Faith leaders unite to pray for the addicted

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NORTH ADAMS - The circle of hope was small on Saturday morning at Veterans Memorial Park. But the prayers spoken by a half-dozen clergy and parishioners were powerful: God, help those battling opioid addiction, their families and loved ones.

"Sustain those who have begun their journey to recovery and healing," said the Rev. Michael Tuck, pastor of Trinity Church in Lenox. "Strengthen the resolve of those who recognize their need, and give them the courage to ask for help."

"Help them to know and feel your love and the love of those around them," said the Rev. Mary Frances Kurns, pastor of All Saints Church in North Adams. "Give them strength to share their stories and help others."

The "Hope and Healing" service in North Adams was one of 10 this past weekend throughout Berkshire County, the last held Sunday afternoon on the front lawn of South Congregational Church in Pittsfield. Church pastor, Rev. Joel Huntington, is finding drug-related deaths all too commonplace.

"I did a funeral earlier this fall for a 32-year-old old who died of an overdoes," he said. "Just the other day we had a funeral for a 35-year-old - it's everywhere."

The prayer pilgrimages were intended to present a unified front in calling for an end to the stigma of drug addiction that knows no boundaries, according to Tuck.

"I really wanted to show the problem is in Monterey, in Lee, in Lenox, not just in Pittsfield," he said after the South Church service.

In addition to North Adams and Pittsfield, services were held at St. John Paul II in Adams; the First Congregational Church in Dalton; the Grace Episcopal Church in Great Barrington; at Lilac Park in Lenox; the Montery Church of Christ; St. Patrick Parish in West Stockbridge; St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Stockbridge; and at Church Park at Park Place in Lee.

Over the past several years, according to Eagle files and state statistics, the opioid addiction crisis has deepened. Two years ago, for example, the Brien Center confirmed that they now treat more patients for drug addiction than they do for alcohol addiction.

"For too many people," said Tuck, "the greatest single barrier standing between them and the heap they need is the shame they feel in asking for it.

"No matter how people end up in this situation," he continued. "We believe that they are still beloved children of God.

"As a religious community, we do a great job with building 12-step programs, and finding places to host them and providing support services with people battling addiction," he said. "But today we wanted to explain to people that it's OK to ask for help."

Dr. Jennifer Michaels, medical director of the Brien Center, praised the local churches spiritual healing in the opioid crisis.

"I am awed and inspired by the leadership, compassion and kindness of our inter-faith community," she said at the Lenox service.

Michaels urged county residents to pray for both those afflicted with the disease of addiction and for their families, who also suffer.

Both clergy and worshipers alike believe the opioid addiction has had a considerable impact in the community.

"Opioid addiction has been devastating," said the Rev. Quentin Chin, minister at the First Congregational church in Dalton, and chaplain to Soldier On. "Certainly, a person addicted to opioids struggles on so many levels with it. But we can't ignore the toll it takes on a person's family and friends. Jesus healed many people of their diseases. Addiction is a disease."

The small turnout in North Adams, opined Kurns, was probably at least in part because of the stigma.

"We live in a broken world," she said on Saturday morning. "We are all broken to some extent. But we offer solace to help people heal."

Pastor Luis Rivera operates the Spanish-speaking Community Bible Church out of All Saints in North Adams. Rivera has battled addiction issues, as well as other health problems, including cancer.

"We need something like this," he said of Saturday's ceremony. "Addiction is a disease. The only way to fight it is through the power of God. It saved me."

"Jesus shows us how to love people," said Enid Shields, a parishioners at All Saints. "As a Christian, I try every day to emulate Him. We're all the same. God's love finds all of us."

Eagle reporter Dick Lindsay contributed to the article

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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