|United Methodist ministry targets substance abuse|
Members of a congregational team attend a leadership training event
sponsored by the United Methodist Special Program on Substance Abuse and
Related Violence. The April training was held at Pulaski United
Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark.
UMNS photos by Melissa Davis.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Aug. 7, 2007
Hoping to help churches provide more than meeting space for
Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups, a United Methodist
ministry is harnessing the church to address issues of alcohol and
substance abuse through prevention, intervention, treatment and
The Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence was enacted
in 1992 as a response to the 1990 Council of Bishops Initiative on Drugs
and Drug Violence. Known as SPSARV, the program seeks to prepare United
Methodist church leaders and their faith partners "to accompany
individuals, families and communities in their journeys to hope, healing
and wholeness," said Melissa Davis, the program's executive director.
Thomas Gunther (right) and Torsten Ufer meet with the United Methodist
European Board on Drug and Alcohol Concerns. The February event took
place in Prague,
To accomplish this, SPSARV develops networks and resources that raise
awareness about the problem and equips church leaders on ways to help.
It also provides training, financial assistance and encouragement for
The United Methodist Church to respond globally in the struggle with
alcohol and drugs.
SPSARV is housed at the Board of Global Ministries and works in collaboration with Board of Church and Society.
Because alcohol and other drug issues are viewed as diseases of the
mind and body, "it is the spiritual disease that we feel that the church
is equipped to respond to," said Davis.
The program's primary role is equipping clergy and laity to assist
those in the congregation and the community in dealing with the
brokenness of addiction.
Bridging the gap
SPSARV seeks to "bridge the gap between the basement and the
sanctuary" by encouraging Alcoholics Anonymous and similar groups to
meet in church sanctuaries or at least meet the people of the church.
"We have many churches that host support groups, but those groups meet
in the basement, and the basement and sanctuary do not meet," Davis
said. "This ministry bridges the gap and brings the ministries around
addiction, healing and hope, deliverance and wholeness throughout the
church. It links it together."
Davis said it is rare to find someone who has "not been affected by
or afflicted with some kind of addiction issue in their family."
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that 45
percent of teens have tried alcohol in the last month and 64 percent
engaged in binge drinking (having five or more alcoholic drinks
consecutively). The study also found that 40 percent of people who begin
drinking before age 15 become dependent on alcohol at some point in
"… The church must and can play a role because, if we don’t, we’ll just end up with a community of broken souls," Davis said.
The ministry has developed a special relationship with a consortium
of historically black United Methodist-related colleges and universities
to assist them in responding to substance abuse issues on their
Under the direction of the Harry R. Kendall Science and Health
Mission Center at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., college
administrators and students come together to address common problems
that exist despite zero tolerance policies on their campuses.
"We are trying to work these campuses to make sure students know what
the resources are, find out where the gaps are, and partner with them
to fill those gaps through the consortium," Davis said.
Domestic efforts, global efforts
Through a General Conference-mandated interagency task force,
churchwide agencies coordinate the response of The United Methodist
Church to issues of alcohol and other drugs, and SPSARV provides support
"… The church must and can play a role because, if we don't, we'll just end up with a community of broken souls."
SPSARV also is partnering with the Faith Leadership and Advisory
Team, a new ad-hoc group providing leadership to the Rush Center of the
Johnson Institute of Austin, Texas. This faith-based organization has
experience in models of prevention, intervention and recovery. Together,
they are offering one training program for clergy and another for laity
to provide church ministry teams with a three-step process toward
recovery. Each of the five U.S. United Methodist jurisdictions is
scheduled to have a two-day training by the end of 2008.
"Addiction to something is the norm," Davis said. "We are trying to
be a ministry of hope, healing, deliverance and wholeness to the church
SPSARV also has a global component.
The United Methodist European Board on Drug and Alcohol Concerns was
established in 1993, bringing together church representatives of 10
countries in the four central conferences in Europe. With support from
SPSARV, the board provides local churches and partnering organizations
with education, training and technical assistance resources.
An African Task Force on Substance Abuse and Related Violence was
formed in 2005, based on a peer-counseling model created in 1996 by
Bishop Joseph Kow Ghunney, episcopal leader of the Winneba District
within the independent Methodist Church of Ghana.
His model equips peers to help colleagues either to abstain from or
intervene in their alcohol or drug use. The bishop also wrote a manual
that was translated by SPSARV into French and Portuguese.
Peer-counseling programs have expanded across Africa and into 12
African United Methodist episcopal areas. "The basic premise of the
model is to equip young people to make healthy lifestyle decisions with
the support of school administrators and church leaders," Davis said,
adding that the model is expanding to Zimbabwe, Liberia, South Congo,
Central Congo, West Angola and Sierra Leone.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
United Methodist Board of Church and Society
Drug and Alcohol Concerns
The Rush Center