By Mark Powell
Spreading Recovery from the Pews
One Sunday night each month, the pews in a small New Hampshire church are filled with people. Young and old, men and women, poor and prosperous alike. They share one thing in common: each person has been touched in some way by addiction. They’re parents, children, spouses, neighbors, and friends. Some are in recovery themselves. There’s laughter and crying, anger and frustration and above all, a sense of community, a powerful shared bond that says healing is possible.
That’s the need Mercy Street is meeting. Its slogan says it all: “A community of souls, affected by addiction.” For more than four years, the group has provided a haven for people navigating the rough seas of addiction. It all started with loss.“
One day I realized I had attended funerals for 38 people who had died addiction-related deaths,” says Aaron Goodro, pastor of First Baptist Church in Plaistow where Mercy Street meets. “That’s when I knew something had to be done.”
The catalyst came in late 2014 when he learned of 20-year-old Courtney Griffin’s death. That led to conversations with Courtney’s dad Doug, which in turn eventually led to Mercy Street’s creation.
For a few hours on one Sunday night every month, participants meet. There is a silly game, an icebreaker to lighten the mood, followed by serious discussions. The gathering is a safe space where people connected to all aspects of addiction share their experiences and help others, too.
“It’s important for families to realize addiction isn’t a moral failing. It’s a disease,” Griffin says. “That’s especially helpful to people with loved one who are going through it,” Pastor Goodro agrees.
There’s music, shared testimonials, victories celebrated and setbacks shared—plus, food! Participants spontaneously started bringing treats to enjoy, which ultimately grew into a covered dish dinner.
Mercy Street also provides a more detailed support meeting one night each week. Its success has been replicated with groups in Bennington, Vermont and Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
More than anything else, Mercy Street is ending the isolation so many people touched by addiction feel. “We’re supporting the family as they go through this by telling them, ‘It’s ok.’ It’s extremely important for them to hear that at this moment in their lives,” Griffin says. “Hearing that makes all the difference.”
Mercy Street was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.