The idea for Well.com was conceived after I read a book by David Seamands, 25 years ago. At that time, I had the merest seed of an idea that North Belfast, where I lived at the time, needed a centre for the healing of damaged emotions. A centre which combined the spiritual and psychological with integrity. Over the past 25 years this idea slowly developed, most of the time out of my conscious awareness, but develop it did. It is really only now that I appreciate the significance of that conception 25 years ago. God is in no rush.
After studying psychology and while on placement in Holywell Hospital, I felt called to the ordained ministry in the Methodist Church in Ireland. This was not the direction I had expected that my life and vocation would go, but I candidated and entered ministerial training in Edgehill. Over the years of circuit ministry, I was always drawn to mental health issues in pastoral ministry and the healing of the soul. But having studied psychology I was acutely aware of my skills deficits in the field.
In 2003 at a retreat in Drumalis I was reading 1Kings 19, the story of Elijah’s fleeing from Jezebel. While meditating on the passage I felt drawn to the verse where God told Elijah to ‘go back’. I followed this prompting and went back and studied Cognitive Therapy as a Post Graduate and over the subsequent years built up the shortfall in my professional psychological credentials. The seed was growing. Parallel to this growing, I was researching Mindfulness-based CBT from a Christian perspective and integrating Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Spirituality. I believe this integration of psychotherapy and spirituality puts me in a tradition stream within Methodism which goes back to the work of Dr Northridge and Leslie Weatherhead.
I was also serving in the Church of the Good Shepherd, the first united Local Covenant Partnership. This was a very significant period of ministry. It was while serving in the Church of the Good Shepherd that my belief in the need for real church unity was confirmed and reinforced. However it also led to me being broken-up as a person. I now see the importance of that experience, but to be honest, not so at the time. It was probably the most significant period of character formation in my life and I have never been the same since.
After a sabbatical in 2009 I again felt a prompting by God as I drove down the Crumlin Road, towards the old and closed Carlisle Memorial Methodist Church. I felt God say that it was time to ‘open up the ‘old well’, just as Isaac had opened up the old wells dug by his father Abraham in Genesis 26:18. As I reflected on this call a few strands of my recent ministry experience seemed to come together, namely my work as an integrator of psychology and spirituality plus a passion for Christian unity and contemplative prayer. The initial vision was now coming together. I shared this experience with Tom Wilson and then Des Bain who along with Pioneer Mission Committee tested this call. After 3 years of journeying and testing I was commissioned by the Conference as a Pioneer Ministry Leader in June 2012 to start a psycho-spiritual centre in North Belfast called Well.com This past year Well.com has been supported by Belfast Central Mission and the Church Development Board of our Church. I would especially like to thank Richard Johnston of BCM who not only caught the vision but challenged me to earth it.
‘Well.com now has a base but well.com is more than a place.’
The first 9 months of the Well.com project was spent in looking and waiting for a suitable property around Carlisle circus. This initially proved difficult and so I was grateful to Mossley Methodist Church for lending me a room to continue with my psychological practice. I also led Centering Prayer,Introductory Courses on behalf of well.com. Centering Prayer is a way for Christians from different backgrounds to connect, as it simply involves silent prayer and lectio divina reading of scripture. I think our country needs more silence that words and well.com now provides one such silent space. During this waiting period I also spent time developing a relationship with Bill Shaw and the 174 Trust. I became involved in the Together Stronger program, a cross community project centered around Carlisle Circus.
Another important development in this period, was meeting Breige O’Hare through the 174 Trust. Breige immediately caught the vision of Well.com and offered her expertise as a Spiritual Director to the project. Breige’s involvement cemented the ecumenical dimension of Well.com which is vital, as our aim is to model unity in the fragmented community around Carlisle Circus as well as provide a professional psychological service and spiritual direction.
On 1 March 2013 I finally took up occupancy of a property at 9 Antrim Road, Belfast. The property was in poor condition and needed to be completely renovated and redecorated. However members from Mossley Methodist, immediately offered their service and I am especially grateful to Colin McDowell, Christine McCausland, Alison Todd and Cyril Kelly from Mossley and Martin Blackadder from Glengormley Methodist. They transformed the property. I began to see clients for psychotherapy in the centre at the end of April and the final room, the chapel space, was completed in July 2013. The centre was officially declared open by the President on 29th Oct 2013.
Well.com now has a base but well.com is more than a place. well.com is not limited to a place. This stage of well.com is grounded at 9 Antrim Road but the vision is much wider. Where it will go and what it will become is the journey.
What is well.com
The vision of Well.com is ‘to restore hope and well being in broken people’. This is seen in 3 streams flowing from and into the well. Firstly a psychological stream, which takes serious the human soul and the struggles of many people in Northern Ireland and in North Belfast specifically, with mental health problems. The council wards around Carlisle Circus are some of the worst affected in Northern Ireland with regard to mental well being. Secondly a spirituality stream. As well as facilitating a Celtic rhythm of prayer and centering prayer, the spirituality stream involves individual and group spiritual direction and formation. Individual Spiritual Direction is provided by Breige O Hare and the group spiritual formation is rooted in the DNA of Methodism and the rediscovery of ‘bands’ ( Dr Phil Meadows has provided a passionate theology for this revival of bands). The final stream of well.com is a community stream. At well.com we aim to model a united Christian community. We aim to foster close relations and to work in partnership with all church denominations and local community groups. Our mission at well.com is to be a peace-making, reconciling centre which can help people reconcile as individuals within themselves through psychotherapy and spiritual direction; with others through relationship building; and to God through Jesus Christ. Well.com is a 21st century fresh expression of church.