A Compassionate Response: A Statement on Opioids

(Prepared by The Task Force of Province III of the Episcopal Church)

Opioid use disorder, like other substance use disorders, profoundly affects the mind, body, and spirit. Scientific research shows that addiction is a disease that originates in the brain – not a moral or spiritual failing. Much like other treatable diseases, many factors contribute to addiction, and the disease affects the whole family. Some factors include behavior, environment, and genetics. Recovery benefits from a variety of support, including medical care, counseling, and faith communities. Often the last line of defense in communities, faith communities now have an important call to foster space for conversation, prevention, education, care, healing, recovery, prayer, and advocacy. Faith communities also have an ongoing responsibility to examine and address problematic contextual factors such as joblessness, trauma, injury, family stability, educational offerings, community resources, and crime.

Faith communities offer a place for modeling life-giving relationship with persons facing the disease of addiction by considering their outreach interactions, pastoral response, and language. Certain practices and ways of avoiding persons who are facing addiction express not only cultural stigma, they actively discriminate against a person with a treatable disease. Sometimes our language labels a person as an “addict” rather than seeing them in a more dignified way as a person facing addiction. Faith communities offer open space for worship, healing, interaction with God and God’s people, safety, and prayer. This helps to break down the secrecy and shame around addicted members of family and community groups that leads to discrimination, and may discourage a person from seeking assistance toward their recovery goals.

Recovery is a life-long process requiring commitment. Addiction, as a chronic illness, requires appropriate resources for recovery. There are many pathways to recovery. For some persons, residential inpatient treatment works best. For others, medication-assisted treatment (https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment) offers a pathway toward health. For still others, twelve step groups provide a pathway to recovery and community. There are recovery support institutions and virtual recovery communities. Many discover that a combination of pathways works best for their recovery journey. As new pathways are created, we celebrate new possibilities for persons seeking healing. Faith communities, depending on their gifts, abilities, and facilities, take on various roles of ongoing support for persons in recovery and their families.

Addiction is a daily struggle. It affects entire families, and children are especially at risk during this crisis. Faith communities can offer belonging, community connection, listening, prayer, comfort, care, worship opportunities, and other resources to persons in households where addiction has caused great pain and damage. Children, parents, grandparents, siblings and spouses require care and support that is open-hearted and free from moralizing judgement.

For the Victims of Addiction
O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost our health and freedom. Restore to us the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from us the fears that beset us; strengthen us in the work of our recovery; and to those who care for us, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church, page 831 with pronouns modified for solidarity.)

Learn more here:
http://www.provisionsforthejourney.org/
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help

A companion piece with a bibliography of resources gathered by the Opioid Response Task Force is available here

Seek the Face of God

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(The Epiphany, BCP p. 214 )

An epiphany, an encounter with the living God, is sometimes fleeting – a moment in time where we know that we know God is powerfully present. And while the above collect is beautifully worded, it can easily be misconstrued to mean we will only see God face to face in the heavenly hereafter. That is not true.

We see the face of God in everyone we meet. We see the face of God in those we love and in those we barely know. We see the face of God in the poor, the homeless, the outcast and the lonely. Intellectually we know this to be true, but it is much harder to live into this reality because to do so requires much of us.

First it requires an awareness of the other – an acknowledgment that everyone is beloved of God. This is true regardless of their skin color, political persuasion, social status, or income. Second, it requires listening to the other. Listening is a powerful way to bring someone into the fullness of who they were created to be. This is as true of a young child as it is those who are frail and at the end of their years. Their faces light up as they tell their stories. We see the face of God in others also when we take action to relieve suffering. Sometimes this requires hands on work at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Other times it requires sharing our financial resources. Most times it simply means putting someone else’s needs ahead of our own.

The season of Epiphany ushers in a new year full of hope and promise. My prayer is that as we seek the face of God, there will be a double blessing – first for those we encounter, and second for ourselves. May you all have a very blessed New Year.

