Local United Methodists are raising more than $100,000 to fight the opioid crisis they say is tearing away at communities in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and North Georgia.
By mid-June, the 872 United Methodist congregations of Holston Conference expect to take a significant offering that will help create new ministries or strengthen existing programs that help families and individuals struggling with addiction, officials said.
The Rev. Tim Jones said the mission campaign will kick off the week after Easter Sunday, April 21.
“Resurrection begins at Easter. It doesn’t end at Easter,” said Rev. Jones, director of communications. “As Easter people in Holston Conference, we want to celebrate new life and resurrection through ministries that address the opioid crisis.”
United Methodist churches will take special offerings throughout May, then take their offerings to the Holston Annual Conference held June 9-12 in Lake Junaluska, NC. “The funds will then be distributed through grants to churches that want to fight drug addiction in their communities,” said Rev. Jones.
Every year, Holston Conference collects more than $100,000 for a designated mission. In 2018, church members gave $110,191 for South Sudanese children and pastors living as refugees in Uganda. In 2017, church members gave $105,588 to provide education and care for children in Zimbabwe.
Holston Conference leaders chose opioid addiction as their 2019 mission focus after surveyed church members indicated it as a disease affecting many families in their communities, according to Rev. Jones. The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline states: “We commit ourselves to assisting those who suffer from abuse or dependence, and their families, in finding freedom through Jesus Christ and in finding good opportunities for treatment, for ongoing counseling and for reintegration into society.”
Several United Methodist churches in the Chattanooga/ Cleveland area already host recovery worship or related support groups, including Dunlap, First Copperhill, Grace (Soddy Daisy), Harrison, Hixson, McKendree (Jasper), Mountain View (Dayton), Ooltewah, Red Bank, St. Marks, Trenton, Tyner, Wauhatchie and White Oak.
"The grants will not only support those ministries, but will also inspire other ways congregations can prevent drug abuse or support families struggling with addiction, such as providing transportation to attend support groups, hosting “sober living” activities, providing meals or child care for grandparents raising the children of addicted parents and partnering with law enforcement or hospitals to host unused prescription “take-back” events," officials said.
“Families in our church have been impacted by this epidemic, having lost loved ones and living with the sense of loss from a life cut short by substance abuse,” said Eric Light, leader of the recovery ministry at Ooltewah United Methodist Church. “Recovery @ Ooltewah is a resource for not only those who are addicted, but also their families, who struggle with how to help their loved ones without enabling their abuse.”
Holston Conference includes about 160,000 members in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and North Georgia. The organization’s main office is located in Alcoa, Tn.