November 11, 2015

I Am Starr King: Interview with The Rev. Barbara Meyers

Watch The Rev. Barbara Meyers, graduate of Starr King (Class of 2004) and annual donor, speak on what Starr King has meant to her and what inspires her to support the school.

How did you come to be a student at Starr King?

When I was in my early 30s I suffered from a severe postpartum depression after the birth of my daughter. For many years I was unhappy and deeply troubled by this experience. It was after I joined a Unitarian Universalist church and began engaging in the community life there that I began to recover. A number of years later I started a depression support group at church. After running that group for a couple of years I thought maybe I could do a better job if I had some practice at pastoral counseling.

So I came up to Starr King School and asked if I could take the pastoral counseling class and audit it as a special student. The instructor at that time agreed to let me take her class and it was after about half way through that class that I realized that this work was what I needed to be doing for the rest of my life. I had a career of almost 25 years in a different career, computer programming. I ended up retiring from that job and entering Starr King School in the year 2000. My intention was to become a community minister focused on mental health issues, and even though there weren’t other students that were doing that same thing, the school was wonderful in lifting me up and finding my purpose and helping prepare me for that kind of unusual ministry. I’m very grateful to the school for that. I graduated in 2004, went back to my congregation in Fremont, CA, and began a community ministry affiliated with that congregation.

What was your most memorable or meaningful experience at Starr King?

I have many memorable and meaningful experiences at Starr King. One that sticks out for me is that there was a contest to design a stained glass window for the fireside room, and I had never done that before but I thought why not. So I created a design, it was a spiral that started out in a deep red, and dark orange, and light orange, and yellow, and finally clear glass. And that was to symbolize the deep spiritual nature of where our work here comes from and what it does when it moves out into the community. And I’m very happy that it was chosen to be one of the designs that was actually implemented. I worked with the person who constructed it when he was picking out the glass and so forth. So when I come up to Starr King a lot of times I stick my head in the fireside room and peek to see if that design is still up in the window. So one of the things that this experience gave to me was reinforcing the fact that I am a creative person, and I can do things that are creative, and other things that no one else has done before.

So I’ve used this attitude in my life and my career. One example is that I started and produced and hosted a half hour public-access television program called Mental Health Matters. And I had no previous experience with television at all, but when the opportunity presented itself to me I thought, I can do that, I can create this. And just the fact that I with my creativity was lifted up here at Starr King was one thing that helped me to be able to have that attitude towards my career.

How has your Starr King education guided your work since graduation?

The first thing I did after graduating from Starr King, after affiliating with my home congregation, was to write a curriculum for congregations to study so that they could be more supportive of people with mental health difficulties and their families. I call it the Caring Congregation Curriculum. I taught it a number of times and a number of other people have taught it as well. It’s available on my website for free download if anyone is interested. I also created a public-access television program called Mental Health Matters that I spoke of earlier. And following the television program I started a series of videos of a person just telling their story. I got the idea for doing this because I realized from my television work that the golden moment that really changes people’s hearts and minds is that moment when a person talks about what they have been through and how they have recovered from their difficulties. Since doing those videos I have become involved in an effort to start a counseling center in Fremont. It’s called Connections: Counseling Center Affirming Spirituality and Diversity and we have opened our doors last January and are nearing our first year of operations. So, real great learning experience, stressful learning experience. A wonderful way that I believe that I’m taking this sort of spirit-centered approach toward recovery from mental health difficulties. And making it available to people in the community.

One thing that I’ve done, actually that I started volunteering for when I was a student here at Starr King, was work at a peer support mental health center in Fremont. After I graduated from Starr King I became an employee there, a quarter time job, and at that center I meet people with, many of them with really very severe mental health difficulties who are on disability, who are unable to work. And it is my contact with these individuals on a daily basis that grounds me, that grounds my purpose and my focus for what needs to be done to help people with mental health difficulties live lives that are meaningful, purposeful, and joyful.

What inspires you to support Starr King School for the Ministry?

What inspires me to support Starr King School is my overwhelming gratitude for the support that I received here, education I received here, and the whole philosophy of the school. We need to have ministries, whether they are community ministries, or parish ministries, or religious education ministries that are creative, that come from the source of a person’s calling, that allow people to expand their knowledge and to reach out in new and different ways. Starr King has been incredibly supportive to me in my education that, we simply need to have some place like Starr King around. And I’m very happy and grateful for the opportunity to support it.

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