Drop the Sin Talk: Q&A with Drew Brooks

September 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Theological Perspectives

“Almost 60% of people don’t know where to go in their own congregation for help with addiction. Similarly, a congregational member has about a fifty-fifty chance of knowing where to go in their community for help. Part of our goal is to coordinate team members within congregations who can become educated on resources available to the community.” Drew Brooks talks with The Fix. http://www.thefix.com/content/drop-sin-talk

Word Gets Out

May 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Theological Perspectives

“…and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.” -Matt 4:24

A pastor at one of the faith communities which hosts some local 12 step meetings was talking with me not long ago. I had mentioned in passing that the attendance at the AA meeting they host in their building – only started about 4 years ago – had really begun to pick up. We were nearly capacity for the space, and it wouldn’t be long before we’d have to relocate. He was surprised, and ask what might have contibuted to the growth. Secretly, I thought he had an ulterior motive for inquiring. I knew that attendance at the church’s Sunday services had flatlined for a while, in some cases even declining, and maybe he was looking for some ideas to spur growth.

I said that I wasn’t any expert on organization growth but having been part of the recovery community for quite some time, I did have some ideas about things tried that seemed to work effectively, and some that were not so effective. Remarkably, this particular group ramped up with only 2 or 3 people. So apparently word got out. I remember the early conversations and the kinds of input. I recall hearing, “Let’s try to be very inclusive. And informal. And enjoyable, not taking ourselves too seriously.”

He  nodded. I went on, “Group cohesion is extraordinarily important, given that we draw from a diverse community, and I think when groups begin to ‘gell’ then they start to grow. Over the years, I’ve watched the way that effective 12 step groups can often work to implicitly supress the self-centered and inward-focused impulses that so many show up with. The phrase I’ve often heard is ‘Breaking the bondage of self.’ It’s not too different from other organzations that share a common focus. When I was in the military, for example, I saw countless instances of individuals sacrificing for the common good. Some have even considered it a form of spirituality, or self transcendence. Effective 12 step groups act  – if only for the hour or so that they meet – in much the same way.”

“Groups generally try to be exceptionally supportive to newer members. Its more than just saying Hello and offering a cup of coffee. There is a sincere gratitude at new people finding us and a desire to be helpful. I guess its important to also know your audience. Know their needs. The meeting doesn’t get many of the down and out, hopeless variety. Most are educated, employable, and just got caught up in something beyond their control. In cases like this, many participants are ‘meeting mandated’ by the judicial system. I learned that most had a requirement to log community service hours in order to complete the terms. So I offered an opportunity help out in my church’s location where we had a community garden. Scheduled work hours turned out to be a great way to talk about recovery and encourage those newly on that path. A couple have alrady expressed interest in visiting regular services on Sundays.”

“Of course, that wasn’t the original intent, but did seem like an outgrowth of efforts to devise programs in response to a frequently expressed need. I strongly think that kind of focus can only work to build and strengthen communities, be they recovery or otherwise.”

Blessings,

Rick Drewien
Sacred Tapestry UMC, Marietta, GA

Perplexing Discussion Talk

February 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Theological Perspectives

All were astounded and greatly confused, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others jeered at the speakers, saying, “They are drunk on new wine!” (Acts 2:12-13)

Recently, I had a conversation with a long-time church friend regarding the nature of AA and other 12 step meetings. He had some exposure to AA in the past but had dropped out after a brief period of sobriety and was now seriously considering reconnecting. I was pretty sure that the intervening couple of months of drinking after a period of sobriety had been rougher than anticipated for him, what with some financial problems, relationship difficulties, and assorted setbacks. So I was ready to engage at whatever level my friend needed. What initiated the dialog though had less to do with his personal struggles – it rarely, if ever does start there, so I try to practice a lot of discretion in steering the talk – and more to do with dislikes about meetings in general.

