Churches walk with addicts on recovery journey

The Rev. Cheryl George (left) visits with Sloan (right) and other recovering addicts at Jacob’s Ladder. Standing with George is Chad Bishop, director of operations for the recovery home.
The Rev. Cheryl George (left) visits with Sloan (right) and other recovering addicts at Jacob’s Ladder. Standing with George is Chad Bishop, director of operations for the recovery home.

Sloan came to abruptly, his heart racing. He was in the back of an ambulance with EMTs hovering over him.

He had overdosed — again — and they had just administered Narcan to bring him back.

You’d think such a close brush with death would be sufficient motivation to change, but addiction is powerful. Sloan refused admittance to the hospital and actually left to work a shift at his job.

Sloan was lucky, though. He lived to eventually make the decision to get clean and found his way to Jacob’s Ladder, a long-term recovery home for male addicts located in Aurora, West Virginia.

“This place saved my life,” he said.

Residents at Jacob’s Ladder stay six months, going through a structured program including 12-step meetings, daily meditation and daily chores. The house is located on a working farm, and residents help with livestock, bale hay, collect firewood and maintain the machinery.

The Rev. Cheryl George, who pastors four churches in the Baker area, was a pastor in Aurora when she heard about plans to open Jacob’s Ladder.

Rachael Porter harvests kale from the community garden at Concord United Methodist Church in Athens, W.Va. Porter, whose husband pastors the church, founded a nonprofit that will aid people in recovery by growing, processing and selling tea. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS 
Rachael Porter harvests kale from the community garden at Concord United Methodist Church in Athens, W.Va. Porter, whose husband pastors the church, founded a nonprofit that will aid people in recovery by growing, processing and selling tea. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

“I’ve cared about this place since before it opened,” George said.

“I got involved because I knew we needed this in every county in our state,” she said.

The Rev. Chip Bennett, pastor of Bellemead United Methodist Church in Point Pleasant, agreed.

“Not one family in my congregation doesn’t have firsthand experience with addiction,” he said.

Bennett helps run The Meeting House, a recovery ministry located in a closed United Methodist church. It offers people in recovery a new community and resources to help them in their journey. Mentors with sober time walk alongside them.

“Folks in recovery are supposed to change their playgrounds and playfriends, and there’s no positive community for them,” he said.

He hosts a 30-minute communion service before The Meeting House’s Sunday evening 12-step meeting, and said he’s heard from people who hadn’t received communion in almost 20 years.

Bennett’s ministry at The Meeting House has impressed the Rev. Barry Steiner Ball, who leads the West Virginia Conference’s “What If?” initiative, which encourages churches to help confront the opioid crisis.

“Here in the basement of this abandoned church, where church is now happening every day of the week, we get these stories of resurrection,” Steiner Ball said.

A support system in early recovery is vital, he added.

Rachael Porter considers recovery ministry to be her cup of tea — literally. Porter, whose husband pastors Concord United Methodist in Athens, founded a nonprofit called Camellia Mountain that will aid people in recovery by growing, processing and selling tea.

“I wanted something healthy for the employees, community and environment. Agriculture is also very self-therapeutic for me, something I would enjoy doing,” she said.

The Rev. Cheryl George said the church should be all about relationships. “Building relationships with the people here has been good for my heart.”

Chad Bishop, director of operations at Jacob’s Ladder, recently reported that Sloan graduated from Jacob’s Ladder this year and picked up his chip commemorating six months of clean time the next day.

excerpt from a story by Joey Butler, multimedia producer/editor UMNS