Church fights epidemic with education, hope

The Rev. Mark Hollinger and St. Marks United Methodist Church will host a series of classes related to the local opioid epidemic beginning Oct. 15. Supper will be served before each class, and those attending are asked to register ahead of time so organizers know how many to cook for. Hollinger, himself part of the recovery community, says his hope is that people understand that “people who get swept up in addiction do not have some sort of corruption or diminishment of will.” (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

People in the grips of addiction have lost hope, “And somehow as a community, you have to reignite and give them hope,” said the Rev. Mark Hollinger, pastor of St. Marks United Methodist Church.

St. Marks is trying to do its part by hosting a series of classes related to the opioid epidemic this fall.

Classes will be held five consecutive Sundays, Oct. 15 through Nov. 12. Supper will be served at 6:30 p.m., followed by class from 7-8. Sessions are open to anyone, not just members of the church, and are free of charge. Attendees do not have to attend all five weeks, but are asked to call ahead so organizers know how many people to prepare supper for. To register, call the church at 419-422-4236.

The first week’s class will focus on “How did we get here?” That is, where did the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic come from? Hollinger noted that 80 percent of narcotics in the world are prescribed in the United States — which has just 5 percent of the world’s population.

The second week will include representatives from the Findlay Police Department and Hancock County Sheriff’s Office who will discuss the nature of drug dealing and trafficking in Findlay, looking at both prevention and interdiction. Hollinger said all the speakers throughout the five weeks will provide a local perspective, not just national statistics or information. He will provide resources and materials each week on where to get help and support.

The third week will feature representatives from Tree Line and the men’s recovery house who will talk about how they help people transition from drug use into productivity. Week four will explore the effects on the family, including the huge increase in grandparents raising grandchildren, and will also feature a woman in recovery who has “gone through the Findlay system” and is now “a wonderful success story,” Hollinger said.

The final week will look at drug court and the shift to encouraging people toward recovery “instead of locking people up, which really doesn’t do anybody any good” and also costs a lot of state resources, he said. This session will explore some of the different pathways used to get people the help they need.

Hollinger’s hope is that by the end of the five weeks, attendees will know not only the nature of the problem, but how they might help address it.

“It’s one thing to be aware” but another to be “moved into action,” Hollinger said.

St. Marks has worked to offer that support in many ways. In addition to being a site for Narcotics Anonymous meetings, the Recovery March to celebrate mental health and addiction recovery was held at the church in September. And the leadership board makes gifts, like Easter baskets, for residents of local recovery homes.

“Of course, we pray for them” as well, and let them know they’re “not traveling alone,” Hollinger said.

Hollinger has himself been in recovery for more than 20 years and said he was fortunate to have a supportive family. Between them, church and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings he was able to “reboot my life,” he said.

He said frequently, someone in the community who is familiar with his story — not always a St. Marks member — shares with him that a loved one is dealing with addiction, and asks what they can do to help. Hollinger said he can almost guarantee that we all know someone affected by the opioid epidemic, even if we don’t know we know.

His hope always is that people understand that “people who get swept up in addiction do not have some sort of corruption or diminishment of will.” Some people are more prone than others to get caught up in it, but “it was never their desire,” he said. And people in recovery are people who are “trying to get better.”

He said there is “better support and momentum” among the many organizations supporting those with addiction than there were when he came to Findlay in 2011. But he said churches as a whole “could be better at” addressing addiction issues, noting the desire of the church is always to keep people from feeling alone.

Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, spoke recently to the Findlay Ministerial Association about addiction. She told them, and asks all faith-based communities, to “help people to maintain hope. … In the face of struggle, we have to have hope for a better day.”

Stuby shared information from addiction researcher Bill White’s blog, “The Conspiracy of Hope,” at the ministerial association meeting. White, in July, outlined this conspiracy starting with a quote from Dr. Patricia Deegan, adjunct professor at Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine:

“It is not our job to pass judgment on who will and will not recover from mental illness and the spirit-breaking effects of poverty, stigma, dehumanization, degradation and learned helplessness,” Deegan said. “Rather, our job is to participate in a conspiracy of hope. It is our job to form a community of hope which surrounds people with psychiatric disabilities.”

White writes that this conspiracy would require “a social movement aimed at shifting the governing image of addiction from that of the repeatedly relapsing celebrity to the millions of people living quiet lives of stable, long-term recovery.” And, he writes, every area of a community plays a role in supporting recovery including business and industry, the arts, sports — and religion.

“When you’re looking for hope, a church is a pretty significant place to go,” Stuby said.

Another way the faith-based community can help is by supporting caregivers, Stuby said. This includes first responders and those treating people with addiction, as well as grandparents who are raising grandchildren because their parents cannot. These grandparents are hurting, but at the same time, they must muster the energy to take care of their children, she said. Stuby suggested friends offer to mow their yard, take a meal over or babysit so they can have a break.

She also encouraged churches to be familiar with other resources that might help. She said someone who is struggling might not be willing to walk into a hospital or treatment agency, “but they trust their clergyman. They trust their church.”

And if someone comes to a pastor and says they, or a family member, is struggling with addiction, she wants that pastor to be able to say, “I know where help is.” The same should be true of church receptionists, she said.

The ADAMHS board has a resource guide that has been put together by the opiate task force, available in hard copy and online. Stuby is encouraging those who work at churches to know the guide is available and be able to share it.

Hollinger said the upcoming classes at St. Marks might help someone by offering that one nugget of information they didn’t realize they needed.

“I think God works in all kinds of ways,” Hollinger said.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs

Twitter: @swarthurs



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