January 15, 2015 by  
Filed under What's New

We’re happy you found us.

We have been busy relaunching Faith Partners as an independent nonprofit. With this new website we want to reassure you we are moving forward, committed to continuing our work of initiating, nurturing and sustaining the faith community’s efforts to address alcohol, drug, and addiction issues.

For five years we collaborated with the Johnson Institute, functioning as the Rush Center of Johnson Institute. During those years we hosted a national summit and expanded our efforts. We are grateful we had this opportunity. And when the Johnson Institute closed their doors the end of February we knew we wanted to continue this important work. So our trademark name for our teams – Faith Partners teams – became our organization’s name again. Our location didn’t change, though – we are still in Austin, Texas, where the teams began over 20 years ago.

It is a challenging yet exciting time for us.

This year we received a grant from the Center on Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) to enhance our evaluation capacity. We are working with wonderful colleagues – friends from the University of Texas School of Social Work and staff from the Gulf Coast Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) to carry out this effort. Our hope is to become an evidenced based environmental strategy. Thanks to our teams for their dedication to this process, particularly the scheduling of a second congregational survey.

Other exciting things are happening.

We recently participated in a webinar with our friends and colleagues from Harford County, MD, Faith-Based Coalition, thanks to Michael Koscinski from SAMHSA.  It was a new and good experience for us, using this method to reach others interested in faith community involvement with coalitions. We’ve posted that online here under the topic,  Awareness. We will also make a presentation at the mid year CADCA conference in Louisville this summer.

Our work is cut out for us.

The faith community has an important role to play in prevention and addiction recovery support. Congregations who have connected to community resources including community coalitions are in a better position to help the people they serve find the resources and services they need. Clergy are aware, lay people come with expertise and life experience and with training and support we can mobilize the religious community to be a big part of the solution to this challenging problem.

Lastly, we want to thank KD & Company for their generous technical assistance and support, under the direction of Rick Drewien. Thanks to Rick, facilitator for the Mt Zion United Methodist Church Faith Partners team in Marietta, GA, for all that he has done to help us launch this website. Rick has provided important leadership for his team and this site would not be possible without the many hours of expertise he has given us out of his passion for this ministry.

Take your time reading through this site and learn what others are doing. It is not only possible but many of our teams are making a big difference. Won’t you let us know what you are doing and how we might support you?

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 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.


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