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Local church leaders want to help religious community respond to opioid epidemic

Thursday, May 10, 2018

By Jordyn Grzelewski


In recent years, local religious leaders have found themselves called to serve in an unexpected role: first responders to the emotional toll of the opioid epidemic and the mental health issues entwined with it.

That is why two local members of the religious community, Bishop Chorrethers Jenkins of Grace Evangelistic Temple Church on the West Side and Bill Morvay, staff pastor at Metro Assembly of God on the South Side, hope to provide training and resources to help faith leaders respond to their congregants’ needs.

Mr. Jenkins and Morvay, both of whom serve on the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, plan to launch the Association of Faith-Based Services. They envision it as an organization of faith-based partners that, aided by resources from local social services agencies, will meet the “spiritual, social and cultural needs of the community.”

“The faith-based community has a voice in the Valley,” Morvay said. “There are people who belong to churches and faith-based institutions who typically wouldn’t seek help anywhere else, except for those that they’re familiar with. We believe that by creating an association in Youngstown and the surrounding area, and if we all stand as one voice against this and educate and train our people, we’ll have a greater impact.”

“I’m from the old school. The old school would not dare let you go to a counselor, because we just thought, ‘If God can’t do it, it can’t be done,’” Mr. Jenkins said. “That’s true, but at the same time it’s because we didn’t understand. Now, to see how many people are addicted inside the church, outside the church – the church is taking a different look at what’s going on around us.”

Mental health and recovery officials support the idea.

“We wanted some way to bring the church into recovery, because I think with recovery, spirituality is essential,” said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

Additionally, mental health and recovery professionals understand faith leaders are in a unique position in which people might come to them for help before anyone else.

“The churches are the emotional emergency rooms, anywhere,” Morvay said.

Morvay and Mr. Jenkins believe church staff members need to be trained as such.

The mission of the association will be to provide resources such as educational materials, prevention strategies and referral information to faith-based organizations, so they can “assist individuals, families and neighborhoods struggling with substance abuse and related issues.”

The goal is to equip faith-based organizations with the information to understand addiction and mental-health issues, and link community members with the help they need.

Morvay and Mr. Jenkins also see the association as a support group for faith leaders, who they said are worn out by the difficult situations they are called to address. Mr. Jenkins noted, for example, the steady stream of funerals for young people he attends.

“Everybody is so overburdened right now. This is a big financial drain to so many agencies, the city, to so many families,” Morvay said. “It’s an enormous cost. But I think if we all focus together on the same problem, we’re going to experience results.”

“Let’s do this together,” Mr. Jenkins said.

The association will invite local faith leaders to a meeting at a date in the near future that is to be determined.

For information, contact the mental-health and recovery board at 330-746-2959.