On Tuesday, October 31 Massachusetts pastors gathered at Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, MA, for a day-long training titled “Facing Addiction in our Parishes.”
For the very first time the remainder of the Diocesan clergy participated via webinar, thus enabled to view the talks live and to send in questions. An invitation was also extended to Diocesan and parish youth workers.
The workshop came in response to the direction given by Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and the Diocesan Council to create learning opportunities to benefit clergy in their pastoral ministries. The timeliness of the topic cannot be overstated in light of President Trump’s recent declaration of the opioid crisis a national public health issue, and the sad fact that in recent years addiction has claimed the lives of a number of Armenian Church parishioners.
Some statistics: Over 90 Americans die each day for overdosing on opioids, the annual economic burden is $78.5 billion, 21 to 29 percent of those prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and 4 to 6 percent of those who misuse transition to heroin.
Dr. Richard Bedrosian, a Worcester-area psychologist, moderated the program which began with a passionate address by Fr. Vasken Kouzouian expressing the need for clergy to understand the challenge and become equipped as pastors to provide meaningful support and help both to addicts and families.
Nationally-recognized speaker/author Anita Devlin spoke from her experience as the mother of an addict. She highlighted the fact that addiction is not a choice, but rather the absence of choice; some 85 million people, including families, are dealing with this national epidemic. As to ways in which pastors and parishioners can help she suggested that they remind addicts that God is with them, they are not alone and that they are to be welcomed, accepted and not judged by the community.
She further encouraged clergy to preach about the topic, to reach out to families and share resources which may be of help, and create safe environments for people to give testimonies. Anita Devlin is the author of the book “S.O.B.E.R.”
Participants then had the opportunity to hear an actual emotion-filled personal recovery story. The speaker impressed the need for communication and openness over denial, the distinction between sobriety and recovery and the effectiveness of twelve-step programs.
In the afternoon session, Fr. Kapriel Mouradjian, who has been involved for over 10 years as an advisor on prevention of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, presented detailed facts on various addictions and the many substances that are abused and the variety of names they come under. Addiction is a disease which must be treated on an ongoing basis and that there is never full recovery, he said. Fr. Kapriel also touched on the addiction of gambling.
Dr. Bedrosian stressed that a very effective way of helping addicts is to create trusting relationships based on empathy, genuine, warmth and positive regard. Sadly only about 10 percent will seek treatment. He also imparted the importance of clergy self-help, that pastors need to set realistic expectation.
The workshop concluded with an address by Sheriff Peter Koutoujian of Middlesex County, who shared how the epicenter of the opioid crisis had previously been Massachusetts but has now shifted to Ohio. Interestingly over 80% of those currently in prison are doing time because of addiction related crime. The sheriff spoke about the Matador program which emphasizes the role of navigators or coaches who follow closely and encourage the progress of addicts. He also stressed the importance of faith-based help, which deals with the complete person, mind, body and spirit, as well as the need for a non-judgmental approach and removal of the stigma attached to addiction.
At the conclusion of the workshop pastors had an opportunity to offer comments and suggestions, the overall feeling being that the workshop was just the beginning and that additional steps will need to be taken. Pastors applauded the fact that the Armenian Church in America is committed to addressing such contemporary topics for the edification of the faithful.
The organizing committee consisted for Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Fr. Vasken Kouzouian, Fr. Kapriel Mouradjian, and Dr. Richard Bedrosian. Ara Hollisian graciously volunteered his service as videographer and Holy Trinity hosted the day’s event.