Early on, with the formation of a Faith Partners team within or congregation, I encountered an unusual dilemma. When I announced the team being developed, giving “pitches” to attendees at three separate services, I was surprised at how many responded as interested. I culled about 16 likely parties, with a mix of long and short term primary (addiction/alcoholism) recovery, medical professionals, and secondary (AlAnon) recovery.
After sessions devoted to introductions, ferreting out interests and inclinations, we planned to attend remote team training. Upon successful completion, we were ready to introduce the team to the congregation on an upcoming Sunday. I thought that it would be an impressive show of how common the problems attendant to addiction were, as well as how many close friends were available within the congregation, by introducing team members and having them stand in place where they sat in the pews.
Unfortunately, this idea wasn‘t unanimously approved of. Two of the team members pushed back on the open recognition. One said that they desired “anonymity” which I presumed stemmed from their experience in Alcoholics Anonymous. Another, strangely, suggested that they probably wouldn’t be at that Sunday service, but gave no reason. Their reticence was undeniable. As is often the case, I typically deal with being blind sided like this in a humorous manner. I quipped that perhaps we could all wear “anonymous masks” similar those to worn by the freedom fighters in “V for Vendetta.” The joke didn’t go over that well. Ultimately, we decided to be acknowledged openly but not to stand in the service.
Still, I was left confused. Quite frankly, it never occurred to me to be reluctant to be openly recognized as a person in recovery with years of experience and training in dealing with alcoholism and addictive disorders, let alone promoting a helping ministry. After all, I had numerous encounters and discussions over several years with people inside and out of the church who desired help for themselves and family members. I talked to all clergy in an effort to promote open dialogue. But I let it slide given the newness of the ministry.
Some time after this came an incident where a congregant approached me and asked for help in dealing with a spouse who was experiencing the consequences of a DUI. I thought this would be a good experience for a team member with about 5 years in recovery. So I asked them to step up. Again, I was surprised by the reluctance. They said that they didn’t have the expertise they thought was needed. I was struck by the notion that a ministry member needed to have extensive knowledge or expertise before being of any assistance to those who asked for help.
I let it slide and approached another participant, with about the same amount of recovery time. Again though, I was met with more pushback. This time the reluctance seemed to stem again from a desire to not be “outted” as a person in recovery. I took this sequence as an opportunity for clarification. At our Faith Partners meeting that month, I broached the topic. At first I threw an open question on the table, “Why have each of you agreed to participate in this ministry?” Everyone was given the opportunity to contribute.
Next, I intoned what our multiple missions were: to offer insight into dealing with questions regarding addiction and alcoholism; to advocate, work with and offer community resources to help combat such problems; (and importantly) to open the dialog about recovery where it was once swept under the rug. Such a ministry may require us to step out our comfort zone and use the best information that we’re armed with. And it certainly will require most of us to be openly acknowledged as a ministry participant, with all the “risks” that this could entail. It takes practice to build any sort of skills, and this kind of ministry is no exception. It means a difference between being resistant to offering aid and being receptive to using whatever tools we have to offer help. That, of course, is why we pray. Prayer changes our perspective, allows us to be more attentive, and grants us the strength to do the right thing.