Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Church Cemetery Ministry - Redstone Stories

  Before coming to McClellandtown Presbyterian Church, I had never served a church with its own cemetery. McClellandtown's cemetery serves both as a church and community cemetery. To church members, it is called the McClellandtown Presbyterian Church Cemetery and to locals it is called “Church Hill Cemetery.” I soon began to consider the potential ministry and mission opportunities. Our cemetery manager and church member, Bo McCahill helped me a great deal, particularly in his conviction that God had called him to serve families as they lay their loved ones to rest in the cemetery. I am still considering and praying about the mission opportunities which may await us.

  The church Session recognizing the role our cemetery plays in the community has committed itself to forming plans for the cemetery by purchasing additional acreage for future expansion needs for the next 150 years. They are also making plans for constructing a columbarium considering the increasing practice of cremations.

  The cemetery is filled with history and personal stories. Between May and September, hundreds of families from around the country visit the grave sites. They come with their stories of lives lived well and family histories which began here. I often get the honor to hear their stories as they stop in my office and I can assist them make the connection between their family history and their faith. I am often called upon to conduct graveside committal services because the person had lived most of their life in another state, but wished to be buried in the place where they first came to life. Their families share with me their stories and how their lives intersected to others buried here.

  We get to honor veterans buried in our cemetery and tell the stories of a few. We have a Revolutionary War soldier who served as the personal secretary to George Washington and had earlier served with General Anthony Wayne. Many of the early settlers in this area of Pennsylvania were veterans of the American Revolution who were given land grants due to their service in the Army. Another soldier from WWII who died in combat while serving in Italy with the Devil's Brigade. In 2015, the Devil's Brigade received the Congressional Gold Metal for their service. There was also a movie in the 1950's of the same name “Devil's Brigade” made about the mission of this group during WWII.

  We also have veterans from most of the major conflicts which the U.S. has been involved since its beginning, the War of 1812, Grand Army of the Republic in the American Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII, Korean, and Vietnam. Sadly the stories of many of these individuals are probably lost to time, but I have been attempting to save and collect as many stories as I can uncover.

  The local high school JROTC comes each May helping us prepare the cemetery for Memorial Day weekend and place American flags on each veterans grave. The congregation after worship each Memorial Day weekend joins the local American Legion and VFW as they conduct a ceremony in honor of all those buried here and elsewhere who gave themselves in services to their country. We photograph and video both events and these posts receive the most views and activity on our Facebook page than anything else.

  With a church which dates back more than 175 years and with burials in the cemetery beginning around the same time, the history among those buried here abounds. Many records of burials are listed on the web site “Find a Grave” with photos of grave markers and historical information about some individuals shared by families. All these factors creates a great deal of interest among people who are researching their family history or genealogies. We frequently get requests for information on possible family members buried in the cemetery or past members of the church. We attempt to help if information is available and this research has helped understand the overall history of the church itself. Unfortunately, many people don't find the answers they were hoping for a variety of reasons, such as, old records destroyed in a fire in 1865 or styles and practices of people recording information a hundred years ago which is sometimes lacking details.

  Many churches within the presbytery has cemeteries, each providing its own witness to their communities. Please share your ministry ideas, experiences and ministries on church cemeteries in the comments section.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Reflections and Resources - Addictions

On Thursday and Friday, Sue Washburn, Alice Tondora, and I lead conversations on addiction at the two western Regional Meetings of the Synod of the Trinity in Morgantown, WV and Camp Crestfield. We met some wonderful people who shared our concern for those families and individuals impacted by alcohol and other drug dependency. They shared with us stories of hope and heartache and concern for discerning where the Holy Spirit may be guiding the church in the future to bring hope and healing to those experiencing the pain and struggle in addictions. We came away with affirmation of the direction we are being lead and ideas and suggestions for our common ministry. Some which, we will reflect upon in the next few weeks. We talked about some of the resources available on the internet. Here are a few, though not in anyway an extensive list of possible web links. We include additional links in the next few months.

