Events Past

2021 Comenius Learning Series

Comenius Learning Series 2021: Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness

Saturday, November 13th, 2021 | ZOOM | 9:00 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.


Common wisdom might assume that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the mental health of American, but studies over the past eighteen months have yielded mixed results. Though only time will tell the long-term consequences of this prolonged crisis on individual and collective well-being, mental illness will undoubtedly continue to be part of human existence, with or without global and local crises.

Rev. Dr. Heather Vacek’s presentation will offer a window into American Protestant responses to mental illness over two centuries, a period during which growing social stigma and the medicalization of treatments often impeded broader attention from congregations and church leaders. With exemplary historical responses in mind, Dr. Vacek will invite attendees to reflect on the implications for Christian witness in light of the suffering that both prompts and results from mental illness.


Schedule (via Zoom) 9:00 a.m. – 11:20 a.m.

  • 45 minutes – Lecture
  • 15 minutes – Small Group Discussions to think about lecture in light of our own experiences and congregations.
  • 15 minutes – Full group reflection
  • 5 minutes – Break
  • 25 minutes – Reflection on Scripture
  • 10 minutes – Small group reflection
  • 10 minutes – Full group reflection
  • 5 minutes – Closing thoughts / send off

About the Presenter

Photo courtesy of Rev. Heather R. Vacek

Rev. Dr. Heather Hartung Vacek is Vice President and Dean and Associate Professor of Church History at Moravian Theological Seminary and Lancaster Theological Seminary. She previously served at Vice President for Academic Affairs / Dean of Faculty at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary as a trustee of Moravian Theological Seminary. Her book, Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness (Baylor University Press, 2015), explores Protestant reactions to mental illnesses from the colonial era through the twenty-first century. Vacek’s research focuses on the historical relationship between Christian belief and practice in the American context, particularly around issues of suffering. In addition to her theological training at Duke Divinity School, Dr. Vacek holds engineering and business degrees from Northwestern University.

Preview her book on BaylorPress.com


The Comenius Learning Series provides opportunities for all Moravians to think, learn, and grow. The name recognizes the profound influence of John Amos Comenius, a Czech philosopher and educator considered the father of modern education, who was also a Moravian bishop of the ancient Unity.

He wrote that education must “illumine the intellect, direct the will, and stimulate the conscience. . . it is impossible to separate those three ornaments of the soul — erudition, virtue, and piety.” With this series, we honor his life, legacy, and understanding that we are to “make the whole of life a school.”

The Southern Province of the Moravian Church has a rich history of offering meaningful religious education for members through its Lay Seminary program. Together, we’ve grown in our faith and made an impact on those searching for a deeper relationship with God. This series responds to requests for more events that deepen our understanding of the spiritual, cultural, and historical perspectives of the Moravian Church and Christianity as a whole. We also focus on ideas regarding practical aspects of congregational leadership and faith life.

The Board of Cooperative Ministries is committed to enriching the growth of lifelong learners, both clergy and laity. It is our hope that The Comenius Learning Series will further support and strengthen the faith of our members by providing faith formation, Biblical study, and religious education that makes a difference in the life of individual members.