200570987-001What my friend seemed to push back on dealt with the seeming aimlessness of some meeting discussions. He expressed frustration at attending group discussions that weren’t “structured,” or “educational enough,” and “rambled on without making a point.” “What,” he asked, “could people conceivably get out of hearing strangers whine on interminably about their personal problems? Why don’t people just stop drinking and get on with their lives? That singular problem is what kept me from going back after a few months of meetings.”

I nodded my head and thought for a few moments before confiding, “Yes, you have a point there. For some, especially early on, it can sometimes seem like an exercise in confusion and ultimate drudgery. It did for me anyway. Some in meetings sounded as though they were clinically depressed, what with divulging all the problems they never faced over years of substance abuse. Others appeared to vaguely delusional, expressing giddiness over ceasing the booze and suddenly landing in a world of rainbows and butterflies. It seemed surreal, to be sure. But we do change if we stick with it.”

My friend nodded, knowing full well I had tolerated ‘this drudgery’ for decades. “Sure,” he wondered aloud, “but at what point do you start ‘getting something’ out of it?”

“Well at the risk of sounding trite and overly clichéd, you ‘get something out of it’ by staying clean and sober one day at a time. No, I don’t hang on every word I hear out of the 15 or 20 people who do talk in meetings. And believe me, I have probably heard it all over the years. But there is something absolutely phenomenal that can happen over time, something no less spiritual than if were straight from the mouth of the divine. That is this: when I am open-minded and willing enough to pocket my ego for a few waking moments, and listen to a stranger share from their heart, I create a profound connection, and a unique ability to relate. I think the word for it is ‘empathy.’ And, believe it or not, it is this ability to connect with others, to relate, that has a powerful effect on our self-awareness, our emotional development, our spiritual growth, and our very humanity. Were it not for an innocuous willingness to listen attentively to what I used to consider years ago, empty complaining and gibberish, I would have hit that same barrier as you, and found myself wanting. I know that its tempting to want this kind of enlightenment to come overnight. It typically doesn’t. But then again, it’s like they say, ‘Don’t quit before the miracle happens.’”

Blessings,

Rick Drewien
Sacred Tapestry UMC
Marietta, GA

Out in the Parking Lot

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

k0339325The 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.

parking lot 3I 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.k1689376

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.

Rick Drewien
Faith Partners Coordinator
Mt Zion UMC, Marietta GA

Remaining Faithful

June 27, 2009 by  
Filed under Theological Perspectives

To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some. – 1 Cor. 9:22

Lois Askvig stood in the shadow of her husband first in his recovery and then in his ministry. Grateful for both his transformation and his wife’s undying support Al entered into congregational team ministry as a powerful voice and champion for prevention and recovery. Now after eight years this ministry is still going strong.  No longer helping organize from behind the scenes, Lois has become the guiding force at Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Here are some of her key insights in sustaining congregational efforts.

Shared Leadership

“No one is forced to do anything they are not able to do, do not feel qualified to do, or do not have the time to do”, declared Lois, P8180067parish nurse at Grace Lutheran, “But that does not mean I do not  prompt people into different roles or find people willing to take on different responsibilities.” A congregational team functions more effectively when all of its members have a role to play and each accepts responsibility for the work and life of the ministry.

Over the years the Faith Partners team has had four team facilitators. The first team facilitator helped initiate this ministry by using his passion to move through the initial congregational resistance. The next leaders helped organize and stabilize the ministry and finally the current leadership has helped integrate the ministry into congregational structure and life.  

Supportive Congregational Leadership

Lois describes, “When we first started, the senior pastor, feeling it was not important, wanted no part of this ministry. It took our associate pastor’s insistence and persistence to initiate the team ministry. Fortunately, we have had the support of successive senior pastors.” Clergy support is critical. A ministries’ staying power is the capacity to weather various staff transitions and a congregation’s changing priorities.

The early opposition helped create greater resolve and commitment for the ministry and a better appreciation for changing congregational needs. Activities have flourished with regular communication with the pastors, a presence on the church council, and regular reports to the congregational leadership. Articles in the monthly newsletter keep this ministry in the consciousness of congregational life.

