Knowing the Neighborhood: Inner City San Antonio Church Models Christian Community Development, Responds to Mental Health Concerns

"I tell our church we are spiritually obese,” said Pastora Norma Quintero of El Templo Cristiano in San Antonio. “You come and you eat every Sunday, and you think it's all about you when it's really about the community.”

El Templo Cristiano is one of many urban churches who partners with Urban Strategies, a social enterprise that connects, resources and equips churches and faith leaders to serve hard-to-reach communities.  

Quintero and her family live in the heart of San Antonio on the Westside, a community that is predominately Latino and low-income. The church is located in a zip code that is known in the city for having the highest rates of violent crime and is nationally recognized for having the second highest number of children under 18 who experience abuse and neglect and high a school dropout rate that is four times the national average.

Quintero relays that she was ignorant of what was surrounding her in the community. She and her family live next door to the church. Moving into the neighborhood changed everything.

She started to notice single parent homes in the community and children being raised by their grandparents. Responding to the trauma and mental health needs is a key element of El Templo Cristiano’s ministry approach.  

Recognizing and responding to mental health concerns

Mental health is typically taboo in Latino culture or dismissed as not real. “Our culture teaches us to be ‘hush hush’ about any issues going on in the home,” relayed Quintero. “They say ‘don't bring out your dirty laundry.’ My culture, my upbringing, taught me that mental illness is not real. It’s something you made up in your head and can get over…. Now I know better.”  

Urban Strategies works with faith leaders like Quintero to address mental health concerns in their congregations and communities. The first step is helping churches identify that mental health challenges are real and valid. While churches are encouraged to include mental health concerns in communal prayer, a holistic response requires additional responses.  

That is why Urban Strategies offers Mental Health First Aid trainings to help faith identify and assess mental health risks and respond in helpful ways such as listening nonjudgmentally, providing reassurance and helpful information, referring the individual to local professional help and offering additional support strategies.  

Quintero shares that she has learned that mental illness is like physical illness, diabetes or heart disease – it requires attention and support. El Templo Cristiano hosts support groups for church and community members who are struggling with mental health concerns. This has profoundly affected church attendees.

“Lots of time people just want to go straight to the topic of God, and that is our job,” says Quintero. “But I think the way we are going to reach the heart of the people is by showing them the love of God in us.”  

Partnering with others

Leading an inner city, urban church comes with a unique set of challenges that extend to faith leaders. Quintero and her husband have not received a salary in four years. Lack of resources has not stifled their vision for the community.  

In addition to tooling and training churches, Urban Strategies connects churches to local resources and other churches who share a vision for community development.  

El Templo Cristiano works in partnership with others doing transformative work in the City. The church meets in a large building with ample space to share with partners in San Antonio. Her partners have resources and strengths that compliment the limitations Quintero has identified.

“We can do a lot with where he [God] has put us and what we doesn't come down to the money, it comes down to your vision, to your dream, to your heart."

To learn more about Mental Health First Aid training and other community engagement resources, contact us.  

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