The U.S. is in the midst of an epidemic of opiate addiction and overdose. Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999. Deaths from heroin have tripled in the last five years. Pennsylvania has a higher overdose rate than most states.
The Commonwealth Prevention Alliance (CPA) realizes immediate action needs to be taken to prevent opiate abuse. The CPA offers this website, and its content, to increase awareness, education and information on how to seek help. Visit their web page at pastop.org

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
NIDA provides a wealth of information about drug abuse and links to other organizations and resources. NIDA is committed to bringing timely, factual information on addiction and its treatment to the public. NIDA’s Office
of Science Policy and Communications links scientists, the scientific community, and the media, PILB supports the rapid dissemination of research information to inform policy and improve practice. NIDA’s goal is to ensure that science— not ideology or anecdote—forms the foundation of public information on drug use and addiction.
Visit NIDA online at www.drugabuse.gov


Easy-to-Read Drug Facts
As the name of this website states in contains easy to read drug facts. The site will even read the material to you. This website talks about drug abuse, addiction, and treatment. They have a series of videos on this home page and here is one of them. Visit easyread.drugabuse.gov/

Why Are Drugs So Hard to Quit? - Video link
Quitting drugs is hard because addiction is a brain disease. Your brain is like a control tower that sends out signals to direct your actions and choices. Addiction changes the signals in your brain and makes it hard to feel OK without the drug. This video from NIDA explains addiction in simple terms and offers a hotline to help you or a loved one find treatment.



Lee McDermott, Contributor

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Enabling and Motivation (Part 3)

The person with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is driven by many motivating factors, in order, to maintain their continued usage. One overwhelming motivation is the desire to avoid any of the pain and suffering in their life. Paradoxically, everything they do only increases their pain and suffering created directly by the consequences of their usage. Being unwilling to acknowledge that their alcohol or other drug (AOD) usage is the primary problem, they attempt to deflect responsibility from themselves, they seek to blame the world and particularly, those individuals closest to them for the reasons they suffer so much.
They will tell anyone willing to listen how their employer does not understand them and how they work hard all day without any appreciation. They tell their friends that their spouse cannot be trusted with money, relationships, household responsibilities, etc. and attempt to convince their friends that if their spouse only took better care of them, they would not have all those other problems. They will tell any story which makes them look good and places responsibily for their troubles upon others.
Drug dependent individuals seem to intuitively recruit others who are willing to enable their usage or accept the blame. Their behavior attempts to shift the responsibility away from them (where it should be) and give it to others who unknowingly might believe the responsibility might be upon them. Enabling is any action that removes, alters, or reduces the natural, harmful, often painful consequences of another's behaviors, decisions or choices. For example, if we pay the electric bill for our son's apartment because he spent the money on alcohol or drug purchases. Our action of paying the bill prevents him from dealing with the painful consequences of making payment arrangements, living in the dark, accepting personal responsibility, and/or facing his drug dependency.
Our enabling behavior only prevents our son from confronting his destructive lifestyle. We may view our actions as helpful and compassionate and typically they might be, except when related to drug usage behavior. Our enabling behavior only continues to allow the dependent individual to believe there is no problem, because any painful consequences were avoided. What they learn from our enabling is that they can make us responsible for their future harmful behaviors. When we finally decide to stop our enabling, either due to our inability to help or because we realize it might be counter productive, then the drug dependent person turns the blame on us for their painful consequences and continued problems. Rather than being helpful our actions simply establish a cycle of co-dependent behavior for the individual.
Intuitively, the AOD dependent person establishes a circle of family and friends whom they can call upon to help them avoid the major consequences of their addiction. They may use pleas, guilt, threats within this circle of family and friends to get what they believe they need to avoid the consequences of their poor choices and decisions. They frequently pit one enabler in their lives against another by asking them to keep the secret of their assistance from other family and friends. They may convince you that revealing the secret would cause pain to someone else within your family or friends.
Often, a necessary step to stopping enabling within a family system is for the family to have a discussion with outside assistance to begin the process of sharing the secrets. We enable, because we are fearful of exposing their problems to the world. We don't want their employer to know, their neighbors to know, or we don't want them to go to jail and have to live with a criminal record. Within most families stopping their enabling behavior cannot be achieved without outside assistance. Someone who can education, encourage and support the family through the process of changing their behaviors is vitally important to their finding a successful conclusion.
To help guide people with SUD into recovery requires others to stop enabling and end their repeated attempts at stopping the individual's descent toward hitting bottom. Witnessing someone descending to a point where they will accept help is an unpleasant and painful sight to witness and will break your heart, it is distressing, painful and a fearful moment in their life and in ours. Which is why, we should never do it alone.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether you are an enabler:
  • Do you often ignore unacceptable behavior?
  • Do you find yourself resenting the responsibilities you take on?
  • Do you consistently put your own needs and desires aside in order to help someone else?
  • Do you have trouble expressing your own emotions?
  • Do you ever feel fearful that not doing something will cause a blowup, make the person leave you, or even result in violence?
  • Do you ever lie to cover for someone else’s mistakes?
  • Do you consistently assign blame for problems to other people rather than the one who is really responsible?
  • Do you continue to offer help when it is never appreciated or acknowledged?
Above list based on Psychology Today article by Karen Khaleghi, Ph.D. and Morteza Khaleghi, Ph.D., co-founders of Creative Care, Malibu, a rehabilitation and recovery center.
Lee McDermott, Contributor

