(LAKE FOREST, Calif.) — Pastor Rick Warren, returning to his Saddleback Church pulpit for the first time since his son’s suicide, said Saturday he hoped to be able to remove the stigma that is attached to a person suffering from mental illness.
Dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, Warren preached a sermon focused on how he and his family had struggled to help his son Matthew through his illness, and how they have struggled to deal with their loss since his suicide in April.
Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, said the sermon was to be the first in a series titled, “How to Get Through What You’re Going Through,” which, “will show you how the Bible can bring you comfort and encouragement.”
He and his wife Kay Warren walked out to a standing ovation after being absent for four months since the suicide of their son Matthew Warren, both appeared to fight back tears as they greeted the audience.
Warren first thanked his staff, fellow pastors and family before starting his sermon.
During the sermon Warren deconstructed the stages of grief he experienced after his son’s death and said he had spent 27 years praying for “God to heal [his] son’s mental illness.”
“It was the number one prayer of my life,” Warren said.
Throughout his sermon Warren talked in more detail about the toll mental illness had on Matthew Warren, describing his son having a “tender heart and tortured mind.”
At the end of the sermon Warren said he wanted to help remove the stigma of suffering from a mental illness.
“In any other organ of your body breaks down there’s no stigma,” said Warren. “But if your brain doesn’t work, why are you ashamed of that?”
Warren said for the next six weeks he would give sermons about different stages of grief and would talk more about how his faith helped him after his son’s death.
He also said the church would offer support groups for people suffering from mental illness.
Warren’s son committed suicide in early April after what the pastor said at the time had been a lifelong battle with mental illness.
“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now,” Warren wrote April 6 in a letter to his 20,000-strong congregation. “Our youngest son, Matthew, age 27, and a lifelong member of Saddleback, died today.”
Warren wrote that his son was “an incredibly kind, gentle, and compassionate man.”
“But only those closest knew that he struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts,” Warren wrote. “In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.”
Warren gained international fame for his 2002 bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.
Since Warren’s first public service on Easter Sunday in 1980, Saddleback Church has grown into a church with more than 200 ministries.
In his 1995 book, The Purpose Driven Church, Warren shared the principles that led to the success of Saddleback. The follow-up, The Purpose Driven Life, catapulted him into the world spotlight and has sold tens of millions of copies.
According to the Saddleback website, The Purpose Driven Life is the best-selling non-fiction hardback book in history.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Kevin Conlon, Euan McKirdy and Johanzynn Gatewood, CNN
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Sam Penrod, KSL.com