Building a ministry for the addiction and recovering community and their families
There are 20 million people in the United States struggling with alcohol or drug addictions. There are another 20 million people living in recovery. Close to half of the U.S. population has a family member who is addicted to drugs and alcohol.
For many years, churches have opened their doors to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings as well as Al-Anon meetings for family members of individuals struggling with addiction.
Jonesville UMC in the Albany District is taking it a step further with its Stigma Takes Away Hope and Life (STAHL) ministry and its Alcoholism and Addiction Family Recovery Resource Center.
The creation of STAHL
STAHL is the brainchild of Phyllis Mullaney. Almost 50 years ago, she struggled with a boyfriend Dusty’s addiction to the point that she became anorexic and was placed in a mental ward. Click here to hear Phyllis reflect on the recovery process she and Dusty (who became her husband) went through.
Phyllis went on to speak nation-wide for Al-Anon for many years. She moved from Voorheesville, NY to Virgina Beach, VA, where she became the Director for Al-Anon’s Public Information Department for the United States and Canada.
Eight years ago, after retiring, Phyllis moved back to the Albany, NY area and she wanted to find a church to attend.
Phyllis said, “I was a church seeker. I went to four different churches.”
Speaking of Jonesville UMC, Phyllis said, “I walked into (this) church, and the service started. There was a message to me…loud and clear. I truly felt that Jesus was in this church and I just kept coming back.”
Two years later, the Rev. Youngjae Jee was appointed as the pastor at Jonesville UMC.
Around that time, Phyliss started envisioning a ministry called STAHL—she approached Pastor Youngjae about it, and he recommended she bring it to the church’s ad council. The team was unanimously in favor of starting the ministry.
To help support this ministry, Jonesville applied for an Upper New York Peace with Justice grant and received a $2,000 grant.
The Alcoholism and Addiction Resource Center
As part of the ministry, the church dedicated a portion of their fellowship hall to become the Alcoholism and Addiction Family Recovery Resource Center. Adorned with comfortable couches and chairs, beautiful antique lamps, and large plants, this space has hundreds of pamphlets and resources for people who want to know more about addiction, seek help for their friends or family members, as well as resources for those in recovery.
Phyllis began dedicating her time to this space at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She collected pamphlets and started building a library. Dozens of agencies and support groups donated the literature. “It kept me very busy,” Phyllis said.
Phyllis was actively trying to build a STAHL committee, but it was very difficult during the pandemic. She said, “I was relieved when the pandemic let up a little bit because I now have the best committee on the planet!”
Phyllis continued, “A lot of this is God’s work. I can have the vision, but if the vision isn’t honest and the best for the community and the church, it’s like a square peg going into a round hole. But this just felt so comfortable to me.”
The STAHL committee
The STAHL committee has members who are in recovery, addiction and recovery experts, and family members.
STAHL member Amy and her husband became members of Jonesville UMC in 2012; she said “Shortly after I started joining the church, my addiction became a problem and I started to get help. The church really carried me during this time. They helped me get to church—we lived 20 miles away at the time and they helped me get a ride to church and just loved me through it.”
Amy discussed how her husband has helped people who have family members with a use disorder because he understands that side of it, having been through the whole process with her.
Speaking of the Alcoholism and Addiction Family Recovery Resource Center, Amy thinks it will be especially helpful for families. She said, “There are a lot of services in the community for people with use disorders, but there is a lot less for the family.”
Katelyn, a young woman in recovery and her mother Carmella are on the STAHL committee. Carmella is Phyllis’s neighbor. She connected with Phyllis while Katelyn was living in Dallas. Katelyn moved back to the area in 2021.
Katelyn said,” I identify as a person in long-term, sustained recovery so it is really important to me that the STAHL ministry exists in this church. It means so much to me that they are so welcoming to those in recovery.”
Katelyn continued, “I became a part of the STAHL committee right away. We have our committee meetings in this space (the resource center) and it’s just so nice to connect with people in a deep way. And I really like to be of service and give back (to people who are starting their recovery process). It’s really rewarding.”
Bob Lindsey, the Executive Director for International Doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous, is also a member of the STAHL committee. Bob has spent his entire career working in the field of alcoholic prevention, treatment, and recovery at the local level, national level, and international level. Bob also has 11 family members who have recovered from substance and alcohol addictions.
Bob has been involved in a lot of community work involving prevention, education, training, and treatment.
Bob said, “This gave me a real grass-roots feel for what we need to do to change public perception and support for alcoholism addiction, prevention, treatment, and recovery.”
Bob would love to see other churches do what Jonesville UMC is doing; he said, “This is exactly what people need, creating an environment and community of support that says, ‘If you want to speak to a family member or friend who is struggling with addiction, there are people here who are living life in recovery, who know and understand the issue and are glad to help in any way they can, AND become engaged in the community to create a chain of support.”
Bob explains that “People living life in recovery, that’s the miracle; that’s what we need to celebrate and offer hope and healing that individuals and families are so desperate for.”
Bringing in guest speakers
STAHL puts together events and brings in national speakers to talk about their recovery journeys.
For example, on Wednesday Feb. 16, 2022, Michael Blanchard, a renowned landscape photographer and writer came to Jonesville UMC to speak about his recovery journey. Over 100 people attended this free event, open to the public.
Michael was once a hospital executive in Maine and struggled with alcoholism. He had three DWIs in three months and hit rock bottom, contemplating suicide. He decided to seek treatment and soon thereafter found photography. He moved to Martha’s Vineyard where he has a gallery filled with dozens of his landscape photographs. Photography became one of his therapies. Click here to visit his website. Click here to visit his Facebook page where he regularly posts.
Katelyn said, “I’ve been a part of reaching out to the recovery community and inviting them to come see Michael Blanchard. And they have been very responsive.”
Katelyn continued, speaking of Michael, “I really like to see how people are able to use the gifts God has given them in their recovery.”
Moved by Phyllis’s mission to educate the community about substance abuse addiction and alcoholism, Pastor Youngjae decided to do a 12-step sermon series. Beginning at the end of August in 2021, Youngjae gave sermons on each step for 12 straight weeks.
Youngjae weaved warm kindness and humor in with biblical passages that aligned with each step. For example, in Step 1, “I am powerless,” Youngjae showed a cartoon of a Dotson looking back at his tail wagging. Youngjae asked, “Is the dog wagging the tail or is the tail wagging the dog?”
He referred to the tail wagging the dog as the way in which addictions control individuals. The habit is wagging the whole person. Recognizing that the tail is wagging you is the first step in recovery.
Katelyn and Carmella started coming to Jonesville UMC specifically for the 12-step sermons.
Carmella said, “I thoroughly enjoyed the 12-step sermons.”
Katelyn added, “The fact that Pastor Youngjae focused on the recovery process for 12 straight weeks in a row really impressed me and made me want to find out more about the church.”
In fact, the 12-step sermons were so instrumental in Katelyn’s faith journey, that she decided to become a member of the church. She said, “I’ve made the decision to definitely join the church. I am formerly doing that next month and I am really excited about it.”
Learning more about the STAHL ministry
While it’s still in its infancy, the STAHL ministry, the Alcoholism and Addiction Family Recovery Resource Center, guest speakers openly sharing their recovery stories, and Pastor Youngjae’s 12-step sermon series have helped the recovery community feel warmly welcomed at Jonesville UMC.
Simultaneously, church members are letting go of prejudices and biases they may have had toward those suffering from addiction.
Click here to watch video interviews with STAHL team members.
To learn more about the STAHL ministry, contact Phyllis at email@example.com.