BUCKHANNON – As West Virginia and the U.S. continue to grapple with the opioid and addiction crisis, a local church is hoping to suggest “a simple response” to the troubling and complex epidemic.
Presented by the Rev. Dr. Barry Steiner Ball, Buckhannon’s First United Methodist Church will host a seminar entitled “A Simple Response to the Opioid Epidemic” at 2 p.m. Sunday at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.
Ball is the husband of Sandra Steiner Ball, the bishop of the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Several topics will be discussed during the seminar, including what opioids are and how they differ from other drugs. The physiology of opioids will be explored as well as how churches and the community can respond to those affected by the epidemic.
With such a complex issue that affects millions daily, the question at hand is how can there be a simple response?
To Ball, our culture seems to imply that, “if you can’t fix the whole problem, why bother doing anything?” to which he said, “My response is we all need to do something now.”
Ball continued, saying God has not created folks with the same gifts and graces, so not everyone feels a call to the same response or ministry.
“Therefore, what if every church member asked God what they needed to do in response to the epidemic and did it?” he asked. “If some of our members mentored drug endangered children, if some of our members helped those trying recovery and if some of our members supported family members of the addicted in our own communities we would be making a huge step in addressing the epidemic and in the lives of those we are supporting.”
For First UMC pastor Rev. Steve Meadows, the first-step response is simple in terms of “prevention compared to the complexities of the vast pain, trauma and wreckage of opioid use.”
Kristi Wilkerson, director of Christian education and programming at First United Methodist Church, said she’s interested to delve into the stigma that is associated with drug addiction.
“For me, personally, my desire to invite Barry Ball to Buckhannon was to help reduce or hopefully even work to eliminate the stigma associated with addiction,” she said. “There are certainly individuals and families in churches who are dealing with addiction in some way.”
And because there is such a strong stigma attached to those struggling and the loved ones of addicts, Wilkerson and Ball agreed that a church’s support is much needed.
“I see the family members who are scared to death for their addicted loved ones [and] needing the church’s support. Because of the stigma of addiction, sometimes these families suffer in silence,” Ball said. “They are afraid to admit that their child, grandchild, brother, sister is suffering from addiction because of the judgment they may experience from such an admittance. Men and women who are starting their journey of recovery need the church’s support.”
Church and community support is needed throughout all stages of addiction and for all who are affected, he noted.
“To be successful in recovery, they need to reconnect, and the church that is not busy judging them, is the perfect place to connect,” Ball said. “The children of the addicted need our support.”
During his time working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Ball said he saw children living in the dysfunction of their parents’ addiction and believing that kind of life was normal.
“Teachers can only do so much,” Ball said. “What if the church mentored these drug endangered children by helping them with their math and reading? Studies show that children that get behind in reading and math skills early, do not catch up and are at risk of dropping out of school. If the church left its building and met these children in their schools, what great relationships could develop?”
Looking at the issue locally, Wilkerson noted First UMC has witnessed firsthand the effects of opioid addiction.
“I believe churches must respond and offer help in whatever way they can,” she said, adding support groups are available at the church.
All are invited to the 2 p.m. Sunday seminar that will take place at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.
“That is the reason we secured a public venue,” said Meadows. “This is not just a religious concern, this is a public, community, statewide and even broader epidemic.”
Meadows continued, “The takeaway would be ongoing efforts and dialogue to effectively respond to the epidemic and support those left in the aftermath of the devastation of opioid use and related deaths.”
Wilkerson encouraged Upshur County residents to attend, saying the high school’s doors, like the Methodist churches’, are wide open.
“We welcome all to join us for this presentation, to hear about Barry’s experiences and passion, to learn more about addiction and to ask questions so that we might work together to help our friends and neighbors who are dealing with the effects of addiction,” she said.