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When people of faith come together, lives are changed

Mark Hicks • Mar 3, 2018 at 8:30 AM

As I stood to preach at our Thursday night recovery service, I saw, to my right, a distinguished-looking older gentleman. He was well-dressed in his coat and tie, having just come from his office. About four chairs down from him, on the same row, was a woman who was literally wearing everything she owned.

This image reinforces what I often say, “Everybody is in recovery for something.” For nearly four years now, I have been the leader of the recovery service at State Street United Methodist Church known as Recovery at Bristol. I have seen people from all walks of life come seeking help with their lives – desperate for recovery. I have also witnessed a lot of caring people ready to help.

When people of faith come together, lives are changed. This is why I’m so happy my church and others in the region will participate in a major event taking place May 18-19. It’s called The Holy Friendship Summit: Healing the Heart of Southern Appalachia.

One of the tragedies we face in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia is an opioid crisis that is among the worst in the nation. With a problem so vast, one-dimensional solutions are simply not enough. We need clergy, clinicians, educators, counselors, congregations and friends to come together in a regionwide effort to turn the tide of addiction, and this is how we are going to do it:

First, local community leaders have joined with Duke University and Duke Divinity School to develop the summit, which will be held at Celebration Church in Blountville. The goal is to bring 1,000 people from this region together with nationally renowned experts for educational presentations, panel discussions, networking, fellowship and worship. These discussions will include multiple educational tracts such as pain management, depression, anxiety, trauma, violence, incarceration, prevention and recovery.

Secondly, based on connections formed at this summit, new church collaboratives will be formed. These collaboratives will be based on a program already taking place in Durham, North Carolina, under the direction of Duke Divinity School. It will be a great model to help churches in our region work together.

Third, a new book will be published, based on the research and information shared at this conference. Katelyn Beaty, a national author and former editor of Christianity Today, has been commissioned to write the book, which will serve as a clergy guide to help those dealing with addiction.

With a problem as vast as the addiction crisis we face, simplistic solutions are not enough. The summit is the beginning of a long-term, regionwide effort to mobilize people from multiple professional disciplines, but it is designed, most of all, to mobilize people of faith in this region to address this problem. So every congregation needs to participate.

Registration is easy. Go to holyfriendshipsummit.com. There you will find details about the summit, church bulletin inserts and easy-to-follow instructions to register. Early registration is only $25, and group rates are available.

Finally, there is one more thing every church can do. Have a special promotional Sunday to raise awareness about addiction and promote the summit. The summit’s steering committee suggests March 4. It’s called “March 4th Against Opioid Addiction.” Of course, if another Sunday works better for your church, that is perfectly fine. The point is to get the word out to every congregation in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia that the time has come to face our problems with real, faith-based, strategic and cooperative solutions. Go to holyfriendshipsummit.com, register and spread the word!

Dr. Mark Hicks is associate pastor of State Street United Methodist Church, director of Recovery at Bristol and a member of the steering committee for The Holy Friendship Summit: Healing the Heart of Southern Appalachia.

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