to be fixed. The people we serve are God’s children, imbued with dignity, who need loving presence and care.

All people.

Another important part of our mission is to help as many people as possible regardless of their ability to pay. All our stakeholders wish we could help more as the needs are great and access to mental health services has been an ongoing crisis for too long.

One group we support in our mission includes clients working through issues of gender and sexual orientation/identity. I admire the courage they show as they work on questions of understanding, accepting and living their core, true selves despite how the world may view and treat them. Their stories of resilience in the face of fear, confusion and adversity are inspiring.

The struggles are real. I’m happy the Center and others in the healing profession can be there for those in need of expert companions, especially kids who have challenges in abundance these days. The reality of such struggles often leads to tragic outcomes. If you’re not aware of The Trevor Project, check out their website:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 (Hedegaard, Curtin, & Warner, 2018) — and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are at significantly increased risk.
  • LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020).
  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

It’s not an easy read. The numbers of this tragedy are stark.

It’s not a big leap to tie a culture of fear, bullying, and the need to separate and blame the “other” to what Pope Saint John Paul II called a “Culture of Death.” Against such hatred and injustice we are all called to struggle alongside those to whom the hatred is directed. Such support is especially true for those whose values and traditions mandate them to love their neighbors as themselves.

If you want to dig even deeper in research, give this a read:


I support these colleagues, mental health professional experts in training, science and research, who recognize how important affirming care is for the population. We are the professionals who deal in reality, not politics nor polls or faulty rhetoric. The hope is to keep the kids alive until they are old enough to sort out the questions of identity. Every day we offer hope and healing as we know that for many kids and adults, the culture offers despair so deep that the only option they can see to end the pain is to take their own lives tragically. The culture wars are not a playground.

I wish we all could enter the sacred space of the offices and the relationships our therapists share with their clients. That everyone,

All people,

Could listen to the raw stories of the harvest of what the seeds bullying, sectarianism and hatred produce. Could listen to the experience of the trauma resulting from being rejected by families, faith communities and civic leaders sworn to protect them. Could listen to the stories of other human beings who are struggling to understand themselves and what it means to be loved–the same struggles we all share.

All people.


Executive Director’s Blog: The Duty of Delight

One of my role models for how to live a good life is Dorothy Day, who died about this time of year in 1980. Her witness to solidarity with the poor is a prophetic voice that regularly reminds me of the importance of simplicity. A noteworthy phrase from her diaries is the “Duty of Delight,” which is also the title of one compilation of her journals. The striking and unique combination of words is a reminder that the habit of daily joy is a discipline, no matter the circumstance of our lives.

Another prophet puts it this way:

…everlasting joy will be on their faces; joy and gladness will go with them, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)

Who, may I ask, among those who encounter this reflection, experiences “everlasting joy” in our imperfect world? Isaiah himself was writing to an audience in exile that had encountered unspeakable violence, persecution and loss. From whence the hope, the joy?

If we look around us as 2022 ends, we could find plenty of reasons to question the mental stability of those who sing “Joy to the World.” Where is the joy in Ukraine? Is delight one of the first words that comes to mind for parents who lost children to violence? Have sorrow and sighing fled the lives of families unable to pay their bills? Even the descendants of Isaiah in our community find the levels of anti-Semitism and hate crimes climbing steadily.

Dorothy Day touched despair almost daily as she worked among the poorest of the poor. She regularly considered giving up as the problems her community sought to solve never seemed to improve, let alone disappear. Perhaps she was talking to herself, as well as to each of us, as she reminded us all that taking delight in the present moment is a duty that requires discipline and hard work in the midst of community. In her words: “It is not always easy to be joyful, to keep in mind the duty of delight.”

The work we do at the Center is an opportunity to walk with people in order to develop habits that help us to experience true joy. Not a fleeting emotion such as when we have a good day, but as an abiding presence of peace. It is hard work. The problems people bring to us are real and often tragic. Healing comes in fits and starts.

Part of the healing process is found in community. The people we serve are not facing challenges alone. It might be a compassionate therapist, a staff member who helps to support the clinician in their work, a board member that seeks resources in the community to make the work possible, a donor who responds to an end-of-year solicitation to make a counseling session possible, or …

I hope we all get the point. We are in this together, doing our duty, contributing and sacrificing to make sure others know that hope and healing are possible.

I am grateful for the many duties people have taken seriously to make our mission possible, this year and for all 50 years of our history. My prayer as we conclude 2022 is that all the work inspires an enduring sense of delight.



