The Church and the Disease of Addiction
First Article in a Series Marking National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month, September 2008
"If emotional pain had a sound, no one would be able to hear the sermon on Sunday morning," Patricia Merrill, a United Methodist layperson and director of the Rush Center of the Johnson Institute, often tells participants during her trainings on congregational alcohol and drug ministries.
Merrill's statement, a powerful witness to the suffering that people who sit in our pews on Sunday mornings are experiencing, has huge implications for The United Methodist Church and its continued response to one of the most destructive public health issues facing communities around the world: alcohol and other drug addictions.
Hailed by some as a "public health nightmare," the disease of alcohol and drug addiction is an epidemic of global proportions affecting millions of individuals, families, and communities.
In 2003, statistics from the World Bank Public Health indicated that four percent of global deaths and disabilities were attributed to alcohol; 185 million people around the world aged 15-64 were users of, first, cannabis or marijuana, followed by amphetamine drug products such as crystal methamphetamine. The public health organization predicted that by 2030 more than nine million people per year will die from tobacco-related causes.
The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration on youth reported in 2006 that on an average day:
Although more recent reports from 2007 indicate that there is a decline in illicit drug use among youth, the number of young people engaged in drug use is alarming and demands attention.
The silence about addiction is entrenched in communities, villages, homes, and especially congregations. It is easy for people to stand up in their local church to ask for prayer regarding heart disease or kidney disease. But the disease of addiction? Drinking and drug use are viewed in the society at large as behavior of choice, not as a health issue.
The local church, a place that people most often turn to for understanding and support, is one of the more likely places for healing to begin. However, people impacted by addiction are reticent about going to their pastor or fellow congregants for help because the church is perceived as lacking understanding and knowledge, and sometimes as perpetuating societal norms that foster shame.
The United Methodist Church has taken significant steps in trying to change perceptions of addiction and provide tools for prevention and treatment. In 1992 the General Conference established the Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV), a denomination-wide ministry administered by Global Ministries. SPSARV, through an inter-agency process, has coordinated efforts of the church to prophetically challenge the secrecy and silence that surrounds addiction.
Through SPSARV, the church has built upon its existing initiatives at the conference and local church levels. It undergirds the efforts of its networks, such as the United Methodist European Board on Drug and Alcohol Concerns and its Ukrainian Youth Camp Model. The recently- established United Methodist African Task Force on Substance Abuse and Related Violence trains peer counselors across the 12 episcopal areas of Africa.
In 2006 SPSARV formed a partnership with the Rush Center to deliver a cutting-edge congregational team-ministry model, the Faith Partners Alcohol and Other Drug Team Ministry. To date, SPSARV has helped to launch more than 30 new Faith Partners teams across the US.
In addition, SPSARV highlights as a church-wide resource the Oklahoma Conference's Chemical Dependency Summer School. The school offers a two-week intensive experience to educate clergy and laity about the disease of addiction using the group-dynamic process found in treatment centers. This year SPSARV provided scholarships to three persons from outside the conference -- three from the US and one from Germany.
One participant, Dora R. Dorsey, said, "The Chemical Dependency School was an opportunity to learn firsthand from people who had been dependent on drugs/alcohol about the effects on the family and the role the church and community can play in helping them reach and live in recovery. I pray and plan to help implement more awareness and support efforts in my church."
Local United Methodist churches across the US are:
A conference is set for the Mount Sequoyah Conference Center, Fayetteville, Arkansas, on "Addictions: Faithful Responders" in the South Central Jurisdiction, February 23-25, 2009. SPSARV, the Oklahoma Chemical Dependency School, and the Rush Center serve on the planning team for this event. For more information, contact SPSARV at firstname.lastname@example.org (866-944-3330) or Mt. Sequoyah Conference Center at email@example.com (800-760-8126).
Date posted: Sep 05, 2008