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Studio sculpts hearts, souls of wounded

Studio sculpts hearts, souls of wounded

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Studio sculpts hearts, souls of wounded

Aug. 10, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0528}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

COCONUT GROVE — Lying just beneath the surface of this artsy, flamboyant city on Biscayne Bay is emotional pain so heartbreakingly unfathomable, it sometimes renders the Rev. Melissa Pisco speechless.

Pisco is the pastor at The Studio, a ministry begun in the Coconut Grove area of Miami in 2005 as a way to minister to people who are recovering from a variety of addictions — more common ones, like substance abuse, as well as emerging ones, like sexual addiction. Pisco said the latter is important in her ministry because approximately three quarters of those who attend services are survivors of some type of sexual addiction.

One 16-year-old girl didn’t even know the name of the horror that happened to her when she was 13 years old. Her mother repeatedly “pimped” or sold her to men twice her age for things like clothing or food.

Pisco worked with the girl, who came to the Studio when she was 15 years old, to find healthy and safe ways to express love besides using her body.

“It’s unbelievable to hear the stories,” said the 1998 graduate of Boston University Seminary who transferred into the Florida Conference. “The hurt is deep and wide.”

COCONUT GROVE —  The Rev. Melissa Pisco (right) prepares to baptize a participant of  The Studio's ministries at a local beach. It's The Studio's first baptism. Photo courtesy of The Studio, Photo #06-413.

Pisco said The Studio is working to heal those hurts through a number of unique programs. There is no official worship service because The Studio is a mission, but it does offer weekly small groups and recovery groups, as well as a weekly gathering where Pisco teaches everyone as a whole. Although only a year old, it has earned the title of being a safe place for people recovering from a variety of ills — people who range in experience from non-Christians to new Christians and everything in between. Pisco knew typical advertising would not work to get them inside The Studio’s doors.

The unusual approach of small groups meeting in bars and restaurants was one way Pisco spread the word. She also knew fliers wouldn’t work so she took her message of acceptability and redemption to a local radio station and extended one-on-one invitations to people in rehabilitation centers and a local halfway house.

“We are building relationships with organizations in the secular world that are doing the same things that we are,” Pisco said. “I’d say about 15 agencies know us, the types of things we are doing. They know they can trust us.”

The agencies and The Studio’s members can trust Pisco because she comes from a family background that has experienced alcohol abuse and addiction. She is intimately aware of the destruction it causes. She was reintroduced to it during her last appointment when a prominent woman in her congregation confessed in the church kitchen that she was an alcoholic, but no one in the congregation knew about it.

“We were just hanging out in the kitchen and she told me this,” Pisco said. “She felt like she couldn’t talk about it in church, that church wasn’t a safe place to get some healing for brokenness. This woman, who was treasurer and had a key to the church, told me she would have her time with God on Wednesday mornings because she didn’t want to be judged, that the church wasn’t an open place to live out her life.”

Pisco knew there were others out there like the woman in the church kitchen; she just had to find a place where they could be themselves.

The Studio is that place for Alfonso Lozada. The recovering alcoholic and drug addict has been clean and sober for 20 years. He worked as a substance abuse counselor for 12 years, but said he wasn’t fulfilled until he found The Studio — a church home where he can share his faith, as well as his stories of sobriety.

“This is a church without walls,” he said. “Anybody is welcome. The people here have an open mind without judging. You don’t feel better or less than anybody else.”

Lozada leads one of The Studio’s many 12-step programs. “I’m very glad that God has answered my prayers to be able to give back to the church because the church helped me when I was down. I’m just so grateful for this opportunity.”

Pisco is also grateful to be there, in the community, for people who are desperate to reconcile their lives. But while it’s great to be able to provide them with a spiritual home, she has found their stories sometimes daunting to her soul. What’s helped her is having a solid prayer life and an accountability group both inside and outside The Studio. “ … Sometimes I cry right there when I hear these stories, and sometimes I go home and cry,” she said. “The one thing is God’s grace is sufficient when I have no idea what to say.”

“God just shows up,” she adds. “We have to keep God at the center of what we do here or we would fall flat on our faces. Jesus Christ can carry the pain. Together, with Jesus Christ, we can walk through the darkest night.”

And Jesus Christ is at work at The Studio. Pisco said there have been multiple professions of faith and people receiving the healing they once thought was beyond their grasp. “We are exactly where we need to be, doing exactly what we need to be doing.”

That work is also relevant beyond the Coconut Grove community, according to Pisco. She said if members of every church looked deep enough into their surroundings, including their congregations, they would also find hurting people.

“You have to have a commitment to reach out to the lost; that the commandment that Jesus Christ gave us, we have to do it,” she said. “My mother called me several months ago, and I shared some of the things we had been doing. She said she couldn’t believe how much the kids are hurting down here. I had to tell her that that same hurt and brokenness — kids in her community are also feeling. The thing is, it exists there too. It’s just that we have found a way, thank God, to allow people to be real. We try to be real, get beyond the fake smiles.”

COCONUT GROVE —  Youth take advantage of a chance to just be themselves during one of the monthly Friday night dance parties The Studio offers for area teens. Photo courtesy of The Studio, Photo #06-414.

Pisco said God’s heart breaking for the hurt and lost is how The Studio got its name. The idea stems from God as the potter and all that the people — the different works of art created in such mediums as clay, dance, glass, music and painting — can become.

“It’s really a God thing,” she said. “We’re in this artsy community and we captured the idea of God and the people being unfinished works of art. The name just felt right. It’s not ‘churchy’ and the people love it.”

It’s not just the name people love. Teens especially enjoy the first Friday of each month when The Studio opens its doors and provides free drinks, food and a local disc jockey to play music. As many as 1,000 teens have boogied the night away there. Posters advertising the event are posted in local schools. Pisco said the teens wear what they want and dance how they want. The only rule is that they pledge to be drug-free for 24 hours.

Reaching out to teens and adults in varying stages of their Christian journey is something churches must do, Pisco said. “We are just used to prettying ourselves up before church,” she said. “What we see here can be and is everywhere. The coping mechanism may be different, but the hurting is still the same.”


This article relates to Outreach and Discipleship.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.