ALCOA, Tenn. (Aug. 2, 2019) -- There’s plenty of work to go around to tackle the opioid crisis gripping our region. This summer, the Holston Annual Conference raised $143,597 to equip churches to join the battle.
The funds will be distributed through grants to Holston congregations, missional hubs, and related ministries that apply for them.
This new Holston initiative is in step with The United Methodist Church's "Book of Resolutions," which states:
We encourage the annual conferences to recognize the unique impact of drugs and its related violence upon urban and rural areas and provide appropriate ministries and resources.
But what can churches really do to help?
Some churches in Holston Conference already have existing, vibrant addiction-related ministries. We contacted district offices and heard about Celebrate Recovery and Project13Three at Main Street United Methodist Church in Tazewell, Virginia.
We heard about Susannah's House and Recovery at Cokesbury in Knoxville, Tennessee.
We heard about Celebrate Recovery at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a Narcotics Anonymous class at First United Methodist Church in Pearisburg, Virginia. (See list of recovery ministries in Holston.)
Some congregations may feel called to begin new recovery worship and support groups in their areas.
“If you put pins in the map where there are recovery ministries in Holston Conference, and look for where there are holes, that might be where new recovery ministries need to be started,” said the Rev. John Gargis.
After serving 16 years in recovery ministries, most recently at Fountain City United Methodist Church, Gargis is now appointed as pastor of new church development at Concord United Methodist Church.
However, Gargis doesn’t recommend every congregation should begin a new addiction-related ministry.
“This is an ugly, messy ministry,” he said. “This ministry, like all ministries, is a calling. But it has to be a calling or you’ll never survive.”
For some congregations, the best way to respond to the opioid crisis might be to support churches or organizations already involved in addiction-related work.
As our list of ways churches can fight addiction shows, there are countless requests for volunteers to simply help transport individuals and family members to meetings, legal appointments, counseling, jobs, and so on.
Food is “one of the biggest expenses” at Celebrate Recovery North, where meals are served prior to Tuesday-night worship and support groups, Gargis said.
Child care, children’s ministries, and youth ministries frequently show up on the "wish lists" for support groups and recovery worship.
Church members can also do so much good by supporting foster families and grandparents raising the children of parents with addictions, said the Rev. Brooke Atchley, Church and Community Worker at Elk Garden School Community Ministry in Rosedale, Virginia. “Provide a meal or transportation,” she suggested.
In Smyth County, Virginia, the Rev. John Graham serves as both circuit court clerk and pastor at Mountain View United Methodist Church in Chilhowie, Virginia. He suggested reaching out to drug recovery courts or treatment centers to offer assistance to individuals or families.
“They need everything,” said Graham, referring to individuals in recovery or after incarceration. “They have sacrificed everything to chase a drug. In most cases, they’ve alienated their family and lost employment. So they need everything.”
Ask questions in your communities, schools, nonprofits, police departments, and social services departments about what the needs are, recovery experts say. But don’t overlook the reality that people with addictions are sitting in your pews right now. They might be afraid to talk about their disease or ask for help.
That’s why offering education to reduce the stigma is also on the list of 30 ways churches can fight opioid addiction.
Above all, look for opportunities to build relationships, Gargis and Atchley said.
“Addicts tend to isolate,” Gargis said. “To walk through a building to get help is a miracle. To sit down and eat with somebody, for them, is a miracle.”
Instead of just serving food, have church members available to sit at the table with those struggling. Just be a friend.
"They need to talk," Gargis said. "They need to get it out. If you speak it, it loses power."
“We have ignored the opioid epidemic for far too long,” Atchley said. “For there to be lasting change, we as the Church must be at the center of that change. For me, that change is based in relationships -- not only telling folks they are loved by us and by God, but showing them in real and tangible ways."
Holston Conference churches and related groups are eligible to apply for grants to support new or existing ministries addressing the opioid crisis. Download the application.
30 ways churches can fight opioid addiction (The Call, 8.2.19)
Recovery ministries in Holston Conference (The Call, 8.2.19)
Series: The Church responds to the Opioid Crisis (UMNS, 2019)