Monday, May 1, 2017

Helpfulness vs. Enabling (Part 2)

In AOD treatment and prevention programs you will frequently hear the word, “enabling.” Generically speaking, enabling and/or helping on the part of most people is a natural and expected response by most people who have any degree of compassion and kindness in their hearts. We are willing to help those people we love because we don't wish to see harmful things happen to them. When our children, whether as a child or an adult, does something stupid or careless, even if we taught them to behavior appropriately, we don't desire to see them suffer from their behavior. Since most of us during the course of our lives have done things we know we should not have done and in turn suffered the consequences. We have found it comforting to know that there were others in our lives who were willing to stand by us and help us through the tough times, despite their expressing disapproval of our irresponsible actions.
For most normal, ordinary, responsible people, we learn from our mistakes and we have the capacity to self-correct our occasional stupid behaviors. We, thereby, appreciate family and friends who assist us get through these experiences. As a result, we hopefully learn from these experiences and our behaviors and future decisions reflect this new awareness and we become better human beings for it. Experience can be a powerful force in helping us mature and grow as human beings. In most, life situations when we assist someone who did something they should not have done, we expect them to correct their behaviors and take responsibility for their current and future actions. In most cases our experience reinforces this view of the world around us.
When behaviors related to AOD dependency enter into the mix, all our views about what is normal, ordinary and responsible get turned upside down and twisted. We find ourselves confused. What we thought we knew about life and people and what is normal no longer applies. We have now turned the corner from helpfulness into enabling. Enabling an individual with an AOD dependency problem only prevents them from experiencing the expected, natural, harmful and painful consequences and deflects their attention away from the base problem which is their continued use of harmful substances.
When we relieve someone from experiencing the consequences of their AOD dependency and its related behaviors, we are preventing them from “hitting bottom.” Our enabling behavior is metaphorically speaking, actually catching them during their free fall toward the bottom. Facing the consequences is the place where they might be open to accepting genuine help and surrender to their addiction. Many people never have the chance to “hit bottom” because there are too many individuals always available and prepared to catch them from hitting their bottom.
There are a variety of reasons we might find ourselves enabling someone with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). One reason is a lack of knowledge about the nature of AOD abuse and dependency. We might genuinely be unaware that the person has this type of problem. This frequently happens, in the early stages of SUD or with people we do not know well or have little regular personal contact. As a result, we inadvertently enable the person's addictive behaviors because most of us are wired to be helpful. This situation often happens to pastors when responding to individuals asking for some type of assistance from the church.
Then again, we might suspect a problem exists, but we lack sufficient reliable evidence to reach a conclusion and limited contact with the individual. Individual's with AOD problems have skillfully learned how to manipulate people they encounter. They have intuitively learned the survival skills to get others to feel sympathy for their situation. When interacting with a pastor, for example, they might flatter you and tell you how many people in the community admire your work, all in an attempt to convince you, your assistance at this time will enhance your currently favorable image in the community. We might mistakenly believe we can actually turn this person's life around by our willingness to help, since they had all those wonderful things to say about us. In the end, it is all enabling and counter-productive, we will achieve little except to get them to return later seeking further assistance another day.
We need to learn, when we are being helpful and when our actions are preventing the person from facing responsibility for their behavior. As difficult as it may be for us, we need to allow the natural consequences of their behavior to play out in their lives. Do not be surprised if you fail at this, AOD dependent individuals are far more skillful at deception than you are. You will get fooled and probably often. Stopping our enabling behavior takes practice and experience to begin to get it right and chances are good you never will completely, so don't feel guilty about it. Don't allow your inability to get it right negatively influence your ministry of helping those in your community.
We might find ourselves enabling due to a lack of confidence and courage to say "no" to a person who asks for our help, particularly a spouse, a son, or a daughter. We find the distress of coping with the consequences of our saying "no" and we don't believe ourselves capable of dealing with the conflict which would result. We believe we would only jeopardize our relationship and so we give into their demands. We attempt to justify our actions, by rationalizing the situation. We don't want our family member to suffer homelessness, poverty, prison time, etc. so we enable and the situation gets worse rather than better. The reality is that when we do stop enabling it will get much worse, before it gets better.
When we reach the point where we know our enabling behavior is counter productive and we need to stop, we should never do it alone. Just as the drug dependent individual needs others; i.e., treatment centers, counselors, sponsors, etc. to enter into recovery, so do we need others to stop our enabling behavior. We need the support of people outside the situation, whether it is group support, counselors, friends, colleagues, churches, etc. Seeking help and support of others helps make it less painful, but it will still hurt. This is one of many reasons why some of us in the presbytery gather together to discuss the issues related to AOD in our communities. We recognize that we need each other, if we have any chance of helping our communities and churches. We invite you to come and join us at our next meeting on Monday, May 8, 2017 at Noon at the Presbytery of Redstone offices in Greensburg, PA. In part three, we will discuss the AOD dependent individual's motivation in maintaining others who will enable them   
Lee McDermott, Contributor

