Addiction is in the news a lot these days.
While most of stories found in the local media tend to focus on their subjects due to celebrity or social status. Some are professional athletes or in Philadelphia their coach’s sons; others are musicians and entertainers. But most of the victims of addiction are found in neighborhoods like Ludlow, where the tales of anonymous struggle often remain untold.
It is not hard to find signs of addiction in this city. Abandoned housing, crime and homelessness–all of these issues have a direct correlation to the consequences of addiction.
At the Temple Presbyterian Church at Seventh and Thompson streets, community residents are finding a place to confront the challenges of addiction head on in an environment that offers help in a trusted environment.
In addition to the church’s regular Sunday worship service, it is also host to the “Overcoming Your Addiction” ministry, run by Temple Presbyterian’s Rev. Chesta Davis, which provides a supportive groundwork for those hoping to rise above abuses that have wrought havoc on many lives in this neighborhood and others across Philadelphia.
The “Overcoming Your Addiction” program follows the traditional 12-step method of battling addiction, focusing on spiritual healing and faith to give members the strength needed to conquer their dependencies and resume productive and meaningful lives.
Associate Pastor Davis said the program is “trying to bring change in the community so that it can live like it used to.” He explained that he had grown up near the Ludlow community when the neighborhood had once bustled with a commercial vibrancy that gave the community a spirited independence.
“You didn’t even have to go downtown,” he said, explaining that nearby Marshall Street was once lined with a wide range of successful merchants. When he returned to the neighborhood however, Ludlow was not the same.
“Time brings about a change,” he said, “I couldn’t believe what I saw.”
The neighborhood is now marked by an almost total lack of commercial activity. Abandoned housing and empty lots line the neighborhood’s streets, providing a fertile ground for the addicts.
Davis referred to what he called “abandominiums,” an effort to make light of the serious and negative issue of abandoned housing that has come to plague Ludlow and so many other areas in Philadelphia.
Davis said he wanted to do something that would create a positive change in the community, something that could have an immediate impact. He decided to focus on an issue that he knew firsthand affected so many, one that was costing lives.
“It has been my dream to save lives in whatever way I can,” he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, nearly 30 addicts crowded into the church’s back room to discuss their struggles with drugs and alcohol. Davis began the meeting by leading the group in prayer and offering words of encouragement then opened the floor to group discussion.
The group declined to be photographed or named, but those who did speak up spoke of their complete lack of power over their lives. Davis emphasized the importance of the first step in addiction recovery–the need to admit that the addict has a problem. The group discussed how their addictions have taken control over nearly all aspects of their lives, leaving them powerless to get clean without the direct and intensive support from groups like this one.
“When you admit you are powerless, that is the first step toward getting help,” he said.
Members of the group explained how their addictions had caused their lives to become “unmanageable.” Their struggles have cost them jobs, cars, homes and, at times, even their freedom. For some, the program is an alternative to imprisonment, and Davis said the group environment is pivotal for addicts struggling to find their way to recovery.
“This thing is about helping one another,” he told the group.
Temple Presbyterian has been a fixture in this community for well over a century. It has a heritage that dates back well into the mid-19th century. Its current congregation may not be as large as other churches found across the city, but that has not prevented the church from providing many services to its surrounding community.
Along with the addiction ministry, the church also provides meals for the hungry three times a week. Those in need of a meal are taken into the church’s basement kitchen every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, said Rev. Valeria Gomez Harvell, the pastor who happens to maintain a day job as a professor at Penn State Abington.
During a recent Sunday sermon, Harvell told her congregation about the church’s long history of serving the surrounding community, but she also warned that its work was far from complete.
“Temple’s construction is not done yet,” she said.
That may be true, but it seems to be off to a good start.