2/11/2022 – Celebrating Black History

Jim Hayes Headshot

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I subscribe to the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa newsletter and want to start off my thoughts by sharing a lengthy example of their recent content around Black History Month:

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans. It is a time to recognize the central role of the Black community in our shared history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” created by historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Every U.S. president since 1976 has recognized the month of February as Black History Month. 

Faith leaders who participate in Faithful Voices for Racial Justice, a project of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, encourage faith communities across Iowa to explore and highlight achievements of Black Americans and Black communities. Faith communities can highlight specific examples of the successes and contributions in Iowa, our nation, faith traditions, and denominations. Ways to do that include stories in newsletters, social media, and other publications as well as sermon illustrations and readings during worship or gatherings. Also consider study options with small groups, including youth groups.

Black History Month Resources:

Becoming Beloved Community – Episcopal Diocese of Iowa

Anti-Racism Action Calendar (Disciples of Christ) 

29 ways to participate in Black History Month – United Methodist Church

African American Museum of Iowa

National Museum of African American History & Culture

African American History Month

African American Heritage – National Archives

Black History Month – History.com

Though the Center is not affiliated with any particular community of faith, I think we can participate in the Interfaith Alliance’s directive to include stories in our newsletter. I would like to celebrate a mental health colleague, Resmaa Menakem, LICSW, who authored the book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies (2017).

I and other colleagues here at the Center have committed to working our way through this book as one of our anti-racist Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts. It’s hard work as Menakem challenges the reader to go beyond theory and literally explore how racialized trauma has impacted us all. I have learned from my colleagues that trauma work often/always involves body work as the effects of trauma reside not only in our memory, but literally in our bones. It is hard work to face the pain in order to move along the path to healing. Menakem and other African American therapists and theoreticians have done groundbreaking work as they have helped others in the healing field to explore the impact of generational trauma.

Sometimes the pain of our lives is simply and scarily an inheritance.

That doesn’t mean healing is impossible, just that we need to explore the trauma of ancestors along with current behavior in order to start the hard work of healing.

I am grateful to colleagues who have taken on leadership roles in our inclusion efforts. Billie Wade volunteers her time to facilitate a book club. Dr. Kelli Hill, our clinical director, has been generous with her time as she has chaired our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Colleagues in that working group have helped us to organize workshops on how we can improve as an organization and in the provision of our services. A subcommittee in that group is exploring how to make our physical environment more hospitable through art and accessibility. We have become much more intentional about inviting diverse perspectives in our board recruiting and in the hiring our staff.

Our hope in these initiatives is that we will be known as a welcoming place for all people seeking high quality mental health services, especially in communities of color which have been traumatized by violence and injustice. We have much work to do.

As we commemorate Black History Month, I am grateful for the many contributions of that community who have reminded us that through hard work,  hope and healing are possible.

Jim's Signature



Living, Breathing, Values

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I hope get a chance to peruse our most recent annual report.

The Community Relations team did a great job organizing the narrative around our foundational values. As I thought about those values as expressed in the report and on our web site I had a moment: these values are the reason I chose to join in the Center’s work as an executive director. So much of who I am as a person in this world and my own values align directly with what this place is about.

First a bit of clarification about values since the word is often misrepresented in our hyper charged political environment. We can express our values as an organization, but if they aren’t enfleshed, lived out in daily behavior, they become empty rhetoric. Somewhere along the way I read this on a management website (forgive me for not tracking down the source yet):

Values shift the focus from the greater organization to the individual.  Values define who individuals need to be to achieve the organization’s vision and/or live out its mission.  Values articulate a set of desirable traits or characteristics that people can exemplify in their faithful service to the organization and its cause.            

For me this means that organizations and individuals walk the talk and the behaviors are easy to spot when you observe the day-to-day. So let’s take a look at our publicly expressed values and see if we can find evidence of how they’re lived


We strive to help as many people as we can regardless of ability to pay. One of my personal values is social justice, that all might have what they need to flourish in this life. I’m glad to know that we provide services to help as many as we can. That is not to say that we don’t also provide services to those with good insurance who can afford to go anywhere. We strive to help as many as we can. It’s good to know that people choose our exemplary services no matter where they land on the socio-economic spectrum and that we do our best to serve as many as we can.

Integration/holistic approach

We like to talk about the healing process for the whole person: body, mind and spirit. Practically, this has meant a number of things over the years. Lots of modalities use work on healing the mind, but a number of our clinicians utilize techniques that help clients and patients to get in touch with their bodies so that they can augment the healing process. Hope and healing for the spirit means different things to different people. One of my favorite quotes heard around here is that we meet people where they are, not looking to “fix” them, but to walk with them as a whole person to explore what a flourishing life might look like for them.


