Beyond Denial: Churches and addiction

Not too many years ago, congregational councils debated whether to let “recovery organizations” use church space. Often the argument against opening the doors included fear of coffee stains on the carpet and cigarette smoke in the curtains. And then, many congregations realized that a gracious policy toward people who were experiencing the reality of resurrection through recovery was really a holy obligation.

While there still is some resistance to offering hospitality to people who have experienced addiction, congregations are just as likely to

The Rev. Gretchen Enoch informs Lutheran pastors about the Addiction and Faith Conference at the Spring Ministerium

host recovery worship services as to lock people out.

“Even doing a little does a lot.”

“The church has historically been a part of the problem [for people who are addicted] by shying away from the problem, by not recognizing it or talking about it, or addressing it, even in small ways,” explains the Rev. Ed Treat, pastor at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Minnesota. “One of the primary features of the addiction is denial and when the church says nothing about the elephant in the room, then those with the problem can continue on in their disease without feeling any unease.” Treat believes silence thus enables people who have addictions.

“The church still has some authority,” he adds. “For us to name this as a problem, we make people think about something they don’t want to think about – which is what it means to be prophetic.”

Such intentionality has driven Treat to be one of the organizers of “Addiction and Faith Conference,” a conference for congregations, clergy, and care givers to be held at the Double Tree Inn by Hilton in Bloomington September 28-30, 2018. The conference will feature such notable speakers as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber; Omar Manejwala, M.D. and M.B.A.; and Anne Wilson Schaef, Ph.D.

 

SIMPLE ACTIONS CAN HAVE an impact, according to Treat. Congregations can start by simply putting out brochures that address addiction and recovery. People who are experienced the vulnerability of admitting an addiction will notice whether a place seems welcoming, and a brochure can send a subtle message. “Even doing a little does a lot,” Treat recommends.

Treat’s personal journey includes being searching for welcome. Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center near Chelan, Washington, offered him hospitality as a recovering person when he attended a conference there focused on the 12 Steps of AA. “After church shopping for years in early recovery and finding little there,” he finally found a place open to discussing addiction. For him, “it was like coming home.” Later, he realized that Holden Village was the exception, not the rule.

“The church has historically been a part of the problem for people who are addicted by shying away from the problem, by not recognizing it or talking about it, or addressing it, even in small ways.”

Addiction and Faith Conference participants will hear of strategies to make a congregation more hospitable. In addition, those in attendance will get a full sense of the current crisis, including around opioid overuse, and what is being done about it. According to Treat, addiction is a problem affecting everyone and the church can make a significant different. “Tools and best practices for congregations to consider putting into practice [will be available to attendees],” adds Treat.

The Twin Cities are hosting the conference because the highest concentration of members of the Fellowship of Recovering Lutheran Clergy (FRLC) reside here. “Minnesota has a strong association with recovery,” Treat explains. “After all, this is the land 0f 10,000 treatment centers.”

All who want to help those who are addicted or who are wanting to be in recovery are welcome to attend. The conference “is for clergy, congregations, parish nurses, youth leaders, congregational members, members in recovery, as well as people who want their church to be a place where there is some addiction awareness and a place where recovering people can fell welcome and find some support and direction,” says Treat.

In other words, don’t worry about the carpets and curtains. Be concerned with the perception of welcome that a congregation offers.

For more information, check the conference website: www.addictionandfaithconference.com.

–Bob Hulteen 

2018-07-19T09:37:07+00:00June 5th, 2018|