House of Hope Presbyterian Church
St. Paul, Minnesota
Trinity United Method Church
I was one year in recovery from alcoholism when my Higher Power gave me an opportunity.
The Senior Pastor of our large and established Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota came to a few of us with a call for help. She recounted a heartbreaking meeting with parents who were worried sick about their daughter’s downward spiral of addiction. Though trained at a first-rate seminary, our pastor felt ill-equipped to help. The seminary curriculum offered no training in addiction and recovery, even though we now know that one in three people in America’s faith communities either struggle personally with addiction or love someone who struggles.
All our Pastor could offer that day was pray with the parents. It was not a small thing, but it was not enough, either.
“Can you create a program to educate me and our congregation,” she asked us? She knew that we were all in recovery after facing our own addictive demons. And so we did. Fortunately, we were introduced to Faith Partners, an emergent program at the time, who helped us through training and consultation. We gathered a team that included church members in recovery from addiction and family members whose loved ones struggled. Some members of our team lost loved ones in the course of our work.
With the help from Faith Partners, we created a mission, vision and a plan. We conducted their congregational survey to gauge the interest in this new educational program. We offered panels and speakers on many aspects of addiction and recovery with excellent attendance and feedback. Our church newsletter carried a personal essay on addiction and recovery from one of our team members each month and – to our surprise – every person signed his or name. We dedicated one Sunday to Recovery Sunday with a recovering faith leader telling his or her story. We created a resource list including therapists, professional interventionists, treatment centers and detox programs and left that list in our church library along with a shelf of useful books to check-out.
Our goal was to lift the veil of secrecy around addiction in our church and bring the subject from the church basement into the chancel. We insisted on honesty and openness. Along with congregational education, all of us were available if our Pastor needed us to advise a family or call personally on a struggling addict.
Our Faith Partners team thrived for ten years at our church and our success was dependent on the support and involvement of the pastoral team.
When I relocated my life to Savannah, Georgia about 11 years ago, I talked with my Pastor at Trinity United Method Church about creating a community-wide educational program and he was all in. I consulted with Faith Partners once again to help develop a vision and framework for the ministry. Today, our Interfaith Addiction and Recovery Coalition of Savannah provides educational programs for faith leaders of all backgrounds. So far, our forums have focused on youth and addiction, resources available in the Savannah community that faith leaders can tap into, and bravely-shared stories from faith leaders themselves who have struggled with their own addiction or the addiction of people they love.
In this age of COVID-19, we started an e-newsletter to reach out to our faith leader community and on October 6 – in collaboration with Hazelden Betty Ford – we will offer a family program tailored to our faith leaders via Webex.
We have a cabinet of faith leader advisors that includes the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i and Quaker faiths.
Our work in Saint Paul, Minnesota and now in Savannah, Georgia underscores a statement that I believe is necessary and true:
We recover loudly so that others don’t have to die quietly.