The annual report mentions that a large percentage of people come to us because they have been referred by someone in their circle that currently or previously used our services. What could be a better indicator of trust. We don’t take this lightly.

Respect and compassion

This hearkens back to the quote about meeting people where they are. We encounter diversity in many forms among our clients, staff and board. Lots of varied perspectives and commitments, yet we somehow find a way to hold together the notion of community so that we can carry on this important work together. At the root of compassion is the ability to empathize, something we see on display every day at all levels of the organization.

High standards/experience

It is incredibly humbling to watch colleagues carry on their craft. Our staff have great credentials and are products of high level training programs—including our own. That’s inspiring enough. It’s the witnessing of it in daily behaviors that’s even more inspiring. I wish more people could sit in on our consultations just to hear the wisdom of colleagues as they work together on sorting out what the best course of action might be for a client. Their compassion is evident, but their expertise always leaves me feeling grateful that our staff is there to help in moments that people are most in need. The people we serve are in good hands.

Let me conclude with a final value: community. Though much of our work happens in one-on-one settings, none of this mission is lived out in isolation. Other patients, staff, board members, volunteers and donors have gone before us. We stand on those shoulders as we do our work. Each member of this community—past, present and future—is necessary in order for us to be who we are and do what we do. The values we share aren’t just words, they are actions we see walking the hallways, in meetings and phone calls and broadcast on zoom screens each day.

I am grateful to be a part of it. I am also grateful for all of you who are the community that makes it all possible.

To read more of Jim’s blogs, click HERE

Healing is Hard Work

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

I am white.

I am the son of an auto mechanic.

I witnessed racial violence in my integrated school and it was terrifying.

I was a first generation college student and athlete.

I was dumbfounded by racial slurs shouted from stands that were targeted at black friends and team mates.

My brother, a good man, is a police captain.

I have benefited from my status as a white male.

One of my highest values is justice and loving my neighbor—that means everyone.

I know I am racist in ways I can’t see.

I am grateful for people who have helped me to grow and gain the insights necessary to make that last statement.

I have work to do. Would you like to join me?

We have work to do.

Just when we thought we might get a handle on one virus, we find ourselves facing the sickness of racism—again. So many thoughts are on my mind as I compose this article, which was not my original topic for the newsletter and blog this month. Many of these thoughts relate to mental health and our mission. We work hard to walk with people so that all might flourish.

I received this from Robert Johnson, the CEO of our accrediting agency, the Solihten Institute, as he publicly wrestled with the killing of George Floyd:

As a young therapist, after a particularly difficult week, a mentor pointed out that good therapy, effective therapy, compassionate therapy did not always result with the person or family in front of me feeling relief. Most people seek our help because they are experiencing inextinguishable pain. Their plea, their expectation is that we will douse the flames of their emotional injury as quickly as possible. All too often, he explained, out of a desire to be helpful, we cooperate with this misguided strategy.

There are moments in the course of therapy when our most empathic and ethical response is to provide the support and safe environment where our clients can tolerate living with the discomfort of confusion and ambiguity. This can be as difficult for us as is it for our clients. Giving in to these pleas for relief leads to convenient interventions with quick but also short-term analgesic effects. Rather than genuine healing, we become unintentional partners in the perpetuation of harmful, and in extreme cases disastrous cycles of emotional, physical, and spiritual injury.

The work we have to do as individuals and as a nation has no easy fix and is certainly not going to make us comfortable. But I believe hope and healing are possible.

The questions, the discomfort, the therapy, and the call to action we must lean into include:

  • Are we willing to face our implicit biases?
  • How can we seek out conversations with those of different skin tone, gender, financial status, religious or sexual preference to understand their perspectives and experiences? We have discovered that many of these people are performing essential and dangerous services, making them most at risk in the age of pandemic. After such an encounter, reflect:
  • What was it like to sit with this person?
  • What did I learn that can become an action for good?
  • Do I regret any part of the conversation?
  • Were there moments when I was concerned I might say something offensive?
  • What surprised you? Affirmed you?
  • What is the next best step for following up with this person?
  • Am I willing to explore my own story through another lens by reading some books on racism? Here’s a list recommended by the Des Moines Public Library:
  • Can I knock on doors accessible to me because of my status, and apply pressure in order to begin honest conversations about equity and inclusion in our community?

