By Kassie Parisi
HALFMOON — A local church is providing more than spiritual support to people who are at risk of losing not just their faith, but their lives
St. Luke’s On the Hill, nestled along McBride Road, is surrounded by fields and has become much more than just a place of worship for the community. Three years ago, the Rev. David Haig took over as the Episcopal church’s priest, and decided to make St. Luke’s into a haven not just for his congregation, but for a group of people who often have no place else to turn: addicts.
Haig previously worked as a priest on Cape Cod, and then at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Albany. He has been in recovery from alcoholism for years. Part of his ministry, he explained, has always been focused on providing support for those suffering from different addictions, whether it be to drugs of alcohol, and noted that the Capital Region has been hit with serious addiction issues for years.
“This is middle America,” Haig said about drug and alcohol addiction. “This is where it’s hitting now. It’s always been an inner city problem, but it never got the publicity until middle America started being hit, which is unfortunate. But that’s the reality, and now it’s happening.”
During his first year at St. Luke’s, Haig presided over three funerals that were a result of heroin overdoses. He also spoke with fire officials in Mechanicville, who explained to him that overdoses were a frequent issue in the community, often occurring weekly. Seeing the need for intervention, Haig began to hold Alcoholics Anonymous meetings each week in the church, but that still wasn’t enough.
Then, once during those early months, Haig woke up in the middle of the night with the name, “St. Luke’s Recovery and Resource Center,” in his head. He explained that, after asking his higher power what that name meant, he decided to bring the idea of starting an addiction resource center to the community.
As the resource center has grown its legs, Haig said that the community has embraced the efforts, and made providing support for addicts into its own mission. The recovery center is located in a separate building on the property.
“We have a very brave community,” he said. “It’s been very important for them to see this become a mission for them as well.”
The recovery and resource center doesn’t provide physical resources for addicts, such as medicine or financial support. Rather, St. Luke’s provides connections to services that addicts can use, a group of people to lean on, and various meetings. Along with AA meetings, Haig hosts Nar-Anon, Al-Anon, and NA meetings weekly.
He also hosts a 12-step Mass during the last Saturday of each month, which he said is attended by both addicts who are in recovery, and other community members who just want to help, and listen.
Haig acknowledged that the church can sometimes be an intimidating presence for addicts. The fear stems from many factors, he said, including the stigma attached with addiction, as well as the fact that people who aren’t addicts sometimes have trouble understanding the issue.
“Unfortunately, our faith based community [often] doesn’t know how to deal with it well. Because it’s frightening for people who are not educated about it,” Haig said, noting that his congregation wasn’t 100 percent behind the idea of an addiction- recovery center when he first brought it up. Some people were concerned that providing support for addicts would lead to drugs and paraphernalia, like needles, laying around. Since then, community residents have come around to the idea of the center, and have since gotten on the same page.
The important thing, Haig said, is to not force faith onto addicts who oftentimes feel abandoned or hurt by the church or their families while in the throes of their addictions. Healing comes first, he said, and whatever happens after that happens. The embrace of faith though, he added, often stems from recovery.
“We’re there to find recovery,” Haig said. “The guy I believe in would have done the same thing. He wouldn’t have gone after somebody to say, you must believe this first before you’re healed.”
St. Luke’s held a wiffle ball tournament on June 16, and the proceeds went towards the recovery center.
Haig says that there is not one answer to the addiction problem. Education is huge, he said, as are preventative measures. Incarceration is not the solution, he said, and has only served to exacerbate the issue. Instead, Haig allows his own recovery experience to guide his actions in supporting others. The peaceful solitude of St. Luke’s lends itself to recovery as well, he said, providing addicts with a quiet escape.
“That’s what I found when I began recovery. I knew I needed fellowship. I needed people who understood the problem,” he said, noting that he has no qualms about sharing his story and struggles anymore. “It’s not a fearful thing, to share with a drug addict what happened in my life, and hopefully they might gain something from it.”
Haig said that is was through God’s grace that he was able to overcome his own addiction, and that God can become the power higher than themselves that addicts try to find when fighting through their addictions. As long as his church is able to provide support and be a part of what he calls “the mosaic” of recovery, then he is fulfilling his purpose.
“Jesus, whom I believe in, and I’ve always said, if Jesus walked through these doors and we had a service going on in the church, and an AA meeting going on in the AA room, he’d show up in the AA room,” Haig said. “The reason I say that is because he was criticized for loving to eat, and be in fellowship, with those who were the outcasts. So, I believe that’s what he’d do.”