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Mission Agency Announces Major Program to

Increase Alcohol and Drug Abuse Ministries in Congregations

by Melissa Davis

Sarah draws attention to a poster the group had made; it reads Breaking the cycle of addiction, Recovery spoken here, Healthy people - churches - world.
Sarah Reynolds leads a SPSARV meeting that explored the church’s role in drug and alcohol issues.
Image by: Gerrit DenHartog
Source: Community and Institutional Ministries
Beti Guevera listens intently; behind her, several posters from the meeting remind us that substance abuse is a complex issue.
Substance abuse is a serious and pervasive problem; Beti Guevera took part in a SPSARV leadership meeting to improve the church's response to this issue.
Image by: Gerrit DenHartog
Source: Community and Institutional Ministries

The mission agency of The United Methodist Church will sponsor regional training events in 2007 and 2008 to help congregations in the United States launch or expand alcohol and drug abuse team ministries.

The Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV), a church-wide initiative based at the General Board of Global Ministries, is organizing the events to provide church clergy and lay leaders with the information, tools, and support they need to launch and strengthen ministries of prevention, recovery, and advocacy.

The training will utilize a successful model developed over the last 20 years by Faith Partners which is currently used by churches in 12 states. Faith Partners emerged among congregations in Texas and is now part of the Rush Center of the Johnson Institute in Austin.

SPSARV began working last year with Rush to develop a team ministry approach to substance abuse that can be offered throughout the denomination. Rush will conduct the training under a contractual arrangement approved by SPSARV’s Interagency and Standing Committee Task Force.

Training events will be offered in the Northeastern, Southeastern, and South Central Jurisdictions in 2007 and the North Central and Western jurisdictions in 2008. More details will be announced later.

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society in Washington, DC, has endorsed the Faith Partners training resource and some United Methodist churches are already using it.

This is a first time that the Rush Center of Johnson Institute has partnered with a denomination to make its Faith Partners resources broadly available. Faith Partners, the Rush Recovery Institute, and the Johnson Institute merged in 2004 to maximize their work in alcohol and drug abuse prevention and recovery.

“Addiction is impacting the lives of many people and families,” said Trish Merrill, director of the Rush Center of Johnson Institute.  The United Methodist laywoman and pastor’s wife has worked in the addiction field since 1979 and was a founder and formerly a director of Faith Partners.  “Our mission is to equip people of faith to develop caring communities where alcohol and other drug abuse prevention is promoted and addiction recovery is valued and supported,” she explained.

In a historic move to promote and sustain alcohol and drug team ministries, SPSARV has created a 15-member leadership team made up of United Methodists from urban and rural settings, clergy and laity, various racial/ethnic identities, and age groups. The team also reflects various levels of experience with addiction ministries. Collectively the members represent over 200 years of work in prevention, addiction recovery, and advocacy ministries. This team is directly involved in planning the projected training events.

At a summer meeting, the leadership team explored the church’s role in drug and alcohol issues from a theological perspective, examined the Faith Partners approach, identified ways to make the church more aware of the need for this ministry, and provided guidance on how to initiate the Faith Partners model across the denomination. The team will continue to provide counsel to the initiative.

Faith Partners’ approach includes a core-competency module for clergy, leadership skills for team facilitators, and team development and action planning.  With the aid of community resources, congregation-based teams provide church members with training in prevention and early intervention, referral assistance, and recovery support. The presence and activities of the team help church members become more informed and less judgmental in dealing with addiction, allowing congregations to become places of healing.

SPSARV was established by The United Methodist Church at its 1992 General Conference. Its mission is to prepare church leaders and members to accompany individuals, families, and communities affected by alcohol and drugs in journeys toward hope, healing, and wholeness. Through networks across the United States, Europe and Africa, SPSARV creates and supports services that enable people to exert their faith and power to address alcohol and other drug addictions.

The program operates on the premise that the church is uniquely equipped to respond to the spiritual disease of alcohol and other drug addictions.  It challenges clergy and laity to boldly address addiction through ministries that promote the development and sustenance of healthy congregations and communities. The Faith Partners training model shares these objectives and provides tools for achieving them.

Visit the SPSARV web page at

For more information, contact:
Melissa H. Davis
Special Program on Substance Abuse and
Related Violence
General Board of Global Ministries
(866) 944-3330
(704) 947-3330

Trish Merrill, Director
The Rush Center of Johnson Institute

*Melissa Davis is the director of the Special Program for Substance Abuse and Related Violence - a program of Global Ministries


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Date posted: Sep 26, 2006