The Rev. Canon Martha Ishman is Rector at St. James, Titusville, and Canon for Mission Development and Transition for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Feeding the Future (Part One)

One of the areas we’ve focused on as a diocese is collaboration, and more specifically, how pooling our resources and talents can lead to adaptive change not only in the church, but in our communities for the greater glory of God. While this can take several forms, one obvious area for change is outreach.

We’re fortunate in our diocese to have several congregations who’ve come together to increase the impact of their ministry. For this series, we’ll focus on the Snack Pack outreach project, a collaboration between St. Stephen’s in Fairview and St. Mark’s in Erie to aid youth attending the Erie Charter School of Excellence.

One might ask: Why pick a charter school to partner with for an outreach project? Generally charter schools aren’t thought of as institutions in need of aid, but this particular school and its target demographic are an exception to the rule. From the CSE website:

The Charter School of Excellence initially opened its doors for students on August 26, 2003 for the school year 2003-2004. The school serves students in grades six through twelve from the Erie, Pennsylvania region. Although any student can attend the charter school, the school’s focus is directed toward those students who have had significant difficulties with academic performance in their previous school settings.

As Carly Rowe of St. Mark’s puts it, “These are kids who for whatever reason wouldn’t have made it in the public system.” CSE has a high refugee and English as a second language population, which seems unusual until you consider that, as of May 2017, Erie’s mayoral office estimated that roughly 18% of the city’s population comprises refugee families from countries like Syria, Bhutan, and Iraq, among others. Besides students facing language and cultural barriers, there is also a subset of teen mothers and roughly 30% of CSE students are considered homeless or under housed.

With all the obstacles these students work through on a daily basis, the uncertainty that they will get a meal at home only compounds the difficulty of trying to concentrate in school. Part of providing a recipe for success at CSE is making sure their students have regular meals. Breakfast and lunch are served each school day, but, when it comes to weekends, the school has little control. This is where the Snack Pack outreach program steps in: St. Mark’s and St. Stephen’s have teamed up with the Second Harvest Food Bank to create food packets that are delivered to students two Fridays a month so they have food at home over the weekend. Church volunteers pick up the food from Second Harvest, pack individual bags (along with supplemental items donated by members of both congregations), and volunteers who have passed both Safe Church and school district clearances take the bags to the school and deliver them to students.

While getting food to the students is the basis of this particular outreach project, the hands-on delivery by the volunteers has had an added benefit: the building of relationships between church volunteers and the school faculty and administrative personnel. As the volunteers have become a known quantity in the building, the faculty find it easier to speak with them directly and share additional student needs that may not have been communicated otherwise, which has led to an expansion of the outreach ministry. As a result of speaking with teachers about student needs, St. Mark’s now supplies a hygiene pantry at the school, where church members donate items like toothpaste and soap that are available at the school for students to take what they need. One member of the St. Mark’s congregation is using her talents as an extreme couponer to purchase additional hygiene products to supplement the donations, which stretches the purchase power of outreach dollars while simultaneously creating an opportunity for members who aren’t available on delivery days to participate in the project.  The Snack Pack program has also grown to include a packed lunch service that takes place during the school’s summer program – last summer St. Mark’s provided 75 bagged lunches two times a week for four weeks, which covered half of the CSE summer session.

Earlier this winter, teachers also made the Snack Pack volunteers aware that several of the students didn’t have appropriate outerwear for Erie weather. With this in mind, the collection taken at Diocesan Convention was earmarked to purchase coats for CSE students. Bishop Sean matched the dollar amount collected at the convention Eucharist service and, with the combined funds, over 100 coats were purchased and donated for students who would otherwise have gone without.

It’s sometimes difficult to see the impact of a ministry once the donations have been sent to their destination, but in this video, produced by Charter School of Excellence students, you can see firsthand the kind of impression this program is making:

In our next segment of Feeding the Future, we’ll discuss the issues of long term ministry sustainability, growing ministry from strictly outreach into relationships, and the continued impact that this ministry has on both the church and the community. Stay tuned!