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:

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

Deep Deep Inside

“Deep, deep inside we finally meet the reality of our need for God and God alone.”

contemplate-694358_1920Where is God? Now I know where we meet; we meet in the heart. But there’s lots of open space in this human heart, so many ways to travel without seemingly finding that reality. I don’t even know what that experience with God would look like, feel like, smell like. Something would probably shift or open inside of me but I don’t know. What I know is the starkness of that place deep, deep inside. What I know is how challenging it is to sit in that space and await God. What I know is the despair of countless hours with seemingly no response. And yet I get up every day and say my prayers and read my Bible and sit in the quiet of God’s Spirit because I’ve tried all the other paths and they simply don’t work. Last night I couldn’t dial the phone numbers quick enough, nor puff on the cigar with more strength if I had wanted to. I knew what the problem was: that empty place in my heart that screams for God was busy eating away at my spirit. Calling friends would have helped a bit, but calling someone who sees me as “special” would be the perfect cocktail of emotional relief. My soul hungered for one person in particular. It made no difference to my starving soul that the relationship in reality and experience offered little grace and life. Projection is a powerful tool in the hands of the tired and lonely. How time and overwhelming hunger help us forget the last time we got the stomach flu with a vow to never eat that food again yet catapults us into the belief that the experience will be different this time. And that little voice that keeps reminding me that things will never be different, let this alone and move on? That’s what fly swatters are for; get out the fly swatter and put that devious voice out of its misery because tonight the darkness invites the belief that all things are possible.  Lord, I pray, help me sit right here with myself, this wonderful and complicated creature you have made, and give me the gift of patient waiting. I’ve gazed upon that reality so many times we’ve become old friends seemingly always sizing each other up in the perpetual challenge for who’s present and who isn’t. I have no argument with the statement above. Only radical agreement and deep yearning and, believe it or not, the wonder of a child! Where is my God?

Canon Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

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