Group focuses on spirituality and drug abuse Conference participants will discuss how clergy can help fight the battle.

January 03, 1992|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

State officials and about 25 local Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders will gather next week for the second phase of their "conversation" about using spirituality to stem substance abuse.

The group will meet at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Homewood on Monday, more than two months after a larger group convened at the Forum banquet facility in northwest Baltimore for a series of speeches and workshops titled "Substance Abuse: A Spiritual Issue."

The Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, the Maryland Interfaith Legislative Committee, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council and local Muslim congregations sponsored the October meeting.

"This second go-round is essentially a follow-up to the conversation we began last year," says the Rev. Edward Heim, the MILC chairman and the executive director of the local Lutheran Office on Social Policy.

In addition to local clergy, commission executive assistant Larry Dawson and other commission staffers will attend the meeting, says Heim.

"The commission's people will listen and make suggestions," he adds. "Then, hopefully, with the guidance of [commission chairman Neil Solomon], we can begin to have some impact."

At the meeting, the participants probably will discuss concrete ways that clergy, lay leaders and congregations can work together to prevent and treat substance abuse, Heim says. But no time-table has been set for implementing the group's ideas.

Proposals from the earlier conference included:

*Forming a network to advocate social policy that examines how social conditions can lead to "spiritual emptiness" and, consequently, widespread substance abuse.

*Creating prevention, treatment and support programs that promote spirituality, self-esteem, hope and ties to family and community.

*Studying how Christianity, Judaism and Islam historically have regarded and reacted to substance abuse.

*Urging the commission and other public policy-makers to tap the clergy's "spiritual expertise" when forming substance abuse programs.

The October conference had its roots in the commission's creation two years ago. Members of MILC, claiming that substance abuse is linked to spiritual emptiness, asked to be involved in the commission's work, Heim explains.

So far, the commission has welcomed the clergy's interest. Solomon spoke at the first meeting, telling the religious officials, "This group can start an army of citizens who can throw out some pebbles and start the ripples that have an effect on everyone in our state."

Solomon added, "I've always believed in holistic medicine. You need the spirit, you need the mind, you need the body. Put them all together and you can lick anything. I want you to help me with the spirit."

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