Ministry Development – Dealing with Stigma

October 14, 2014 by  
Filed under What's New

One of the issues I found myself dealing with in the early stages of Faith Partners team development had to do with the openness to disclosure among team members, familiar with both AA, AlAnon, and other 12 Step programs. That is to say, where somebody would readily identify themselves as a recovering participant within a 12 Step program – and I had been in meetings with a couple of them – there was a staid reluctance about self-identifying to church congregants. And this was significant as we 1) had to represent the ministry to the church at large, 2) field questions about bridging the recovery and faith communities, and 3) work directly with those in need of referral assistance.
One person was actually reluctant to continue participating in Faith Partners after a few meetings, in spite of having a child incarcerated on substance abuse-related charges. She apparently felt that being a part of a recovery oriented ministry while the stigma of having a substance abusing child was too great to bear within the church community.
I empathized with her and shared my feelings. Our society needs to change its outlook and give help instead of punishment. Somebody who is afraid of the stigma associated with addiction and mental health issues will have difficulty helping those who reach out for help and support. When the door of stigma closes, it holds people back in dark and unhealthy places, acting as a barrier to assisting others to a positive future and productive lives.
Another individual, a retired banking executive with over 3 years of recovery, was alright with being a part of Faith Partners. He was, however, against self identifying to any non-alcoholic church members, preferring personal anonymity as a close interpretation of AA Traditions.
I suggested that there might be another way of looking at this. Whether he chose to openly self-identify was up to him, but that presents a problem; how was he to respond whenever anyone stepped forward and asked for help. We are the lucky ones. We received help. We’re blessed. Why wouldn’t a person share that?
|Addiction is a disease and its nobody’s fault to have it. It only becomes somebody’s fault if they don’t do anything about it. Fighting this disease on one’s own is almost impossible, and those with the disease need help, support, treatment, sometimes medication, and a lot of hope and encouragement. Nobody can get this help by hiding in shame and guilt behind closed doors without reaching out.
One individual questioned my appearance before 3 services one Sunday – approximately 700 worshippers – where I self-identified and spoke of a planned recovery ministry. Wasn’t I concerned what people would think?
I said that I choose not to be anonymous under such circumstances. My 25 years of recovery is real and I’m open about it because I’m proud of my achievements in controlling substance abuse today. We live in modern times, not stigmatizing people for their, race, color, gender, or heritage. There is no reason to maintain that ancient stigma about addiction in our society. Addiction is an equal opportunity killer disease that could affect someone in your family tomorrow without warning.
Another person questioned whether Faith Partners would be taken seriously, “you know, being they’re alcoholics.”
People in recovery are not second-class citizens. They are as proud as cancer survivors, just as reliable as a diabetic, as responsible as someone with high cholesterol, and yet they are still vulnerable to hate speech, bad words and rejection as anyone else.
People with substance use disorders are often seen as weak; even they are the strongest people on earth as they make it into recovery. Yet even in recovery, they are often viewed with suspicion. One point however is clear: Stigma Hurts!

Ministry Sustainability – Transitioning Plans

October 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Teams, What's New

Eventually all groups arrive at transitional points – participants may come and go, new programs and initiatives start or wind down, and ministries emerge or (hopefully not) close down. My own experience had to with leaving one ministry that I had initiated to start another. We had a thriving group at one church that had been consecrated over three years previous, when one of the clergy there told me of their intention to plant a new, conference-approved church startup a couple miles away.

The plan was to create a “coffee house” church with baristas, and open seating at tables, with buffet-style brunch, and soft, live jazz music. It was intended to be a paradigm of post-modernism with no pews, no singing, and an uncomplicated message. It was tailored to appeal to the “unchurched, the dechurched, and the non-churched.” I gave it quite a bit of thought since I had been a member of my current church for over 16 years, but when clergy at my current church asked congregants to attend the “church down the road” I took them up on it.

I immediately thought how the new model would appeal to the recovery community that I’d been part of for over 25 years – relaxed, invitational, and easy going. I immediately invited acquaintances from 12 step programs who showed some interest. Within six months, a substantial percentage of the congregation was composed folks from the recovery community. I was asked to form a 12 Step meeting, which took shape on Saturday evenings and addressed the needs of a mixed (dual-addicted) population. We also engaged in outreach to local recovery programs. Eventually, the roots of a new Faith Partners team began to spring up.

