Ministry Initiation – Essential Questions

January 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Teams

Upon the start up in developing our Faith Partners ministry there was an all important initial phase where we tried to create support and consensus for the new project by dialoging with congregants. Much discussion centered on the extent of the problem and what we, as a church, could do about it. Sometimes difficult and complex, and often straight forward and innocuous, questions always spurred discussion. Here are a few of those most frequently encountered.

What part should the church play in dealing with issues of alcoholism and addiction?

My knowledge of Scripture is imperfect, but I do know that Mark’s Gospel, verse 12:32 talks of “loving your neighbor as yourself.” This is also shared in Matthew’s Gospel, verse 22:39-40, where it says that “on these two Commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Clearly, I should treat those in my community who have succumbed to addictive disorders as I would treat a family member…or even myself.  Further, Psalm 41:2-4 says “the Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.” I would think that we all have responsibility for assertively restoring those suffering for addictive disorders to full health.

 Who would want to try to tackle difficult addiction and alcoholism issues for others?

For some, it involves an expression of gratitude as much as compassion, for there is much to be thankful for in their own personal recovery. Besides, none would be here without SECOND CHANCES.” Those who are deeply involved with their addiction and alcoholism are barely living. In recovery, we see them thrive.

What role does education play?

Education is an important component in breaking the stigma of addiction and substance abuse. It is far too easy to be scared or ashamed of anything that you don’t understand. Creating any ministry program should always include an educational aspect, not just to impart information but to open a dialog as well.

What role does our faith conviction play?

Of course, faith convictions vary, not just interdenominationally, but within the same denomination. Its really quite personal. For me, the answer lay in exploring the divine power present in the Christ. From my reading of Scripture, I gleaned that Jesus was inviting the world to allow the essence of God to be born in them. Where some saw the Gospel message as something to be literalized, I felt convinced that it was meant to be lived. At one time, I even suggested that how could one worship the great “I am,” except be having the courage to be the self God created each of us to be. Each of us – even in our addiction and alcoholism – is called so deeply into life, into love, and into being that he or she can say with Christ-like integrity, I AM!  

 Isn’t there a stigma associated with alcoholism? What message(s) will you convey?

You will know a new freedom– Not weighed down by the shackles of secrets, anyone can feel a relief lifted off their shoulders as they come to terms with who they really are.

You can be honest with yourself and others– It’s exhausting trying to be something we’re not. Being true to ourselves means living our truth.

You will gain inner peace– Admissions of familiarity with alcohol and substance abuse issues iis one more secret that can’t keep anyone sick anymore once its released.

If not us, then who?- It’s easy to sit around and say, ok great idea, I’m sure someone will do it. Sometimes we have to come out of our comfort zone and take action to make a change. Just assuming someone else wil do it doesn’t make an impact. Why not you? Why not now?

You will inspire others– You could literally save a life. By sharing with others who are suffering, you may inspire a change in them. We can help plant the seeds of change.

We are all entrusted with the responsibility to do whatever we can to stop the shaming and live in the light.

Ministry Initiation – Correspondence

January 13, 2015 by  
Filed under Teams, What's New

One of the projects that I got involved with in early Faith Partners ministry had to do with the incarcerated population. It seems as though I was confronted after church one Sunday, out in the parking lot, by the two parents of a young man who was sentenced to a year in county lock up for a variety of substance abuse-related offenses. They had heard me mention in Sunday School the work of Alcoholics Anonymous and its efforts at taking meetings inside jails. They explained their sons circumstances and wanted to know about the possibility of meetings in the county jail where their son was located. I told them what I knew.

They invited me to visit their son a couple of Sundays later, and I accepted. Face time was limited to a “visitation area” where people talked to the incarcerated population over video phones. In any case, I offered to correspond with the young man for the duration of his stay. Not thinking of myself as too overly pious, I justified my intent based on the simple principle that if I was on the other side of the video, I would appreciate hearing from people on the outside myself.

On my way home, I gave some serious thought to the quandary: what does one write about to a person that they just met, years apart in age, with no apparent shared interests, and the desire not to be too patronizing. After all, I thought, I didn’t even know his family that well, and there was over 30 years difference in our ages. I was into work, jazz music, tennis, and foreign movies. What could he have been interested in? I reflected on the many “prison ministries” I’d learned about over the years, but still was skeptical. Quoting Scripture was fine, but applying it to an unknown situation seemed to be a bit presumptuous.

By the time that I sat down to type out a letter, I decided that I would focus on two things: 1) my interest in studying Scripture, and 2) my life in recovery. And that’s how I introduced myself. I told him in three lengthy paragraphs of some abstract event that happened in my life of late and how I handled (or typically mishandled) it. I said how I meant to intentionally redress the issue and seek to make amends. Those familiar with AA parlance will know where that is coming from. Then I made mention of some topical Scripture passage that was struggled with in Bible study or in Sunday School that week. I enumerated points I’d heard and tentative conclusions I’d drawn. Lastly, I posed a question which was meant to elicit a response, thinking that if there was going to be ongoing correspondence, I would to my best to facilitate it.

After my second letter a couple weeks later, I decided that I could commit to sending a letter on a schedule of every 10 days or so, sometimes even once a week. I found that I could even meet this schedule while traveling for business on the road. Interesting that the recipient noticed the different postmarks from around the country – Seattle, WA; Philadelphia, PA; Los Angeles – and asked me what that was about. That just gave me another topic for discussion. I found that I was no longer fighting boredom of staying in a hotel room, but found it relaxing to talk about my experiences in another town with different people. I could put my ongoing life in perspective.

Over the course of a couple years, this correspondence “ministry” took on legs and grew. People approached me quite frequently about dialoging with loved ones and friends who were incarcerated for substance abuse. At one point I found that I was mailing letters to as many 9 letters at a time to various corrections facilities within the area. To this day, I still find it a gratifying experience. I have met many of those to whom I’ve written, either through visitations or after they were released and they showed up at church. Some have actually gone on to experience a life in recovery, apart for drugs and alcohol. I like to think that my ongoing correspondence and sharing might have played a small role in that.


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.


Ministry Development – Resistance vs. Receptivity

October 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Teams, What's New

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.


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