S.C. UMCs show God’s love to countless fighting drug, alcohol abuse
By Jessica Connor
CHARLESTON—“Sally” wanted to get clean, but it was just so hard.
Her husband was in jail, and she had four kids at home. Food was scarce, not to mention clothing and shoes. Her home needed repairs. The pressures of life, not to mention the intoxicating allure of the drug, made her addiction too big to overcome on her own.
Desperate, Sally (not her real name) turned to her pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Charleston, for help. Now, thanks to a detoxification program, drug testing and lots of love from her church family, she’s drug-free and on the road to recovery. It’s one day at a time, but as her pastor the Rev. Aaron Meadows says, loving our neighbors isn’t always picture-perfect. It’s real—and it’s worth it to save just one tormented soul.
“Doing real ministry is messy,” Meadows said, noting that when we develop authentic relationships with our neighbors, sometimes we find ourselves called to help people with difficult, challenging problems, such as drug abuse.
“People sometimes don’t want to share the Gospel today because it’s dangerous, and I think fears do creep up,” Meadows said. “But it’s a matter of what God calls us to do.”
Aldersgate is one of many UMCs across South Carolina that are stepping up to serve their neighbors in whatever way is needed. And in a society plagued with rampant and increasing drug and alcohol abuse, helping people overcome addiction is one major way they serve.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2012, roughly 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older (9.2 percent of the population) had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (e.g. pain reliever, stimulant, tranquilizer) in the past month. Also in 2012, 17.7 million Americans (6.8 percent of the population) were dependent on alcohol or had problems related to their use of alcohol.
Many of these people turn to the church for help when they hit rock bottom. One of the biggest ways churches serve is through support and recovery groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon and Narcotics Anonymous, which help users and those recovering from addiction stay clean and accountable.
Aldersgate hosts AA meetings three nights a week, while Virginia Wingard Memorial UMC, Columbia, does the same four nights a week. Virginia Wingard has hosted the Dutch Square AA Group since 1969.
“By offering this group a meeting space, we are able to contribute to the success of these persons’ journey toward recovery,” said Carolyn Jackson, the church’s director of finance and administration.
Jackson said recently a participant shared with the church that she, as a desperate 21-year-old soul, attended her first meeting at Virginia Wingard in 1987, and was able to receive her 20-year recovery medallion in the very same room as that first meeting.
Chapin UMC, Chapin, hosts an Al-Anon group on Tuesdays at noon.
“It is well attended each week and is a beautiful outreach into the Chapin community, a very practical way of sharing the love of Jesus,” said the Rev. Jody Flowers, senior pastor.
Grace UMC, North Augusta, hosts a Celebrate Recovery by Grace group every Thursday evening, ministering to those caught up in substance abuse.
“At the very least, we offer a safe place of confidentiality and an opportunity to get honest with God and at least one other person,” said Buddy Presley, a certified addictions counselor who has been helping recovering addicts for about 10 years. “We always leave our meetings encouraged and feeling a little lighter for having been together.”
Grace’s group is based largely on the “Celebrate Recovery” material designed by Rick Warren and John Baker, which Grace pastor the Rev. Jim Dennis gave Pressley when he encouraged him to start the group. The program is open to anyone with a “hurt, habit or hang-up,” Pressley said.
“In the four years that we have offered the program, some of the folks who have come to our meeting have used substances,” Pressley said. “Others have come because they struggle with those who are in the grips of addiction, and some have come because they have relationship problems, or have suffered a loss of some kind.”
Pressley said many people don’t realize that the 12 steps of AA, which is the heart of Celebrate Recovery, can be applied to any difficulty in life.
“We come together to recognize God as our highest power, and we support one another as we deal with our loss, guilt and shame,” Pressley said. “We in a sense move our gaze from the rearview mirror to the present and then look forward to the future, having done our best to forgive ourselves and others, and make amends where possible, and then continue to practice the 12 steps realizing that God continues to prepare us to carry the message of healing to others.”
He said what makes this ministry so rewarding is that they understand everyone has issues, and they share and support one another as they are instructed in Scripture: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galations 6:2).
That sentiment is echoed at Broad Street UMC, Clinton, where Narcotics Anonymous meets three times a week, on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Broad Street’s pastor, the Rev. Kitty Holtzclaw, said the days are quite intentional: Monday helps people who might have had a hard weekend. Saturday gives an opportunity for a healthy choice on a tempting night. Thursday gives them a midweek check-in.
“I credit much of the success of the Broad Street/NA relationship with their leader,” Holtzclaw said. “He has been clean for over a decade, maybe longer, and has deep faith. One reason he is so successful is his determination to keep them accountable to each other.”
Indeed, relationship is key to any successful help a church can provide for those struggling to overcome drug and alcohol abuse. Meadows at Aldersgate said that while their AA meetings do help, the biggest impact comes through real relationships, which his congregation has been working to establish. They now have an Adopt-a-Block Ministry, where church members knock on doors and get to know their neighbors in a very personal way.
“Because of this, they were able to send one man who was struggling with addiction to a 10-week short-term rehabilitation program, and they plan to send him to long-term care soon,” Meadows said.
In “Sally’s” circumstance, they helped her get into a detox program, and one family took in her four children for a month. On Easter Sunday, the children were able to go home to their mother, and today the church provides meals twice a week, and they are also helping with some home repairs.
“I was proud of the church because when the need came up—a family to take the kids in, to step up—they did,” Meadows said.
What does the UMC say about drug and alcohol abuse?
…Since the use of illegal drugs, as well as illegal and problematic use of alcohol, is a major factor in crime, disease, death, and family dysfunction, we support educational programs as well as other prevention strategies encouraging abstinence from illegal drug use and, with regard to those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint, with Scripture as a guide.
… Drug-dependent persons and their family members, including those who are assessed or diagnosed as dependent on alcohol, are individuals of infinite human worth deserving of treatment, rehabilitation, and ongoing life-changing recovery. Misuse or abuse may also require intervention, in order to prevent progression into dependence.
…Because of the frequent interrelationship between alcohol abuse and mental illness, we call upon legislators and health care providers to make available appropriate mental illness treatment and rehabilitation for drug-dependent persons. We commit ourselves to assisting those who suffer from abuse or dependence, and their families, in finding freedom through Jesus Christ and in finding good opportunities for treatment, for ongoing counseling, and for reintegration into society.
—Excerpted from Para. 162, Book of Discipline