Youth attend an event to raise awareness of addiction.
By Julia Kayser*
July 27, 2012—A senior in college—we’ll call him Karl—was in trouble with the law, his girlfriend had dumped him, and he’d been kicked out of school. As he spiraled into depression, his only solace was that, now that he was twenty-one, he could drink his sorrows away at the local bar. Karl’s church community tried to support him through prayer. Dedicated mentors took him to lunch, offered him work, and even helped pay his legal fees. But these efforts didn’t strike at the root of his problem, and Karl’s shame inhibited him from asking for the help he truly needed. It’s hard to address stigmatized issues like addiction and depression over coffee hour. After Karl took his own life, the church was left wondering: what more should they have done?
If you think that addiction is not an issue in your church, think again. According to a 2000 study by B.F. Grant, one in four US children under the age of 18 is exposed to alcohol abuse and dependence in the family. That’s why UMCOR collaborates with the United Methodist Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence, or SPSARV for short. SPSARV provides resources for churches and individuals to avoid, recognize, and recover from addition.
Distributing these resources, however, can be an uphill battle. “Because addiction is highly stigmatized,” says Juliana Mecera, SPSARV program associate, “persons in need of treatment and recovery resources are less likely to seek out these resources for fear of being judged.” In other words, stigma perpetuates suffering. “Stigma in our church prevents our church from being places of health, healing, hope, and wholeness,” says Mecera.
But when pastors and congregations are educated about the disease of addiction and the resources available, the church can be a place of true recovery. “Many churches already host … 12-step meetings in their basements each week,” says Mecera, “but local churches can go beyond that to incorporating recovery into weekly worship and outreach.” Support groups for families can also be helpful. A pastor at a rural-suburban Texas congregation recently had three mothers ask for prayers for their children who were struggling with chemical dependency—all on separate occasions. “When the third mother came,” says Mecera, the pastor reassured her: “You are not alone. Would you like to meet the other mothers with a child addicted to alcohol and/or drugs?”
SPSARV pays special attention to the needs of young adults. Last year, SPSARV distributed more than 200 copies of its young adult devotional curriculum, HadEnough—including one copy to a member of Karl’s church. “I’ve had enough of alcoholism, depression, and suicide,” says Karl’s friend. “Our church has got to become a safer space to talk about these issues.” Juliana Mecera says that the HadEnough curriculum “encourages youth to establish substance abuse and related violence ministries in their congregations.”
HadEnough features prayers, journal prompts, scripture verses, and drug information, along with short reflections, poems, and stories from young people who have experienced drug abuse. It also includes tips on preventing abuse for parents and peers. It can be used by youth groups, Sunday school classes, support groups, and individuals. Download HadEnough for free and help to overcome addiction in your community. You can support SPSARV’s work by donating to Advance #982598.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to umcor.org.