Health and Wholeness

Ministering to persons with substance abuse during a pandemic

Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications
Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

In the early months of the pandemic, it was difficult for a person suffering from substance abuse to get into a treatment program due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19. As our state shut down church services, recovery meetings and other opportunities for social connection also were canceled. The outbreak and social unrest have fueled anxiety and increased stress levels across the country. For those suffering from substance abuse, these feelings are intensified. Fueled by these feelings, overdose rates have increased dramatically. The AMA has said that “the nation’s opioid epidemic has grown into a much more complicated and deadly drug overdose epidemic.” (1)

What can the church do to help as we begin to re-launch in person activities?

  • Remember to contact those running recovery programs within your churches. Let them know when they can begin meeting. If you do not currently offer a group, now would be a perfect time to pray about starting one.
  • To help keep your church safe: limit the number of individuals in a group. Set up an area with social distancing already in place. Have hand sanitizer and masks available when entering the church. Have wipes available for the group to wipe down the area when done meeting. Local health departments often are willing to donate these supplies.
  • Contact Drug Court and offer your church for community service.
  • Consider hosting a Narcan event. (Narcan is a drug that can be either injected or sprayed up the nose that immediately counteracts the effects of an overdose.)
  • Make assistance information available (such as food pantries, clothing closets, utility assistance).

St. Paul’s UMC in Paden City, WV hosts a support group for loved ones of substance abuse and a Narcotics Anonymous group. Brea Saeger is an important part of St. Paul’s and gives testimony to the importance of the church’s involvement. 

Brea is 28 months clean and proof that addicts do recover.  She shares some advice. 

“I think churches can help by being compassionate and open to listening to us. Giving us places to have meetings is helpful. We also request that you pray for us and the ones who are still out there suffering. I think being open and honest with us and not judging us for our past, but watching us and encouraging us to grow is what matters the most! For me, I just want to encourage everyone to get involved. I want to make recovery the epidemic, not the drugs!”

Church community initiatives can have a positive impact in helping provide substance abuse treatment. The devastation of the drug crisis is too great to not become an avenue for someone’s success.

Other resources

The Rev. Sheri Kernik is the pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Paden City, West Virginia. Originally published by the West Virginia Annual Conference on October 202,2020. Republished with permission by ResourceUMC.org.