Healing begins when each of us takes responsibility.

Thank you for helping us to carry out our mission of sustaining hope in times of despair and bringing healing where there is pain. We are in this together and we have work to do.

A Memorable Birthday

Tell me your most vivid birthday memory? I hope there’s a positive image that popped for you as you pondered the answer to that question.  I remember walking home with some friends after school and my mom inviting everyone in to have a slice of cake, which was in the form of an 8. I vividly remember how cool that cake looked and how good it felt to be surrounded by a loving community.

April 6, 2020 is the Center’s 48th birthday. Cue the music!

I have a feeling this is a birthday that will stand out in our memories. These are vivid times. In the last month we have made radical changes to our operations so that we can continue to live out our mission to walk with people on the path to hope and healing. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the coronavirus has caused us to change as much in a few days as we did over some decades—all perforce so that we might continue to be present to those most in need.

Examples abound…

Who knew one month ago that our Women Helping Women committee would find a way to transition an event that’s been around for over two decades from a luncheon gathering of over 600 (not recommended these days!) to an online gathering that will provide the same kind of inspiration, community, and generous support for the Center? I am so inspired by the efforts of our development team, the planning committee, our speaker, honoree and generous donors. We still have a month to go before the May 15th event, but their capacity to change radically is truly inspiring. Thank you!

Who could have imagined one month ago that we would transition our administrative services to a remote office in order to keep our workforce and those we serve safe? It has been amazing to watch the commitment and innovation required from our staff as they have not only imagined new ways to operate and support our clinicians, but literally to radically alter the way we do things in a matter of hours rather than weeks or years. It’s been hard work, but the reward of the efforts is the stuff of which a live of purpose is made.

Who, among our clients, had a sense that when they made an appointment with their counselor, spiritual director, or teacher a few weeks ago, would have considered the possibility that the encounter would be happening on a screen, rather than “live?” My admiration for clients and therapists goes well beyond words. Our services are needed more than ever in this anxious time of mitigation and neologisms. None of us had really heard of “Covid-19” until very recently. Now the mere utterance can raise blood pressure.  Thank you for all the courage it took to make those appointments possible! May the connections bear good fruit.

I must admit that as we were working on grants and asking donors to support us as we had lots of needs related to technology and getting the infrastructure in place to do telehealth and manage electronic health records, that none of us had any idea how urgent those “asks” were. Mental health stakeholders in general and our staff, board and donors in particular, positioned us to face this crisis head on. It’s been a bumpy transition at times, but we are here and we are doing our best to help as many as we can regardless of the resources one might bring to the healing process. The generosity of all who support our work has saved lives.

This is a birthday we will likely never forget. I am grateful for all those who made the first 48 years of our mission possible. I am also grateful for those of us that are a part of this current moment in the Center’s history and for the varied contributions that have made our services possible when the needs are urgent. It still feels wonderful to be surrounded by loving community.

Feel free to bring a present to the party by offering an online gift:


With a prayer for you and yours,


Be Not Afraid

James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

The scriptures of my faith tradition ooze with admonitions to “Fear Not.” “Be not afraid” is among the most consistent quotes, certainly in excess of 100 times.

I find myself repeating the phrase as our world faces the COVID19 pandemic. In spite of the recitation, the emotion resists releasing its grip on my body, mind and spirit. I worry about the health of my family and colleagues. I wonder about how to best lead the Center in such challenging times. What to do with all this fear and anxiety?

A few quotes to start. There are lots of places in the Tanakh or Christian scriptures if you’re looking for help:

If that’s not your cup of tea, how about some wisdom figures:

 “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”  – Albert Einstein:

“The sovereign cure for worry is prayer.”  -William James:

My quote from last month’s blog, Anne Lamott: “HELP!”

Sage words provide a bit of comfort. Poetry often consoles me even more. Here’s a favorite:

“The Peace of Wild Things”
Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Next on the menu is a mindfulness exercise from one of the most famous practitioners in the business, Tara Brach. She has written extensively about how to manage fear and anxiety through an exercise summed up with the acronym RAIN. As she puts it in a recent blog post:

“Learning to directly face anxiety and fear with the RAIN meditation—Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture—gives you a pathway to inner transformation and a fearless heart.”

Basically, she asks us to keep things real by recognizing our emotions, which means we need to pay attention. We need to be ok with allowing the emotions to be a part of our day to day, not judging them as good or bad. If you’re feeling afraid, so be it. The investigation asks us to pay attention to what happens when we’re experiencing the emotion, especially in our bodies. Tension? Where? How?  Finally, Brach asks us to treat that part of ourselves with compassion and to continually nurture self-compassion, especially in times of challenge.

