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Addictions ministry not about judging

By James Buchok


WINNIPEG — Addictions are suffered by all manner of people in all areas of life, and the more places they can seek help, the more likely they will find it, including in their churches.

The Archdiocese of Winnipeg hosted a training session on creating a church ministry to help community members with addictions, Jan. 18 at Good Shepherd Church in Portage la Prairie.

“It’s not about judging,” said training leader Mary Martin, director of the Michigan-based National Catholic Council on Addictions.

“We’re not perfect, nobody’s perfect,” said Martin. “It’s about trying to open our doors to understand another person. And we don’t need to always know the answers, but we’ll get better and better at finding the answers.”

The NCCA is dedicated to helping priests, women and men religious, and parishioners. The mission of NCCA is carried forth as a service of Guest House, an addiction treatment centre for Catholic clergy and men and women religious.

Martin provided an outline of a Substance Addictions Ministry (SAM) and the various forms one could take depending on the needs and culture of a parish, and the best kinds of people for such a ministry.

“The first thing is to be a caring person,” Martin said. “You might find a person in another ministry who is ready for a change, and they don’t need to be every week practising Catholics, just good caring people. This can be a chance for your church to attract people who are not yet in a ministry.”

Martin said there are people in every church who know about Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or Al-Anon or Alateen, “but you may not know they are there.” Martin said recovering addicts have much to offer to a SAM team but they must be at least one year clean and sober. For these people, “it’s about living the twelfth step,” she said. “It’s about giving back.” And, she added, those in recovery must continue attending their own support programs.

“Their helping in this ministry does not replace the work they have to continue to do themselves,” Martin said. Or they may not have been in therapy but have a working knowledge of how that works.

“It’s the fellowship idea,” Martin said, “the community of recovery.”

Martin said members of a SAM team must be emotionally stable. “You are not seeking those who are out to solve their own problems. It’s hard to fire a volunteer, so discern well.”

She said getting started may take time but not to be discouraged if there are only a handful interested in helping. “You only need a few to get started, but make sure it’s not just because they feel bad for you or want another ministry to stay busy with. You need the right kind of caring, non-judgmental people.”

The SAM model calls for a two-year commitment from its ministers, and confidentiality is of vital importance.

“If that’s broken, it’s broken,” Martin said. “What is said here, stays here.”

But a church addiction ministry is not about group sharing and it’s not a recovery program. It’s for providing information about how and where to seek help. Martin described three SAM models that range from monthly presentations with recovery specialists, open to all and provided as a community service, and including information for those in need on what to do next; to a confidential referral and support group of individuals who can be contacted for help.

Martin knows a pastor who made himself the first point of contact for someone seeking help, and then he passes them on to someone in the church’s addictions ministry.

She said an addictions ministry works as a kind of clearing house, with the team gathering information and learning about community or private addictions programs and services, and then advising those in need where to go next.

Martin said churches can partner to provide services, and to keep in mind what might be available at other non-Catholic churches nearby.

Factors for churches to consider include whether the pastor and leadership are supportive of this ministry; and what might the congregation need to better understand the ministry? And what style is most likely to be successful at your parish?

Martin said the church pastor has final approval on all ministry members. “Sometimes it’s not easy to get the approval of the pastor, not that you can do much without your pastor’s support.”

Another model provides opportunities for spirituality and prayer with a regular healing mass or the rosary for recovery, followed by a social gathering.

“When you’re at the bottom there’s not a lot you want to do. But if you know there’s a mass with that specific intention, you might go,” Martin said.

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