In 2017, we heard more than ever about the opioid crisis in the United States. There seems to be bipartisan agreement that a serious problem exists, and perhaps even a bipartisan agreement on meaningful solutions.
Last year, I became deeply involved in the opioid crisis in my county when one of my church members lost a granddaughter to a heroin overdose. He and his family were hurting deeply, and I felt God leading me to do something more than offer pastoral presence and comfort.
Over the last year we have attempted to launch a recovery ministry in our community for people dealing with various addictions. It’s slow going. Building trust with those already in the recovery community, understandably, takes time. Many in our community and regionally are not yet willing to admit that the opioid epidemic is upon us.
No doubt, many readers may wonder, “What can I do,” or “What can my church do?” The use of opioids has sharply risen in the last decade in the United States. One study estimates that while the U.S. has roughly 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume over 30 percent of all opioids. More than nearly any country on earth, we desire to numb our pain.
The pains we want to numb, however, are not purely physical. We desire to numb mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. We want to numb the feeling of dysfunctional families, broken dreams, failures, and even the pains of success and affluence.
Churches are uniquely positioned to weigh in on the opioid crisis. Our specialty, in many ways, should be meeting people in their pain and suffering, because that is the model of ministry Christ exhibited. Jesus suffered great pain, even death, because of humanity’s sin. Our pain and brokenness led to his suffering and dying. If anyone can respond to human pain and suffering with hope and healing, it’s the risen Christ.
What is your church doing to help address people’s pain (emotional, spiritual and mental) in your community? In seeking more butts in seats and dollars in the bank account, have we lost sight of our special role in ushering in Christ’s healing to the world? The opioid epidemic is certainly a health crisis, and an addiction crisis, but it’s also a spiritual crisis. How can your church help bring spiritual healing to lives and families ravaged by opioid addiction?
Here are four ideas for how to make an impact locally in 2018:
- Get lay leaders or your pastor to attend training to learn how to administer Nalaxone, which can prevent death in the event of an overdose. Nalaxone, like an A.E.D. machine, can be kept on hand at the church in case of emergency. In my county, EMT’s are the only ones that carry Naloxone. The sheriff’s office could, but does not. If someone overdoses, they have little time to receive an antidote. If every pastor or parish nurse in my county trained to administer Naloxone, we would increase coverage of trained administers by nearly 40 times. Children and youth ministers have taken CPR training for decades. In localities where the opioid epidemic is on the rise, Naloxone training makes sense.
- Attend a drug task force meeting in your region and join the conversation. Ask your local sheriff’s office or state representative how your faith community can get involved. At this point, I have been in many regional and even gubernatorial cabinet-level meetings regarding the opioid crisis in Virginia, and I’m almost always the only faith-based representative or pastor present. How can we serve if we don’t show up?
- Host recovery meetings at your church. There are a number of nationally based organizations that specialize in recovery which are happy to have meetings in your space if you open your doors.
- Start a recovery ministry. Churches are not equipped or trained to deal with addiction and recovery, and a number of groups provide training (and some even offer staff) for churches interested in beginning a recovery ministry. One example of such a ministry is Celebrate Recovery. They are a national recovery ministry in over 29,000 congregations. Another example is Hatcher Memorial Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., which allows the McShin Foundation to run a full rehab center on its campus.
In 2018, how is God calling your church to make a difference in the opioid crisis? Whether you realize it or not, it already impacts your congregation.
Related opinion: The Church, the pain and the opioid crisis | Bill Leonard