N.J. church lifts people from addiction

Congregation is 'a triage center' with a community focus on meeting needs

May 29, 2018 by and

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Amid the devastation caused by addictions, a Franconia Mennonite Conference congregation is shining a light.

Tim Hart, pastor of Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, N.J., has worked with community organizers to make the church known as a place to get help with addiction recovery.

In partnership with local officials, law enforcement and health organizations, the congregation hosted a forum and resource fair April 28 in English and Spanish, assisted by a grant from Franconia Conference for Spanish translation headsets operated by co-pastor Hector Quinones.

About 75 people attended. Almost half received training in administering naloxone, a medication that can rapidly reverse the potentially fatal effects of a narcotic overdose.

More than 42,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, leading the department to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2017.

“I pretty much have always been involved, sadly, with addiction and addiction recovery,” Hart said. When he was 12, his 20-year-old brother died after a heroin overdose.

“My brother dying of a heroin overdose saved my life,” he said, because he was frightened away from using heroin. Nevertheless, he struggled with addiction to other substances as a teenager.

“I went to the Garden Chapel because it was the church closest to my house,” he said.

At age 19, Hart found recovery from his addictions and went on to volunteer with recovery organizations.

“I started really connecting with God around that time and developing a relationship,” he said. “I was disappointed that I was representing recovery but not representing Christ.”

After working with youth ministries in nondenominational churches in the Newark area, Hart was called back to the congregation of his youth.

“When I was called to the Garden Chapel, it just kind of followed me,” he said.

Community-centered

Garden Chapel was begun about 40 years ago by a Mennonite Voluntary Service team who saw the borough of Victory Gardens had no congregation. Today, the church functions somewhat like a community center.

For the past three years, Garden Chapel has built relationships outside its membership with its events focused on addiction recovery, assisted by a grant from Morris County.

The congregation also has programs that address other needs, such as summer camps, a food pantry, English as a second language, and music lessons.

“Our church is always doing community events,” Hart said. “Our goal is: We are a community church; everything we do is in the community of Victory Gardens’ service.”

It’s common for people to connect with the church through one of its outreach events and then stick around to attend Bible studies and worship services.

“People know the Garden Chapel is almost a drop-in center,” Hart said. “If people are struggling, they know they can reach out to me.”

Prayer bears fruit

The congregation has regular prayer meetings and occasional 24-hour prayer sessions. Sometimes people walk in to ask for prayer and then stay for Bible studies or return to future meetings.

“We’re seeing the fruit of our prayers,” Hart said. “It’s everything. It’s preparing for rain. We’re praying for people; we’re praying for salvation for the lost.”

This means being open to all kinds of requests, from financial assistance to letting a local condominium association use the sanctuary for a meeting space. Hart said the association asked to use the space because it had a peaceful atmosphere that helped them resolve their disagreements more calmly. Two people who were part of that group now attend the church’s services.

“All are welcome to attend whatever we’re doing and receive support or jump on to be part of the solution,” he said. “We try to be a triage center to help meet the needs of the people, and then try to meet their spiritual needs by introducing them to Christ and discipling them.”

Hart said many encounters with searching people are not planned but happen because the church is known in the community.

“We take the approach of: Come as you are, and let the Word and worship of our Lord and Savior bring you to that salvation point, and then grow you in the Lord to be useful and kingdom-focused,” he said.


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