Covenant Baptist Church, Shepherdstown, W. Va., is working to form a strong initiative to bring holistic healing to people, and communities struggling with the current opioid epidemic.
“This is a nationwide phenomenon,” Joel Rainey, Covenant’s senior pastor says, but West Virginia ranks at the very top of the list in opioid overdoses.
Rainey is a member of One America’s Leadership Circle and a leader in One America West Virginia, an organization crossing religious, political, geographic, and racial lines to combat the opioid epidemic.
Rainey says local emergency workers will work all night dealing with overdoses until they run out of Narcan. Funeral homes are averaging three deaths a week from the opioid addiction.
“In Jefferson County, there is a 1 in 2,000 chance you’ll die of an opioid overdose. In Berkley County, the number is 1 in 1,200. That’s unacceptable,” Rainey asserts.
When he introduced the opportunity to partner with One America, the church was ready. They had already buried their share of sons, daughters, husbands, and other loved ones.
The church already had a Celebrate Recovery Group and was working with AA, NA, AL-Anon, and other such groups, but the opioid crisis was different. It needed a unique approach.
“This is worse than alcohol, cocaine, anything we’ve seen before,” says Rainey.
The first thing they did was have a “listening session,” with first responders, physicians, and educators asking, “What do you need?”
“What I heard almost unanimously was, ‘We need someone to coordinate our work,’” Rainey summarizes.
At the session, a police officer said, ”I’m locking them up,” pointed to a nurse and said, “She’s treating them,” and an educator, “She’s teaching them—We’ve never, until today, been in the same room to talk about it and how we can work together.”
“That’s the broad sort of approach we’re taking,” Rainey says.
Rainey made the contact with Andrew Hanauer, One America’s director of faith-based collaborations, through a discussion with The Ethic & Religious Liberty Commission about the issue.
Ultimately, Rainey said the church has to have a culture where it doesn’t condone the behavior, but offers help, to put arms around the people addicted and tell them they’re welcome, and that the church wants to help them and that they won’t shame them.
“It really is a disease,” Rainey said, quickly adding, “Now we’re followers of Jesus. I’m not going to say there isn’t a moral element to this, there is.”
But he says, “The long-term solution is removing them from isolation and shame.”
Education is also a key component. Rainey says teaching children and youth is important, and bringing in professionals and people who have had “street” experiences to share with them can help teach how bad it really is.
Rainey says the opioid epidemic also crosses many ethnic and religious lines. The addiction is killing Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists, and he says we must work together to fight this battle.
That in itself is an opportunity to share Christ, he adds.
To learn more, listen to the June 19 ERLC Capitol Conversation podcast, “Pastor Joel Rainey on the opiod crisis and multi-faith engagement” at https://erlc.com/resource-library/capitol-conversations-episodes.