JESUS SAID TO HER, “EVERYONE WHO DRINKS OF THIS WATER WILL BE THIRSTY AGAIN, BUT THOSE WHO DRINK OF THE WATER THAT I WILL GIVE THEM WILL NEVER BE THIRSTY. THE WATER THAT I WILL GIVE WILL BECOME IN THEM A SPRING OF WATER GUSHING UP TO ETERNAL LIFE. – JOHN 4:13-14
IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE THE DIALOG BEGINS
The word of mouth “grapevine” had a way of spreading. Over time I was approached by a number of others in the church seeking help for loved ones under similar circumstances – almost invariably being approached in the church parking lot, after the Sunday service, scripture study or some event. Occasionally, I would even get a call from clergy asking how familiar I was with the regular weekly AA meetings hosted by the church and whether I would be willing talk to somebody who might benefit.
At some point, out of sheer curiosity regarding the United Methodist Church’s take on recognizing and handling addictive disorders, I surfed the web and stumbled upon the church’s Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV). I made a few calls.
ULTIMATELY I WAS PUT IN CONTACT WITH FAITH PARTNERS.
After long discussions, I realized that the idea of bridging the divide between the congregation and the twelve step groups that met at the church was a natural fit. I enrolled in the leadership training and began to approach the church staff. I suggested that after some time of wandering the parking lot, talking about alcoholism and addiction, and the impact that it had on so many families in the church (including some who’d decided to leave the church out of shame, or guilt, or to seek help elsewhere) I thought maybe we should move this dialog from the asphalt and into the church. I was encouraged to see if this was indeed something that might either be useful or drive people away.
I asked around the church, inquiring if the idea of openly talking about addiction and recovery was alright in church, whether it was an appropriate topic, whether people might find it in some way offensive, and whether members might even leave. I received a minimum amount of pushback, with only a couple of people feeling that is was a risky idea, but for the broad majority saying it was not just a good idea, but an obvious one. I decided that having a few people wave a caution flag was a good thing. After all, I thought, if a recovery ministry was such a clear and obvious idea, why hadn’t one been put together years ago.
I was eventually put on the church calendar and introduced the idea to three separate services one Sunday. In my prepared 10 minute appeal, I spoke to probably 800 people, telling them of my personal adventures before, what happened, and the way my life had turned so miraculously around. I related how important it was to have close ties with the recovery community, why outreach was so significant for the community of believers, and whether there might be 1 or 2 sitting in those pews that felt similarly and would be interested in developing a ministry response. Privately, I felt that while talking one on one produced positive responses, I didn’t expect open appeals in church services to yield much at all. To my surprise, I received 46 inquiries and requests for information. For me it felt like Moses tapping the rock in Meribah, and water (volunteers) springing forth. We were on our way.
A couple years later, the composition of our church’s Faith Partners team has most of the same respondents, and a few additional ones. Our team commitment is growing even more, as we host regular meetings, discussion forums, build a burgeoning recovery library, develop an expansive directory of community resources, advocacy, a budding prison outreach, and outreach efforts aimed at addressing addiction among the indigent community. And of course, we talk. We talk to those in need, to primaries and to families, and to those who are just curious. We talk person to person, and on the phone, and through emails, and yes…we still talk out in the parking lot as well.