|Churches focus on Christian recovery programs|
A UMNS graphic by Hugo Martinez
A UMNS Feature
By Andrew J. Schleicher*
March 20, 2009
Is something hurting you? Is something holding you back from living
your life fully? Do you have a habit that is addictive or otherwise
causes problems for your life and those around you? Does your church
and community need greater awareness of the struggles of addiction for
those dealing with it?
United Methodist congregations are joining programs that address
these hurts, habits and hang-ups. In turn, they are building more
welcoming congregations and individuals who are leaders in those
congregations and greater communities.
At First United Methodist Church of Tulsa, Okla., Gary Pond was
trying to get his life straight. Struggling with alcoholism, Pond says,
“I came to the church about seven years ago and was pretty much a
broken man.” He attended recovery programs, but “there really needed to
be something else beyond secular recovery.”
As the idea was turning over in his head, Pond shared the thought
about wanting a Christian recovery program with his counselor. That
counselor had just received a mailing about Celebrate Recovery, founded
by John Baker at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. Warren
wrote “The Purpose Driven Life” and gave the invocation at the
inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Hungering for healing
Celebrate Recovery and another Christian recovery program, Faith
Partners, are ministries taking hold in many United Methodist
Faith Partners, founded 20 years ago by a United Methodist nurse in
Austin, Texas, is now part of the Rush Center of the Johnson Institute.
It is endorsed by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society with
support from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
An instructor from the Rush Center of the Johnson Institute trains
United Methodist in Paducah, Ky., on Faith Partners, a Christian-based
recovery program. A UMNS photo courtesy of Trish Merrill.
Trish Merrill began looking into addictions as a nurse concerned
about psychiatric drugs. She then started learning about alcoholism.
Merrill noticed that people were looking for something.
“We have experiences in life that lead to a need for and hunger for healing in a spiritual way," Merrill says.
Turning to God
“My name is John, and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who struggles
with alcoholism.” That is how Baker and all participants in Celebrate
Recovery introduce themselves. It takes away the emphasis on what one
does and emphasizes one’s relationship with God.
“God is more interested in who I am, rather than what I do,” Baker
says in a Celebrate Recovery introductory video for leaders. “He’s
interested in my character and in my values.”
Jerry Andrews, who has been off drugs and alcohol for five years, is
now ministry leader for the Celebrate Recovery program at First United
Methodist Church in Smyrna, Tenn. When the church’s program launched
earlier this year, there were 25 to 40 people in attendance on a
“The whole program starts with ‘I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ,’ ”
Andrews says. “It is our intent to move people to Christ if they’re not
Changing the culture
The initial work Merrill did with a team of people 20 years ago
became Faith Partners in the mid-1990s. That team approach continues
today. Faith Partners trains lay people in congregations to use the
knowledge and skills they already have. Thus, each congregation may
carry the ministry forward in a unique way.
Recovery is only one part of the ministry. Grace and Faith United
Methodist churches in Davenport, Iowa, demonstrate the educational part
of the ministry. Their Faith Partners team carries out puppet shows to
educate children and others about peer pressure and the dangers of
prescription and street drugs.
The Faith Partners team at Grace and Faith United Methodist churches in
Davenport, Iowa, uses puppets to teach the dangers
of peer pressure and drug use. A UMNS photo courtesy of Mike Salter.
It also changes the culture of the congregation.
“I have seen a few people who have really come together and a few
people who have overcome," says Mike Salter, director of the Faith
Partners ministry for Grace and Faith churches.
Faith Partners also supports advocacy. Cynthia Abrams of the Board
of Church and Society calls it one of the unique aspects of the
ministry. “In the past there has been a separation between recovery
work and advocacy," she explains.
She sees a trend in the connection. Through advocacy, she says,
“we’re creating an environment where wellness flourishes and addiction
The United Methodist Church is involved in a campaign to eliminate alcohol advertising from all sports.
Pond and the Tulsa congregation also are reaching out more. They
will begin picking up women from a local correctional facility to
participate in the program. The local Salvation Army has contacted them
to see how it could be a part of this ministry.
Susan Andrews, who helped her husband, Jerry. start the Celebrate
Recovery program in Smyrna, believes recovery ministries fit well into
United Methodism. “I think it goes along with ‘Open Hearts. Open Minds.
Open Doors,’ ” she says.
Indeed these ministries are opening doors both for those in need of
healing and for those already part of local congregations.“I’m a true
believer in AA. It does work,” Jerry Andrews says, but he found that he
needed something more.
The Andrews found Celebrate Recovery online as they searched for
Christian recovery programs. With the blessing of their pastor, the
Rev. John Michael Jones, they recruited seven people to attend a
conference at Saddleback Church and then engaged in six months of
preparation time before launching the ministry in Smyrna.
The Celebrate Recovery program at First United Methodist Church in
Smyrna, Tenn., began in early 2009 and has 25 to 40 participants each
week. A UMNS Web-only photo courtesy of Susan Andrews.
In developing the Christian aspect of the Celebrate Recovery
program, Rick Warren connected Alcoholics Anonymous’12 steps with eight
principles based on the Beatitudes. Jerry Andrews summarizes the first
four steps in this way: “I can’t; he can; I think I’ll let God.”
The last of the principles is “Yield myself to God to be used to
bring this Good News to others, both by my example and by my words.” In
this way, the program encourages its participants to be disciples.
Congregations are building leaders through Celebrate Recovery.
The various people in these ministries testify to the transformation
the programs have on people’s lives. However, they also say that it
cannot be done without support from the senior pastor and with much
“I’ve seen a couple people transform before my eyes,” Jerry Andrews says.
For more information about Celebrate Recovery, visit www.celebraterecovery.com. A state-by-state directory will point you to the nearest program to your location.
Faith Partners may be found at www.rushcenter.org/faithapproach.
* Schleicher is a freelance writer and editor living in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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