Continuing Education

INGSAHE2920Grace Lutheran has provided continued education for the team, the congregation, and other Faith Partner teams since the beginning using members from Twelve Step programs to local teen drama to prevention specialists to treatment professionals. These educational events have kept the Faith Partners team ministry visible. New volunteers for the team are a wonderful by-product of this exposure.

Evaluation Activities

Grace Lutheran conducted their first congregational survey in 2000. In late 2006, the survey was repeated. The congregation urged the team to continue programming (82%) and keep the ministry alive (98%). The results were presented to the congregation and the church council after the last recovery worship service in February 2007. Seeking ways to improve, the team also evaluates each event. Lois’ evaluation, “Recovery has changed individual and family lives and the church is a big part of their on-going healing and recovery.”

Cornerstone Activities

One cornerstone ministry activity is the recovery worship service. The first year Lois recalls overhearing a member say that the service would not be worth attending. The team decided to not promote this service ahead of time but let people experience it as a part of congregational life and not something held up as unique or special.

A focal point of the service is the sermon and testimony. A moving dialogue sermon with the pastor and a recovering member on the team and a pastor’s personal experience walking with a family through the process of awareness, education, referral, and eventually recovery were both memorable. The pastor recalled how everyone was changed and transformed through the process. After one recovery worship service an inspired visitor volunteered to join the team.   

Institutionalized Ministry

“You cannot push a rope very far,” Lois continues. Youth prevention activities were one of the team’s initial goals. Over the years with gentle prodding and assurance of the team’s support the activities started to take place. The first activity, a teen drama presentation addressing situations concerning alcohol and other drug use, occurred at a weekend retreat.1258011

This activity has become institutionalized into youth ministry life. Well received by both parents and youth there is now mandatory youth attendance and parent involvement is strongly recommended. 

What used to be an area of strong resistance is a solid ministry foothold. In fact, the new youth director is an enthusiastic team participant promoting, along with the Christian education director, the team’s programs and progress in the monthly newsletter.

Financial Commitment

This ministry does not require a lot of money. Contributions are made to a church account, not a budget line-item, paying for resource materials and speaker honorariums. Donations received at the recovery worship service provide ministry funding for the year.  Offerings have increased three or fourfold over the years. Extra donations are given to Faith Partners for their continuing work. Mission level giving provides an opportunity for Grace Lutheran to contribute beyond their individual congregation to support new congregational teams across the country. This arrangement has the blessing of the pastor and the congregation.

Relationship with Community Resources

A literature rack with community services has been another cornerstone of the team’s efforts. k1701445Refilled frequently, this literature rack communicates three things, 1) It is OK to have this information available, 2) there are resources offering help and hope, and 3) these resources can positively affect lives. Relationships with community resources have produced greater awareness, educational opportunities, and assistance in the referral process.

Lois recalls one congregational member’s story of transformation. Impressed by the literature rack’s presence, he used one of the resources to enhance his on-going recovery, and eventually approached the team to get involved. He later served as team facilitator and when he moved to another community he helped initiate this ministry in his new church. Lois and he continue to communicate and maintain a mentoring relationship with each other.

Networking/Mentoring

An old Twelve Step Program adage states ‘you cannot keep it unless you give it away’. Grace Lutheran team members have helped other congregations start a team ministry. Lois also educates her parish nurse colleagues on the ministry benefits to individual and family health as well as the whole congregation. Several Lutheran congregations now plan programs together to strengthen community efforts.

Remaining Faithful

Even though the goal in sustaining these congregational efforts is creating a “ministry of presence” S-009it is not uncommon to measure success by the number of people who attend events. This does not appreciate the accumulative effects of consistent work. Lois concludes, “This ministry is humbling in that it demands us to remain faithful in the face of fear, frustration, pride, ignorance, and despair. What we do in those instances will truly measure the ministries’ success and the ability to sustain its efforts. Our hopefulness comes from sticking to the task”.

-Grace Lutheran Church, Apple Valley MN

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