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Churches Take a Corner

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A coalition of Delaware churches is taking the power of faith and more worldly resources to the streets to combat violence, drug dealing and substance abuse in local cities, suburbs and rural communities.

More than 120 religious congregations, from Methodists to Episcopalians to Catholics, take part in Churches Take a Corner (CTAC) a street ministry program that brings churchgoers onto drug-plagued streets on Friday nights to sing, pray and offer assistance to dealers and addicts alike. Founded in 1994 by Wilmington's Rev. Tyrone Johnson, CTAC takes its inspiration directly from Jesus Christ — himself a street minister — according to board president Dr. Clarence Faulcon. “We encourage churches to leave their walls and create a church without walls,” he tells Join Together.

The presence of singing, praying residents often encourages drug dealers to desert their favorite corners. More importantly, however, the group's nonjudgemental approach to their “peaceful invasions” has led not only to some addicts, dealers and gang members returning to their faith, but also prompted many to seek treatment for their addictions.

Faulcon noted that CTAC includes many former addicts who are familiar with the treatment system, and the group works to identify treatment resources and make referrals. Despite a shortage of treatment beds in Delaware, Faulcon said that CTAC has been able to place “hundreds” of addicts in treatment thanks to its relationship with the Catholic Sisters of Philadelphia, a health-care provider.

By bringing together churches of many denominations, representing different races, ethnic groups and economic classes, CTAC reinforces the fact that violence and substance abuse affect all communities, not just those in the inner cities, said Faulcon. Just as it was during the civil rights movement, the moral leadership of the churches is critical to fighting the related problems of drugs and violence, he added.

“Churches have to admit that there is a problem in the community,” said Faulcon. “Too many people are in denial, particularly in the suburbs.” Getting middle- and upper-class communities involved in groups like CTAC is doubly important because much of the money that fuels the drug trade in poor communities flows in from the suburbs, he noted.

Apart from street-corner ministry, CTAC has helped organize rallies for community empowerment and to bring attention to the growing heroin problem; started a transitional housing program in Wilmington; and runs youth basketball leagues to give kids an alternative to gangs, drugs and violence. A 501(c)3 non-profit organization, CTAC coordinates its activities with local community policing efforts and has expanded to include a mentoring program for people involved in the criminal justice system. Recently, a CTAC chapter opened in Atlantic City, N.J.

Churches and advocates for recovery who are interested in developing their own CTAC programs should start by seeking out the natural leaders in their community who already are doing similar work. Building a strong board also is key, said Faulcon. “You have to have people who understand thoroughly what the drug problem is, who know the criminal justice system, who have a good relationship with the police, and above all who know their community,” he said.

Rev. Tyrone Johnson: 302-764-0600; Dr. Clarence Faulcon: 302-239-9733; e-mail: ctac@ctac-usa.org.

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