Editors Note: Yesterday faith organizations around the Valley took time to recognize a major epidemic that is affecting our community.
Six months ago the Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition invited the “faith community” to dream. This initial meeting resulted in the call upon the West Virginia Council of Churches for support. This action resulted in the opportunity for a collective dreaming across this state which has created the call for churches, parishes, synagogues, and mosques to establish the second Sunday/weekend in September as “A Day of Hope, Celebrating & Supporting a Drug-Free Lifestyle.”
We are grateful for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s support of this effort. His declaration of Sunday, Sept. 13, as “A Day of Hope” for all West Virginians helps to remind us that the statewide epidemic of substance abuse needs a statewide response.
Our hope is for a day of focus on solution-oriented discussion that will create a climate of support for families and individuals. We seek to support those who are in recovery and sustained abstinence from substances of abuse. We seek to support our youth to assist them to live drug-free lives. Our further dream is for real conversations from faith leaders of ways that individual congregations, synagogues, and mosques can lead in ways of prevention. Alcohol and marijuana make youth more susceptible to use of illicit drugs. For example, young adults are four (4) times less likely to have substance problems if they do not use alcohol before the age of 21. If we increase the age of first alcohol use and reduce those who use substances, we will reduce the majority of problems associated with substance abuse. We pray that this event will become an annual one within our places of worship throughout the Mountain State. Faith communities can add prayers, sermons, or other ideas to their services, but our hope is they will continue to work to lower substance abuse in West Virginia throughout the year…beyond the Day of Hope.
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We gratefully acknowledge that our newspapers and TV News channels have done a great job of encouraging prevention of substance abuse. We also must acknowledge that this letter is written with a heavy heart as another young adult from one of our congregations has used “bad heroin” and at the age of 17 has died, recognizing, of course, that there is no good heroin.
We confess that the faith community has been fairly quiet about substance abuse, but faith calls for an active response to this epidemic. As a people of faith, we are to offer compassion for those suffering, ministries of healing for those who are sick, and hospitality within our sanctuaries for those seeking comfort and hope.
Scripture offers a wide range of teachings about living with a God-given hope, assisting our neighbors (especially the last seven of the commandments directing us to care in loving ways for our neighbors), being transformed, and living lifestyles that are different from the norm.
The Substance Abuse Prevention agencies across the state of West Virginia stand ready to assist you and your church, synagogue and mosque with resources, information and workshops to assist all of us in creating a true day of hope.
We invite you to share in this Day of Hope.
Submitted by Bishop Ralph W. Dunkin, Bishop of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (304-280-0710)
And Martha Polinsky, Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (304-233-2045)