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hitting Bottom (Part 1)

While conducting public speaking engagements on alcohol and other drug issues, I have been asked a wide range of questions. One common question was generally been phrased, “Is it true you cannot help someone until they hit bottom?” An accurate response to the question is tricky. There is both some truth and some myth contained in the phrase, “hit bottom” and what actions may help someone begin a life of recovery.
What it takes for an individual suffering from AOD (alcohol and other drugs) dependency to “hit bottom” is often defined differently for each individual. Hitting bottom implies that an individual has reached the point where the pain and suffering experienced is too great for them to endure any longer and they recognize the need to change. Everyone has a different threshold for their tolerance for pain and suffering.
I have often looked at some of the individuals I have worked with and wondered to myself, “they have got to believe their current painful state is too much to endure” and to my surprise realized I was not even close. For me, the pain and suffering I witnessed might have been enough, but I was not in the middle of suffering from AOD dependency. I came to understand that some individuals had developed such a high tolerance to pain and suffering, that for them to “hit bottom” meant descending to a very deep, dark valley. Just how deep they needed to go down into that valley, looked quite different from individual to individual. Some individuals descend so deeply in their pain and suffering, they mistake their current situation as normal existence and all they will ever have.
One of my colleagues told me a story, about a man he had worked with for several months for alcoholism after a DUI conviction. This man, like many others, simply was unwilling to see the damage his alcohol use had created for him and others and the consequences he could potentially experience in the future from DUI. One day, he came into the office looking very depressed and despondent. He declared he was ready to stop using alcohol. When he was asked why he had so suddenly arrived at this conclusion, he explained an experience from the day before.
Despite his court ordered conditions which stated he was not to use alcohol or drive, he had been doing both for several weeks. He described that he was intoxicated and got into his car. He backed out of his driveway, ran over his dog and killed him. He stated that while he held his dog's lifeless body in his arms, he realized that his careless disregard for his alcohol use and behavior had caused the death of the only creature on this earth who loved him. Everyone else he knew in life, he had driven away. This dog loved him without condition and was always there for him and now he had just killed his best and only friend. For this man, at this moment, he had hit bottom, the consequences and the pain had become too great.
The circumstances in any individual's life, if painful and harmful enough from that person's perspective, may produce the conditions we call “hitting bottom” and start them on the road to recovery. The danger is that most individuals will die, become imprisoned, or suffer serious mental or physical disability before they hit their bottom and some who do get there come to believe they are beyond hope, because they have “burned all their bridges.” Understanding and stopping enabling behavior among family, friends and other professionals can help get more people into recovery. In part two of our series we will talk about the difference between helpfulness and enabling.
This is the first of a three part series on enabling behavior with individuals suffering from AOD related problems.
Lee McDermott, Contributor

