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Online support groups help members connect with one another and God’s Word

“In October 2022 I was a guest speaker at a conference in Phoenix,” explains Luke Italiano, pastor at Amazing Grace, Florence, Ky. “I spoke about my depression. And I realized that just having someone to talk with about depression, having that ‘pressure release’ seemed to really help a lot of people at the conference. So I started setting up what would become Light in the Valley. I think the first time we met was December 2022.”

Light in the Valley is an online support group that meets twice a month. It’s open to anyone who struggles with depression in any form. Each meeting begins with a short devotion and prayer. Then Italiano goes over the group’s rules and each participant introduces him/herself and then answers the question, “How are you?”

“We just talk,” says Italiano. “If conversation slows, I have other questions to prompt more talk. We usually have between five and ten people a week—small enough that everyone gets to talk, large enough that no one has to talk. I’ve seen people encouraged by knowing that they’re not alone. Depression is such an isolating state. You think that no one could understand. And then you find out . . . no. There is light after all.”

Philip Henselin, executive director of Institutional Ministries, began an online support group to help frontline workers. Henselin served as a chaplain to Rockford Police and Fire in his previous call as pastor at New Life, Rockford, Ill. He encountered many cases of first responders struggling to process the difficult situations that they encountered. So he first created an in-person support group and then transitioned it to an online support group when he accepted the call to Institutional Ministries.

“A typical meeting is an hour and 15 minutes,” says Henselin. “For the first hour, we go person to person, talking through whatever is largest in their life at that time and supporting them. Often one person has good advice for another. There is a great deal of compassion and empathy, which makes the group a wonderful team. After an hour, I close the meeting with a short devotion. There can be a lot of negativism in such a meeting—grief, sorrow, anger, etc. There is also some close bonding. But I am intentional about making every meeting end with an upbeat message of gospel grace, forgiveness, peace, and hope.”

Other online support groups led by WELS members exist as well, including groups for those struggling with pornography and those recovering from substance abuse and other addictions. Visit for a list of all these groups and contact information for each one.

Read more about Italiano’s struggle with depression.

Author: FIC
Volume: 111, Number 03
Issue: March 2024

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