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Connecting Community and Faith in a Troubled World: The Southeast ATTC’s Faith Leadership Academy

By Pamela Woll, MA, CPS 

and Dawn Tyus, LPC, MAC, NCC

Southeast ATTC

Six months ago, when the world started grinding to a halt, it looked like travel and gathering restrictions might get in the way of the Southeast Addiction Technology Transfer Center’s highly interactive “Let’s Have the Conversation” Faith Leadership Academy, due to start its Immersion Training on April 27. Far to the contrary, the Academy has adapted well to Zoom, and the effects of COVID-19 have many times underscored the urgent need for and importance of the Academy, its lessons, and the leaders it inspires.

If we had any doubts about the complexity of the global pandemic of substance use disorders (SUD), the global pandemic of COVID-19 has wiped out those doubts. The social isolation and unemployment that coronavirus prevention measures created have proved powerful complicating factors for SUD.

  • Substance use has escalated, often to “self-medicate” loneliness, stress, and distress.
  • Access to treatment and recovery support has been reduced, or at best complicated.
  • Overdoses have skyrocketed, due to increases in use and decreases in the human contact that sometimes leads to life-saving measures.


Faith Leaders
The under-resourced SUD field has begun to recognize that engaged, knowledgeable faith leaders and faith communities can be excellent collaborators, “force multipliers,” and bridges between recovery and community life. For many individuals and families, welcome and support from faith leaders, congregations, and faith-based programs can be a catalyst for recovery, a source of referral/resources, and—for some—a primary source of ongoing recovery support.

But even before COVID-19, it wasn’t as simple as opening the doors and carrying a message of faith, hope, and redemption. The stigma, misconceptions, judgmentalism, and shame attached to SUDs:

  • keep many individuals and families away from faith communities,
  • prompt many people to hide or deny their afflictions long after they’ve joined faith communities, and
  • sometimes provoke subtle and not-so-subtle expressions of disapproval that can drive people away from faith communities—sometimes away from faith itself.

Well-prepared faith leaders can seed recovery-friendly cultures within their organizations/congregations, but that’s not simple either. Religious education offers little information or training about SUD, stigma, intervention, referral, or recovery support. Beyond that, it seldom prepares leaders to develop the larger vision, mission, and calling that would help them reach out to surrounding communities and collaborate in transformative efforts to find and help the many individuals and families in desperate need.

The Faith Leadership Academy
Southeast ATTC Director Dawn Tyus and Developer/Facilitator Le’Angela Ingram, MS built the Academy to address just these challenges. Components include:

  • “360 Assessments” synthesizing feedback from superiors, peers, staff, and congregants;
  • one-to-one coaching with the facilitator;
  • a collaborative immersion training for this cohort of 10 faith leaders;
  • webinars with field leaders presenting best practices and emerging trends, followed by discussion sessions within the cohort;
  • extensive reading (e.g., Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership, James Collins’s and Jerry Porrass’s “Building Your Company’s Vision,” Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, John Kotter’s “Leading Change,” and Derron Payne’s The Art of the Pivot);
  • collaborative results-based projects;
  • a booster session; and
  • graduation.

With the inspiration of their individual and collective values, visions, and missions—and the energy and synergy of their collaboration—participants are finishing their projects, including:

  • a regional gathering of faith leaders, a committee to discuss options for linkage to treatment/recovery support, and a multidisciplinary forum on the SUD needs of men in the criminal justice system;
  • training programs (e.g., understanding/identification of SUD, stigma reduction, trauma-informed services, faith leader peer support, forging connections with community resources, starting an SUD ministry, Mental Health First Aid, Wellness Recovery Action Planning, and Resilient Congregations Framework for Ministry) for other faith leaders;
  • a project to establish wraparound services in an impoverished community, a mentoring/support relationship with an under-resourced congregation to establish a Celebrate Recovery program, and a movement to prevent arrests and recidivism; and
  • two video projects, one using personal recovery and faith community experience to educate faith leaders/communities on becoming more welcoming and connecting; and one on empathy, with an accompanying journal/discussion guide for faith communities.

Facilitator Ingram has fond memories of many moments from the Academy, but her favorites are the moments when participants came to her saying things like, “Le’Angela, this is deep!” “This is not lightweight stuff!” and “I have to take more time to be reflective!”

Published:
10/07/2020
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The opinions expressed herein are the views of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), SAMHSA, CSAT or the ATTC Network. No official support or endorsement of DHHS, SAMHSA, or CSAT for the opinions of authors presented in this e-publication is intended or should be inferred.

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