Does any of this help? Maybe you could share in comments what’s been working for you.

The most comforting sentiment for me is not the command to “Fear not”, but the clause that follows. Jesus said, “Be not afraid, Fear not, ‘I am with you.'” That’s the part that brings me the most comfort and helps me to make meaning of all this. Relationships. I am with you. How can we be present to one another in an age of crisis and social isolation? Prayer is a form of relational conversation that keeps us close to the comforting presence of the source of creation. Reaching out to shut ins who lack necessary social ties brings comfort to both parties. Paying attention to one another as waves of fear and anxiety wash over us at different times will help us through. We’re going to do our best to be present to one another at the Center and the people we serve whether it’s in person or across a screen provided by technology. It’s our mission:

To walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing, and live a fulfilling life.

Let us walk together.


James E. Hayes, D. Min., M. Div., Executive Director, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

But wait, there’s more!

Writer Anne Lamott has been a great spiritual companion of mine—along with a few million others who enjoy her books. Her treatise on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (2012), provides a simple vocabulary to capture the varieties of prayer forms. I offer this short reflection using her construct to help us all understand a little better what life is like here at the Center and to recognize how dependent we are in order to live this mission faithfully.


This sentiment often provides the genesis of relationships with the Center. Those we serve have reached a point in their lives that requires some kind of companionship to help them through a time of crisis. We walk with them as they explore stories of grief, trauma, fractured relationships and any number of narratives—many of which would have been left untold if possible. It’s good to have someone to listen in such times. Our counselors are often an answer to prayers.

Help is certainly the easiest concept of prayer to grasp. We reach out to our god or higher power in hopes that someone is out there listening to the longing of our hearts to find a way through a difficult time. It comes naturally to most—especially to those with foxhole experience.

Help is also a verb we use regularly around here when it comes to seeking the resources we need to carry out our mission. We fundraisers on our team don’t hesitate to seek help from others as we would not be able to serve others were it not for the support of a loving community. You may have received a letter from us recently asking for help. My prayer is that it will inspire a gracious response!


Gratitude is the foundation of many of my reflections in this newsletter. It happens pretty easily each day as I look at the inspiring work of our staff who respond to requests for help in a variety of ways: from the hospitality of those who receive anyone coming through the door, to the energy provided in the daily counseling sessions. Bookkeepers, billers, administrators and all the rest care deeply about this effort.

We also experience thanksgiving from those we serve. We regularly hear the phrase “you saved my life” around here. People entrust us with their lives and as they traverse the arduous journey to hope and healing. They often arrive on the other side with hearts full of gratitude. Newfound hope gives life to gratitude.

We produce lots of thank you notes here at the Center. That’s because we have so many people who support our efforts. Prayers of gratitude for such a loving community come naturally.


There is nothing better than a moment of awe. For me, these moments of prayer/reflection/awareness aren’t as frequent as cries for help and experiences of gratitude, but they sure are profound. Just a few such moments can nourish an entire life.  Examples often happen in nature. Just ask anyone who’s scaled a mountain, been tossed by a wave or seen the brilliance of the sun rising and setting.

We also work hard here at the Center to increase awareness for each of us at the wonder of each moment. Wow helps us to work with anxious minds through simple acts of paying attention to the wonder of each breath, each sense, each second. Some spiritual writers talk about paying attention to the “everlasting now.” Each tick of each day is all that we have. Enjoy them.

I am wowed that the Center has been around for almost 50 years, doing really important work. Step back and think about all the lives transformed by this place and there is no word to capture the story better than WOW!


I stray from Lamott on this one. For some reason an important sentiment or prayer for me has been to surrender or abandon myself to the present moment. Each day brings with it joys and challenges and it seems that part of the secret to a full life is to simply say “yes” to what the day has to offer. A quote that has always inspired me comes from Dag Hammarskjold’s book, Markings. If you’ve not heard of it, the book is a collection of his journaled thoughts that was discovered and published posthumously after Dag, the secretary general of the United Nations, died is a plane crash. The quote, as I recall it: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.”

So much of what we do here is helping ourselves and others come to terms with the reality of our lives. Some of it joyful and other parts sorrowful, but all of it real. We’re big believers in resiliency.

Your help in this effort inspires gratitude, awe and affirmation for being part of such important work. Yes, you’re awesome!

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