If you are a member of a faith community, you can be a valuable partner in helping congregants address addiction in their ranks, and in cultivating a culture that encourages sustained recovery.

That’s a message the Lancaster-based Global Outreach for Addiction Leadership and Learning Project wants to share with area residents. Though it has history of global partnerships begun under the leadership and inspiration of founder Mary Theresa Webb, GOAL has, for the past approximately eight years, concentrated most of its work in local communities.

“There is a lack of understanding of the fact that this is a disease,” Webb said. “These are people with a disease, and they need to be treated in a loving and caring manner. It’s been a goal of mine to bring that (ministry) back into the faith community.”

When it comes to recovery, she said, congregations provide the “missing link.”

An addiction counselor herself, Webb has partnered with faith-based and other organizations in places such as Russia and Uganda to treat addictions and HIV-AIDS (the two often can be interconnected).

Workshop planned

The group is sponsoring a three-part workshop series, part of its FAITH Initiatives Program, aimed at equipping pastors and lay leaders with the tools they need to create programs that address addiction. The three-part training event launches Saturday, Oct. 27. Registration ends Wednesday.

A recipient of a $35,000 grant this year from the county Drug and Alcohol Commission — the group has worked with them for three years, says Executive Director Paige Harker — GOAL is collaborating with Faith Partners LLC to offer the Lancaster area “evidence-based” workshops.

 As the opioid epidemic continues to rage through the United States, Lancaster County recently got some good news: For the first two quarters of this year, overdose deaths were down.

Different addictions

Addiction and addictive behavior are not confined to pills and heroin. They encompass a whole host of behavioral problems, from alcoholism to eating disorders.

“We generally walk through the door of substance-abuse disorders,” explained Drew Brooks, executive director of Faith Partners, but find that the conversation quickly expands to include behavioral ones like gambling.

Topics include prevention education, early intervention, referral assistance, recovery support and advocacy (allowing members a voice with which to share their testimony about God’s power to transform their lives), Brooks said.

The aim of the trainings includes creating a safe place in which to have conversations about addictions, to engage congregants wherever they happen to be regarding it, and to help expand the capacity of a congregation to sustain a ministry.

The three-part program starts with leadership training attended by the pastor and lay leaders. The rest of the ministry team attends the next session (to be held in February 2019) at which time they develop a mission statement, delve deeper into what it means to become a team and produce an action plan. Around six months later, the team learns about the resources available to them in their community in a one-day gathering. At that time, said Brooks, his group is available to help faith communities with getting the program off the ground and helping remove any barriers to implementing it.

“What we do is offer a large vision,” he said. Even if a congregation decides to offer a “ministry of presence” and a once-a-year event, that’s more than what they may have been doing prior to the trainings,” Brooks said.

“It’s all about process,” he added. “For it to become part of the fabric of the congregation, there has to be a commitment to it. It’s a process of creating leadership and capacity.”

Said Webb: “I hope that the faith community will reclaim their role in providing hope and support for those affected by addiction, and not leave it up to the pharmaceutical companies.”

GOAL also provides experts to discuss many other addiction-focused topics.

n Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans is a freelance writer and nonparochial Episcopalian priest.

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