This is not to say that the original Faith Partners was left rudderless. The 14 ministry participants were fully engaged. In the time we’d been up and running, we’d met regularly a couple times a month, reached out to the church community and provided services covering a variety of addiction issues; surveyed the congregation; we’d devised a regular (monthly) guest speaker program; we’d connected with community services – the local Board of Education, MADD, and such – for advocacy issues; we’d created awareness programs for church youth, and we’d continued to engage community treatment programs with monthly dinners. By the time that I departed from my leadership role, I felt comfortable in turning things over. Time would tell.

I revisited the monthly meetings almost two years later, in order to get some feedback on a video presentation that I had proposed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that attendance was still strong. One person had moved in the interim, two people had dropped out, but two new participants had come on board. Toward the end of the meeting session, I offered some additional thoughts apart from the proposed presentation. I mentioned that attendance was still strong, to the group’s credit, and asked about the programs that the group was involved with. I was informed that all the same engagements were ongoing with the exception of the one on one work with congregants. That was being rectified by the new inclusion of a member with a counseling background. I suggested that it was statistically probable that a new ministry might typically meet its demise following the departure of the founding personalities. I gained insight into what it takes to successfully transition:

  1. The significance of group cohesion was extremely important. The team had bonded and members felt committed to each other.
  2. A variety of interests engaged participants at their own skill level, and allowed them to grow.
  3. Leadership roles were shared among ministry participants.
  4. Even when clergy involvement fluctuated, the ministry was still represented at church council meetings.
  5. Oddly enough, participants were rarely recruited. Once the ministry message was offered, they typically just came forward. The purpose of the ministry was widely recognized and endorsed.

It was gratifying to realize that the comments I received underscored the ministry itself. My objective was always to develop a ministry, give it time and effort to grow legs, and then turn it over so that someone could run with it.

Ministry Sustainability – Breaking Bread

October 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Teams, What's New

I was at a dinner recently as part a monthly commitment to the local indigent Womens Recovery program. I showed up early to heat a casserole that I brought. It was a bit iffy as to what kind of contributions we could expect. I spoke with the coordinator, Bob, the day before and he told me that there was only one name on the sign up sheet. He said that he might have to break down and pick up some Take-n-Bake pizzas or make some chili. I told him that although I hadn’t planned on being there, I would make an exception so he didn’t have to go it alone.

Bob showed up shortly after and I helped him set up. Surprisingly, he said the contributions suddenly came through and it looked like there would be enough to feed the 22 or so residents. I said that was impressive, although I hadn’t planned on providing drinks, so we’d probably have rely on ice water. I also couldn’t help remarking on the irony that two men were responsible for conducting a dinner at a Women’s treatment facility. He chuckled and said that was probably part the “divine plan” to teach guys humility, or something. I smiled.

As we bit nearer to the serving time, I got another surprise. We were joined by another lady and her teenage daughter who showed up to serve. It was somebody that I hadn’t seen in months. And she brought the drinks too. I offered thanks and pleasantries at seeing her after such a long time, then retreated to the kitchen to fill up a pan with some ice for drinks.  Upon returning, I was stunned to see that that we were now joined by the pastor of our church and his wife. I expressed appreciation in that as long as we had been conducting these twice monthly dinners – for about the past six years or so – we had never been joined by clergy. Not that it was a big deal, but I always did think it might be nice to share in the outreach. This pastor was new to our church and not wanting to slight his predecessor, I said nothing.

After introductions and explaining the menu, the pastor offered to bless the meal. The residents went through the line, and were followed by the servers who were encouraged to fix a plate and sit with a couple of residents. Everybody had different table companions. Laughter, banter, and lots of camaraderie could be heard from various parts of the dining hall. Dinner lasted about 45 minutes before cleanup and preparation for a scheduled meeting began.

Crossing paths with the pastor, I asked how he enjoyed his meal. He was grinning from a crack that one of the residents at his table made when he inadvertently knocked over his glass of water…something about “being prepared to walk on water.” I smiled and asked if he got to know any of the residents.

He said, “It’s incredible how relaxed and comfortable these ladies are, how casual and effortless the conversation was, and how open and disclosing they could be in 30 to 40 minutes over breaking bread. I think that’s something that’s missing from our personal encounters these days. I cannot imagine why anyone would not want to be a part of this ministry.”

“Well,” I replied, “That’s what I get out of it too. I have been for about the past six years. I’ve seen a lot of residents complete the program here and reengage with the community. Recovery, of course, is a long term process, and connecting with others in the community is absolutely essential. I’ve never seen anyone successful in trying to go it alone. It’s great that we could share the experience with you.”

The pastor smiled knowingly and offered, “Well, I’ll be back. This kind of breaking bread is good for me as it is for the residents. It’s good for the soul.”

I walked away thinking how surprising coincidences like the additional food showing up and unexpected guests attending can lead to a decided fullness of most ministry activity.