SAM Scripts - Faith-Based Substance Addiction Ministry

Pastoral Life - "Page(s) 9-12" - Establishing A Parish-Based Substance Abuse Ministry - "July - August 2004"

If I were to title my segment this morning it would be "To Catch a Thief," because I have begged, borrowed, and stolen everything that we have down in the Diocese of Palm Beach. I took some stuff from the Lansing model. That was originally how the Palm Beach program was to start out, from on high, and then kind of trickle down to the parishes. I also got some stuff from the state of Florida, which had a program called Coalition of Religious Leaders. They had an across the board ecumenical program for substance abuse ministry, which was believe it or not, subsidized by the state of Florida.

I got a lot of material from Parkside Medical Services. The former vice chair of this program, Sister Therese Golden, was working for Parkside Medical Services Lutheran General out of Chicago, and she was running around the country establishing substance abuse ministry teams. She has done an aeful lot in this field, and she helped me get the program going down in the Diocese of Palm Beach. She has been a marvelous help.

Lastly, we used Communities of Hope from the United States Catholic bishops, and it is a handout that we use for any member joining a parish ministry team.

What does it take to start a parish ministry team? Patience, perseverance, persistance, and prayer. We can find that He will do for us what we can't do for ourselves. Believe me, one of the things I have found in the Diocese of Palm Beach, and I imagine it's universal, is resistance. This is not the ministry that every parish is just dying to get. At least a lot of the pastors are not dying to get it.

A couples of other things that I have found have evolved from setting up the best laid plans of Erik Vagenius: imagination and flexibility. The patron saint of our ministry and the diocese is Saint Flexibilis. Things don't always go the way that I would like tehm to or the team would like them to.

When I moved down to Florida in 1994, Bishop Keither Symons about this and he said, "well, let's thing about it. Why don't you give me a proposal." It took three and a half years before we got the go-ahead. He appointed me on May 14, 1998 to start the ministry in the diocese. The first week of June that year, Bishop Symons resigned.

So what was Erik to do? I couldn't just sit there and wait for a new bishop to come in. I decided to start at grassroots, finding a friendly pastor, someone who would be open to doing something like this. What I do in most parishes today when the invitation comes, I will go in and talk at all the masses on a weekend.

Next we have a general meeting of those interested the following week. I given them a Session in training, and an overview of the ministry. We talk about the goal of establishing a substance abuse ministry team. I state the mission: to provide education, prevention, referral, and support to the diocesan family as a means to facilitating hope, healing, and reconciliation to those who are touched by addiction.

The third goal is reinforcement and education: Sowing the seed, in my estimation, is the No.1 mission of substance abuse ministry teams.

Membership Qualities

We discuss membership qualities, such as having emotional stability - not to seek membership to resolve one's own personal problems. If a proposed member is a recovering alcoholic or substance abuser, we're looking for a year of sobriety, someone who attends meetings regularly, and has a sponsor. If a proposed member lives with an active alcoholic or substance abuser, we look for a minimum of a year in Alanon, attends meetings regularly and has a sponsor. I got all of these from Parkside. This was their thing. I thought they were very good.

People not in recovery can make wonderful team members. They can bring a beautiful balance to a team for those of us who can at times tend to be very myopic. We want them to have a working knowledge of the 12 steps and also to attend open meetings with the various recovering fellowships

All need to participate in the six-session SAM mettings, attend ministry mettings, and assume responsibilities. An important thing is to keep confidential what one hears at meetings. I bring out the importance of not talking, even among team members, on the church steps on a Sunday morning because you never know who can pass by. It may be somebody who hears his or her story when they called the team in panic and fear nand in such strong need.

We want to extend the hand of hope, healing, and reconciliation to those who are touched by addiction. We set up two committees. The Education / Prevention Committee does such things as putting blurbs in parish bulletins.

I went to one pastor and said, "How about a SAM team?" He said, "forget it, I have more important things to do." But, since day one, he has put a little announcement in his bulletin: "If you or a loved on is having problems with alcohol or other drugs, call the diocesan number." Then he got a member of the parish who is in AA to give his name out. I have gotten more called from that parish than from any ot the other 51 in the diocese throught just that little bulletin announcement. Sowing seed. Let people know that you are present. This is a ministry of presence.

The other committee is the On-Call / Referral Committee. They have a cell phonce and contact the parish office, where the calles come through. Then they call either the member of the team who is on-call or my office.

One of the teams has a membership committee to screen new members.

In Session 2 we focus on a overview of addiction, and this can be through prepared talks and guidelines. More imprtant that content in the training sessions - it's the process that counts, getting people to get in touch with what they're doing.

The third session looks at addiction and the family, and here I use the updated version of Soft Is the Heart of a Child. You talk about a video that is really going to awaken a lot of things inside of people, that one will do it. I am forced every time I see it to take a look at what type of a father I was not able to be because of my addiction when my childrend wer in their formative years.

In Part 4, the training session forcuses on intervention. I have been called to do quite a few interventions. I have two waiting for me when I get back. Jeff Jay said they don't have to be perfect, and that is so very very important. We had one that got sabotaged so badly, but the man got into treatment that very day; so I always have to remember that there is Somebody else out there who is running the show.

The last two sessions are working sessions. They put together their brochure, and at the last one they prepare for a public commissioning ceremoney, hopefull at a Mass.

Folks have said this is going to interfere with my anonymity so let's have it private or let's not have a commissioning ceremoney any at all. One has to roll with what the teams want. I've learned that i can't mandate anything. They are in many ways like 12-step groups. They are autonomous.

One thing lastly. One day it struck me, Erik, your pride gets in the way. You still do things that you are not proud of. You still have weaknesses, character defects, and sin. Get with it. Like they say on the airlines, "Put your own oxygen mask on first, then assist others needing help." Thank you.

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