EDMOND — A colorful banner outside Memorial Road Church of Christ in Edmond doesn’t promote a new sermon series or an enticing children’s program. Instead, it elevates the needs of the addict. Faith communities have always known there were people trapped in one form of addiction or another sitting in the pews, afraid to suffer the shame that would come from sharing their problems. But some places of worship now offer their own recovery programs or host others, minimizing the traditional stigma of the “addict” label. “People in the church are just as broken as people who are not in the church, and a lot of times we are good at masking that and faking it,” said Micah Hobbs, who oversees the Celebrate Recovery ministry at Memorial Road Church of Christ. “But the reality is that we are all broken and are in need of healing and hope, encouragement and support.” While Celebrate Recovery programs have sprung up in a variety of Christian denominations, many houses of faith have long supported 12-step recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Other faith groups have developed their own programs to teach clergy and laity about addiction and its treatment. Annette Harper directs addiction ministries for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church, which offers an education program and support group. The church started its Summer School on Chemical Dependency 30 years ago after an addict confided in a pastor, who realized he lacked the resources to help. “It was one layperson who went to his pastor to seek help and did not receive it because the pastor did not know what to do. That layperson took it upon himself to find what needed to be done,” Harper said. The 12-day education program is open to anyone who has been sober for two years. It is an opportunity to learn about the addictive mind, the spiritual dynamics of addiction and how substance abuse impacts faith communities. The United Methodist Church also supports Faith Partners, which creates teams in churches to help deal with addiction. “On a Faith Partner team, you may have a person in long-term recovery that the pastor can call on to take somebody to a 12-step meeting that day, immediately,” Harper said. Rabbi Barry Cohen of Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City said Jewish faith communities typically address addiction issues in a straightforward manner, most often working directly with clergy. He said the stigma of addiction has decreased, providing “a much bigger opening for us to help within a congregational setting, rather than have them go outside the Jewish community.” During his rabbinical training, Cohen said he learned about addiction and its treatment while serving in a Veterans Affairs hospital in Atlanta. “I take those formative experiences and translate them to a congregational setting,” he said. Sister Jennifer Harmon, a student at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa and member of an ecumenical monastic order, has found clergy and congregations aren’t the best at providing the help addicts need. “Oftentimes faith communities do not do a good job,” she said. “I don’t mean to say that they have any kind of negative intent. I think it’s more of a lack of understanding about the person who is trying to recover.” Recovering from addiction to prescription medicine, Harmon said only surrender to God can free an addict from bondage. “Addiction is not the problem. ... I didn’t have a problem being an addict. I had a problem recovering. It wasn’t about God replacing something; it was that God had to be in charge completely, wholeheartedly. It had nothing to do with a lack of willpower on my part,” she said. Harmon sees addiction as the most “in-your-face example of bondage to sin” and says recovery started when people in church told her, “God loves you, no matter what!” Followers of Islam historically “engage in practices that bring them closer to God when they’re having difficulties overcoming sin — such as fasting, praying, reading Quran, and engaging in charity,” said Muneer O. Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “But if we understand addiction as an illness, then it may need more attention than that of a sin.” Cohen said God never gives up on a person. “For whatever we’ve done in the past, anything that we’re ashamed of ... any kind of hurt that we’ve inflicted, you can find atonement and heal the pain,” he said.
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