Hope Begins with One Person

June 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Theological Perspectives

You see now that it is by deeds, and not only by believing, that someone is justified. – James 2:24

The referral process in our congregation began with one person, Jim, stepping forward after a Sunday morning worship service. He gave me his business card, introduced himself as a licensed addiction counselor and offered to serve as a resource if anyone needed help due to substance use. His help was soon needed. Over a few months, we ended up working together with several people.

A pastor well known in our city for his pastoral care in the recovery community retired and moved away. Jim asked if I would be willing to listen to 5th Steps due to this loss and the great need. I agreed to be trained by him. The retiring pastor also coached me.

200414997-001It wasn’t long until a waiting list was formed. It was clear that my time could be consumed by listening to 5th Steps so I needed to limit the number of people I would see within a month.

I asked Jim if he would speak at one of our monthly clergy conference meetings to share the need for involvement. He agreed and we formed a panel of speakers who addressed the impact of substance abuse on our community. As a result of this program, additional members of the clergy offered to listen to 5th Steps.

Soon Jim was asked to be a speaker at our annual women’s salad luncheon. Shortly after that our quilters became involved in making fleece lap robes to be presented as gifts for people who complete their 5th Steps. These robes serve as a reminder of being “wrapped in God’s love” as people continue their journey through the Twelve Steps.

Jim chairs our congregations’ mutual ministry committee. As the vision of leadership became more focused on mission and outreach, this committee was invaluable at sharing that vision within the congregation as well as supporting the staff.

Another important aspect of our referral network was the development of an Outreach Recovery Ministry Task Force involving congregational members as well as community leaders who represent medical, judicial, educational, and various social service programs. A professor of neuroscience at the University of North Dakota’s Medical School, also a church member, agreed to chair the task force. She has spent the greater part of her life studying and providing needed research about women and alcoholism.

CB059209A group of members from the recovery community, chosen by the task force, planned worship services for the outreach ministry of the congregation. The task force also began conversations with our local university, with the hope that our church will host an outreach counseling ministry utilizing student interns working toward their master’s degree in counseling.

In January, Jim and I were asked to offer a workshop at Luther Seminary’s annual convocation on developing an outreach ministry to the recovering community. We provided the same workshop plus a workshop on listening to 5th Steps at our synod assembly. Again, Jim was invaluable in providing important, helpful information.

As a part of our system of referrals, I have been asked to speak on the topic of spirituality to several recovery groups. It is easy to proclaim the love and grace of God as we watch the blessings of this ministry unfold. It began with one person who was willing to step forward and use his experience, talents and vocation to help others. I thank God for his presence and desire to serve.

If you are a member of the recovery community or serve in a vocation that works with the recovery community, please speak to your pastor and/or other leaders in your congregation. If you are willing to help, you might be amazed how God will use your gifts to bless others.

Rev. Kathryn Ann Brown is pastor of Augustana Lutheran, Grand Forks, ND.

Love God with all your heart

January 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Theological Perspectives

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. – 1 John 4:7

Guest Author: Mary Boone, Austin TX

As an interventionist, I have opportunity to reflect on ways in which the illness of addiction robs one of the ability to truly love. Rather than supporting intimacy, commitment, and unconditional warm regard in a family or amongst friends, it promotes distance, broken promises, and ill will. Rather than leading persons to their God, it sets up false gods.

As addiction of any type progresses in families, the Rule of don’t trust; don’t talk; and don’t feel gradually takes over and governs relationships. When life is painful and coping involves addiction to substances or behaviors, a family becomes dysfunctional. Trust is absent because honesty with self and others is absent. Talk is absent because walls of protection surround persons in an effort to avoid facing the truth. Feeling is absent because no one can afford to feel the pain. Relationships become superficial and persons rely on externals for an artificial sense of comfort and security – a false feel-good.

On the other hand, I also have the opportunity to witness the miracle of recovery. The illness of addiction can be a gift that, in recovery, fosters strong relationships, authenticity, and acceptance. It can become the path to loving God with all one’s heart, to healing that makes loving oneself possible, and to compassion and outreach to others.

A Team knowledgeable about supporting persons or family members at critical times and referring them to resources can play an important role in whether the addictive process is interrupted or not. Intervention is any effort that interrupts the progression of addiction and initiates change and healing. Intervention can happen in many ways. Often it is in the form of not rescuing persons from the negative consequences of their behavior and helping them to view the consequence as opportunity to initiate recovery. For many family members, this concept runs counter to what is familiar and feels “un-Christian.” They are in need of education and support.

As I conclude this reflection, I am reminded of an older gentleman in his late seventies whose family developed the courage to talk to him about the effect his drinking had on their lives. As a result, he entered a treatment program. After several months of recovery, he said to me, “I wish my family had talked to me sooner. How different our lives could have been.” Perhaps if a faith community had delivered the message….

Many times I have wondered how it is that some find recovery and many others don’t. I think the difference lies in the support structures that may or may not be present. Core beliefs and values that have developed over time predispose persons to growth in recovery or to continued self-destruction. If helpful support structures that reinforce openness to growth are available early, persons have a much greater opportunity to “grab on” to recovery. Faith communities are definitely one of those support structures.

Faith communities have an essential role to play in finding that path and facilitating the Great Commandment. However, faith communities, which are made up of families, are at risk of adopting the Rule of the dysfunctional families that allows addiction to grow unless there is a commitment made to honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness – the Rule of recovery and healthy functioning. Honesty with self and others cuts through the deception necessary to sustain addiction. Open-mindedness creates an atmosphere in which new information can be incorporated and one’s thinking can change for the better. Willingness is the ingredient necessary to overcome fear and change behavior.

How might faith communities implement such a mission? Creating a Team that is equipped with the necessary tools, such as non-judgmental attitude, understanding, information, and knowledge of resources,, is an important first step. Simply having such a structure in the community goes a long way towards establishing an environment in which addictive behaviors can be addressed openly and without judgment. It will result in greater awareness and persons will not be seduced so easily by the “false feel-goods.”

The Team has an essential role in prevention of addiction and in intervention to stop its progression. Prevention can be viewed as an effort to discourage engaging substance or behavioral addiction by modeling and teaching alternative ways of handling life’s inevitable pain. Prevention can also be viewed as an effort to minimize the damage of addiction in early, middle, or late stages and stop the progression by creating an atmosphere where persons trust one another enough to talk honestly about difficulties and share their feelings.

The team can implement strategies that convey the message, “It is ok to talk about it here.” Concerned family members may be empowered to come forward for support and information. More often than not, it is family members who seek help first. Changed attitudes and behaviors on their part often motivate the addicted persons to seek help.

Photo Credit: pedrosimoes7 via Flickr

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