SAM Scripts - Faith-Based Substance Addiction Ministry

Sharing The Gift Of Recovery: SAM Ministry In The Catholic Diocese Of Palm Beach.

In 1994, I retired as Director of Guest House, Rochester, Minnesota Treatment Center. I had spent 14 years working with Catholic clergy and religious who were afflicted with addictive disease. What most impressed me was the vast number of men who returned to their parishes and openly shared their journey through alcoholism into recovery. As a result of their transparency, these men were able to reach out to literally thousands of others who had been touched by addiction, both the "afflicted" and the "affected".

In 1994, I retired as Director of Guest House, Rochester, Minnesota Treatment Center. I had spent 14 years working with Catholic clergy and religious who were afflicted with addictive disease. What most impressed me was the vast number of men who returned to their parishes and openly shared their journey through alcoholism into recovery. As a result of their transparency, these men were able to reach out to literally thousands of others who had been touched by addiction, both the "afflicted" and the "affected".

It became apparent that "church" can play an important role as "healer". Clergy and laity alike who have been given this gift of recovery have been called to share their experience, strength, hope, and weakness with others. Thus began my new ministry called Substance Addiction Ministry (SAM) in the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach (Florida).

It is most important to mention that the principle reason SAM began in July 1998 was the vision and courage of then Bishop J. Keith Symons. Without his support and encouragement, SAM could not exist.

To date, 14 parish SAM teams have been commissioned. Some have thrived, others struggle to survive. The team's mission is twofold: 1.) create awareness of the presence of addiction through education and, 2.) provide referral and support for parishioners who are touched by addiction.

The Sacraments of the Catholic Church have been an important aspect of SAM. Periodic Masses (Sacrament of Eucharist) focusing on gratitude are sponsored by the teams. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is celebrated as a means to focus on addiction as illness not sin. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) adds a healing dimension to a recovering person's 4th and 5th Steps. Homilies about addiction always have a profound impact in confronting the conspiracy of silence that perpetuates the illness and precludes one's access to treatment and recovery.

As important as establishing SAM teams is sustaining them and is often more difficult. Conducting an annual renewal day for teams has been an important means of engendering mutual support among members. Sharing what's working and what isn't in the different parishes has been invaluable.

Member retention is a major problem. Realizing the busy schedules of most of us, efficient meeting planning is essential. Following a prepared agenda, sticking to the topic, and adhering to a specific time schedule allows members feel their time is not being wasted. Assigning specific tasks to members reinforces one's importance to SAM. Also, teams that are flourishing have a constant influx of new blood.

A constantly recurring theme is lack of clergy participation. An early learned reality was that our priority is not necessarily another's, clergy included. To focus on the fact that a pastor opened the door for a SAM team may be a better focus.

A very significant problem is "the numbers game". Success is often measured by the number of phone calls a team receives. That's a trap! If the phone isn't ringing, it's possible that the education committee is not getting the word out and more focus is needed in that area. SAM is about "sowing seed".

Several years ago the number of people in attendance at a Mass of Healing fell far below my expectations. The next morning I received a call from a couple who had attended. The man, in his 80s, wanted to stop drinking. I was able to refer him for help. I then sat back and said to myself, "Erik. One person was helped. Yesterday was a great success."

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