Thursday, April 27, 2017

How to Join the Conversation

We appreciate those who took the time to use our Lenten Devotionals provided by the Addiction Ministry Network in the Presbytery of Redstone. We hope these devotionals helped you in your ministry to understand the importance of reaching out to those impacted by alcohol and other drugs. We thank you for joining us on this journey and hope you will remain apart of our ongoing conversation about addiction in our communities.
The Addiction Ministry Network would greatly appreciate your personal involvement in meeting with us at our regular meetings as we join together in a conversation to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading us to help our communities. Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 8, 2017 at Noon at the offices of the Presbytery of Redstone in Greensburg, PA.
We recognize even though you might be interested in these important issues, you might not be capable of attending a meeting. This does not mean you can not join the conversation within our presbytery. We will be using this blog space to communicate our activities, ideas, stories and resources. Your comments, ideas, and thoughts related to our blog posts are welcome and help to keep the conversation going. NOTE: All comments are moderated and only comments appropriate to the topic being discussed will be shared.
We want to encourage your participation in joining the conversation by sharing your own articles, ideas, experiences, stories, and suggestions. As a pastor do you have a personal experience related to providing pastoral care in the midst of an addiction problem? Are you a church member with a personal story of recovery or a story of recovery within your family? Has the church found itself engaged within the issues of their community related to alcohol and other drug abuse and has a story which could guide others? We would like to hear from you. Please send your potential postings to the e-mail address: redstonetogether@gmail.com We reserve the right to edit or decline publication of any material submitted.
A few of us from the group will be sharing our experiences on how others can join the conversation at the “Regional Connection for Partnership and Networking” hosted by the Synod of the Trinity. We will lead a conversation at two of the four regional events. The first will be in the Southwestern Region at the First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, WV on Thursday, May 11, 2017.
The second event will be the Northwest Region at Crestfield Camp and Conference Center outside of Slippery Rock, PA on Friday, May 12, 2017. Both events begin at 9:30 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m. To register online and get more information about each regional gathering go to this link, Synod Regional Connection.
You need to register by Monday, May 8, 2017 at 5 p.m. on the Synod's website.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lenten Devotional - Easter Sunday

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, … But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 10)
  We gather today in worship to hear the familiar story of Jesus’ resurrection. The story of hope which concludes our Lenten journey. A celebration of the story we hear and tell about receiving God’s grace and eternal life through Jesus’ defeat of death. Jesus’ resurrection brings us to the same affirmation Paul states, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain.” (v. 10)

  Paul, tells the Corinthians the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, which was told to him, “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,” (v. 1) A story which is confirmed by the apostles and by over 500 brothers and sisters, some whom Paul and the Corinthians could have spoken to directly about what they had witnessed. We, as the church, give witness to the resurrection through the message shared with us throughout the ages.

  Numerous individuals living in our neighborhoods have their stories of resurrection to new life happening each day. They have stories to tell, some stories of heartache and overcoming great pain, stories of roadblocks preventing surrender, stories of love recognized and amazing grace experienced, and stories of new life which captures the authentic witness of the Holy Spirit telling a story of resurrection from the dead.

  Some of us in the presbytery have been joining in a conversation about how we can help our churches deal with a serious AOD problem. During Lent, we have shared our stories and witness, to paraphrase Paul, “we handed on to you which was of first importance to us and what we have in turn received.” We invite you to join us “Into the Light.” Our communities are in the grips of addiction and they need to hear stories that treatment works, recovery is possible and that stories of resurrection exist. As Paul confidently tells us, “Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” (v. 11)

Lee McDermott, Contributor

Remember in Prayer: The presbytery’s Addiction Ministry Network and the conversations they are having to restore our communities and renew our congregations and pray for the Spirit’s leading others to join the conversation into the light.