faith in action

Making it personal changes everything

Huntington, West Virginia experienced 27 overdose calls over four hours on August 15, 2016, creating a national spotlight on a disease raging in the United States. The news hit close to home because I was settling back into life in Huntington and preparing for another semester at Marshall University. But this wasn't my first encounter with substance abuse disorder.

The overdoses of August 15 were not my first encounter with substance abuse disorder, commonly called addiction.

I was forced to face the reality head on at around the age of twelve. My family discovered one of our own in active substance use. My whole idea of addiction changed that day. It was no longer just what society saw as a dirty addict, but a beloved family member.

Everything changes once substance use disorder becomes personal.

Making it personal

The Revs. Darick Biondi and Cindy Briggs-Biondi are a clergy couple in the West Virginia Annual (regional) Conference. After being appointed to new charges in a rural area outside of an urban center, both faced the effects of the substance abuse disorder.

A father of two children within Briggs-Biondi’s church overdosed, while Biondi lost a United Methodist summer camp friend to an overdose. They saw the unspoken effects within the community.

Now that it was personal, the two could not overlook the problem anymore. No one was yet meeting a need in the pastors’ community. They believed that if any entity could meet the need, it was the church. They felt a call to action.

Connecting with others

The two began connecting with others as they put their faith into action. Events quickly started unfolding that began to change the culture in their community and the state, as a whole.

A spark began when Cece Brown, the mother of Biondi’s camp friend, created Warriors for Hope, a community organization working to organize programs for awareness, prevention, support and treatment for substance abuse. Warriors for Hope also advocated for legislation and funding that helped with recovery efforts.

Through their connection with Warriors for Hope, Biondi and Briggs-Biondi learned about the Second Chance for Employment Act that the West Virginia state legislature was considering. The bill gives nonviolent offenders the ability to petition to have their offenses reduced to misdemeanors after a certain number of years. This was particularly important for people who were jailed for breaking laws related to their substance use disorder.

Biondi and Briggs-Biondi worked tirelessly to meet with representatives about this particular legislation. After the work of so many, the bill passed and West Virginia’s governor signed it into law.

The clergy couple also connected with the West Virginia Council of Churches. The WVCC has worked over the last year to address substance use disorder and create more connections ecumenically. WVCC and the Community Impact Coalition, for example, hosted last fall their second “Day of Hope: A Celebration of Prevention and Recovery” to help faith communities talk about addiction and how it affects our communities. The WVCC also hosted listening events across the state to learn more about how the crisis is affecting communities and what is being done to help people. Briggs-Biondi and Biondi served on the steering committee for these events.

Expanding connections

The WVCC then hosted the Clergy Consultation on Substance Use Disorder earlier this year at the West Virginia Wesleyan College. This ecumenical gathering taught others to begin actively working in their communities on substance use disorder. Attendees were seated together based on their geographical location to build relationships beyond the event and to support one another as they seek to bring hope to their communities.

Briggs-Biondi and Biondi joined Martha Polinsky in speaking about the stigma surrounding the disorder, which is one of the largest obstacles to recovery.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin spoke to the gathering about the steps the federal government was taking to address the growing crisis.

The WVCC also offered two other training events: Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral, and Treatment (SBIRT); and motivational interviewing, an evidence-base method for treating substance use disorder.

Putting faith into action

Substance use disorder is becoming personal to the WV Conference. Everything is changing because it’s becoming personal.

Recovery groups and support groups are forming. Training and community events are being organized. Compassion and hope are emerging.

All of these are just the first steps of faith in action with more to come as we continue living into our vision “to be a Christ-led, spiritual breath of fresh air that changes the world.”