THE GENERAL SYNOD wants the Church to become more involved in the fight
against drug addiction.
Introducing a debate on a Blackburn diocesan-synod motion on Tuesday,
Professor Helen Leathard (Blackburn) recalled that, in the Synod
debate in 1998, a former drug-user said that two things had made him give up
drugs: prayer and love.
To fulfil the Christian duty of care, it was necessary to distinguish
between recreational use of drugs, such as enjoying a glass of wine at the
Synod, the excessive-escapist use, as when an overstressed executive drank
excessively at the weekend, and the compulsive-addictive pattern of drug use,
where someone would break the law to obtain his or her drug.
Drugs were part of God’s creation. It was the way in which they were used
that was the problem. Their legal status was not necessarily an accurate
reflection of their danger, but "has been influenced primarily by political
Christians, she said, should become familiar with drugs, and not demonise
them or their users. Drug-users were "neighbours in need of loving care".
Christians could also buy The Big Issue: many vendors were working their way
out of drug habits. Christians could become radically politically active in
seeking the eradication of poverty, and the founding of effective
rehabilitation programmes, she said.
Margaret Townsend (Winchester), a member of a management
committee of a trust for substance-misusers, which had achieved a recovery rate
of more than 30 per cent, said that the after-care "continued as long as they
needed it". She spoke of a man, now a churchgoer deeply involved in the work of
the Church, who had, after 30 years on heroin, taken himself off the drug. "We
need him, and he knows it," she said. "It is in healing their brokenness that
our own brokenness is healed."
Dr Sheila Grieve (Chester), who had worked extensively with
drug-takers, said that she had no illusions about them. "They make you cry,
they give you joy, and they open you to great disappointment." An enormous
demand would be made on the Church’s personnel, its time, and its finance, if
it got involved with agencies working in this field. Many projects failed for
lack of funding, even after several years of successful work.
Janet Atkinson (Durham) said that she came from an area,
reported to have the cheapest heroin in the country, to which people would come
by coach as drug tourists.
She spoke of one girl, brought up in care, who had a baby but was not
allowed to keep it; had become involved in drugs; and had turned to
prostitution, from which she earned more money than from shoplifting. When the
girl had come before Mrs Atkinson, sitting as a magistrate, she had given the
girl a probation order, and asked her to meet her probation officer outside the
court. But her pimp, who was sitting watching the proceedings in court,
intercepted her. "I was told he had several girls that he was ruining in this
way. My hopes that the probation officer could turn her round were naïve." Not
enough money was being spent on rehabilitation, Mrs Atkinson said.
The Revd Peter French (Birmingham), who manages youth
projects in the city, said that recovering cocaine addicts had been talking to
the projects’ young people about drug misuse. They were prepared to listen in a
way they would not do "to a vicar pontificating". The Synod could also listen
to young people. Youth observers in the Synod were not permitted to speak in
debates. "We have heard quite a lot from Fathers 4 Justice this weekend, but
little from young people," he said. Mr French also said that, in church, there
needed to be more talk about love and forgiveness, and less about sin. "If you
love yourself, you are much less likely to harm yourself," he said.
The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, said
that he had spent many years working in the ministry of healing, and had seen
the effect on the lives and on the families of those who misused drugs. When
visiting one church family day centre, he was told that at home the children
were poorly nourished and had no toys, because all the money went on drugs and
alcohol. The Church must redouble its efforts to help the many people who fell
victim to substance misuse, and be prepared to help with funding.
Dana Delap (Durham) moved an amendment that sought to
encourage parishes, and deanery and diocesan synods to hold discussions with
professionals. Work in prisons showed the physical and emotional pain of people
coming off drugs, and she paid tribute to the team of highly skilled people
helping them to do that. Deaneries, suggested Ms Delap, were not the most
appropriate places for discussions to happen, as most members had no experience
of the problem.
Canon Paul Nener (Liverpool) supported both the motion and
the amendment, and made a plea for full co-operation with the medical
profession. Experience of drug addicts’ arriving on his vicarage doorstep at 2
a.m., frequently angry and violent, had taught him that, "What we really have
to do is see in people something of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Dr Elaine Storkey (London) objected to the phrase
"Christ-centred discussions" in the wording of the motion. She said that her
own sociology colleagues would be "mystified and quite possibly terrified".
The Bishop of Birmingham, Dr John Sentamu, said that he
hoped that the Church would also hold discussions about drug problems with
people of other faiths.
The Revd Peter Spiers (Liverpool) said that, living in the
inner city, he too felt overwhelmed by the scale of the misuse of drugs.
Recently, four young people had been murdered. "When their funerals take place,
the church is full of young people. We all wonder who will be next."
Dr David Tweedie (Coventry) was concerned also about "licit
drugs", such as alcohol and tobacco. Virtually every cancer had smoking at some
stage implicated in its cause, he said. Approximately 27 per cent of the
country was addicted to a drug, he said.
Prebendary Kay Garlick (Hereford) recounted the experience
of two meetings to debate drugs: one at diocesan synod, with "men and women of
some maturity", which exposed disapproval and real ignorance of the problem;
another with students of a sixth-form college to which she was chaplain. The
students had made it clear that they drew a distinction between recreational
and hard drugs, and that they regarded as hypocritical an older generation
addicted to tobacco and alcohol. "Make sure that young people are present to
inform any debate," she urged the Synod.
The Archdeacon of Coventry, the Ven. Mark Bryant, said that
prophecy and the political process were part of the Church’s role, too. One of
the reasons for drug misuse was the sense of frustration and social exclusion
in the poorest communities.
The motion was carried as amended by Ms Delap. It read:
That this Synod, concerned about the extent of drug misuse at all levels of
society, urge the Archbishops’ Council, diocesan and deanery synods and
parishes, as appropriate, to hold informed and Christ-centred discussions with
experienced drug workers, pharmacologists and health-care professionals about
the ways in which the Church can be involved with the Christian and secular
agencies already working in this field.