Celebrate Recovery!

Scott Donaldson and Heather Parker work on the Celebrate Recovery staff at Lakeshore St. Andrew's Church in Tecumseh ON.

There's an excited buzz moving through the halls, like an electric current traveling the wires. A final guitar tuning, a quick adjustment to a microphone, a few more chairs set in place and then it's time. A man and woman dressed in identifiable shirts take their place at the front door. The first guests walk through, and hands reach out connected to warm smiles, "Welcome to Celebrate Recovery!" It's Friday evening at Lakeshore St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Tecumseh, Ontario, and Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered recovery ministry is in full swing.

In an era that has seen health-promoting advocates striving to stem the flow of unhealthy lifestyles, one wonders what responsibility our church plays in the ongoing battle for our health and welfare. We know there are those who fill our pews each Sunday bruised and bleeding from life's unexpected events. The ministry of Celebrate Recovery speaks to a woundedness which goes beyond the physical, a pain that gouges the soul.

Celebrate Recovery is a twelve-step biblically based recovery program which focuses on principles from the Beatitudes. Jesus teaches us that we shall truly be happy when our greatest desire is to do what God requires. For many, the understanding that they have lived less-than-perfect lives traps them in a perpetual circle of compulsive, addictive and dysfunctional behaviours. Our communities and our churches are filled with those who have never known, or perhaps have known, but lost the peace and joy that God desires for them. The cry of hopelessness and pain echoes all around us, "Is this all there is to my life?" To that cry, we return one of our own, "Hang on, for there is hope!" Celebrate Recovery ministers to those who bring their hurts, hang-ups and habits to the place of healing and new life in Christ.

Celebrate Recovery is a proven ministry which began thirteen years ago at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California by pastor John Baker. Together with Saddleback's senior pastor and renowned author, Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Life), he recognized a need in people to know in a very personal way that Jesus Christ is the one and only Higher Power. Only through a relationship with Christ can one truly let go of past hurts and focus on a sin-free, peace-filled life. To date, there are over 2500 churches worldwide with a registered active Celebrate Recovery program running.

With over a year of prayerful planning and training behind them, in the fall of 2003, leaders in Celebrate Recovery at Lakeshore St. Andrew's threw the doors wide open to their own church members and the community at large. In six months, we have seen lives transformed and families renewed. The average weekly turnout on a Friday night runs at 45 people who come from all over the Windsor-Essex County. Some are believers, many are not, yet all are drawn to the uniqueness of a Christ-centered program. Many come as "veterans" of A.A. or other treatment programs in the area and they come hungry to discover a deeper spirituality to their recovery. Celebrate Recovery makes it very clear that this program is not advocating for people to turn away from existing programs but rather, encourages individuals to examine where they have placed God in their own journey.

The minute a person walks through the door, every effort is made to create a sense of belonging, a place of safety. The evening begins with a worship segment consisting of vocal and instrumental teams. The songs are lively, inspirational and for most — deeply moving. First-timers are always reassured that participation is strictly by choice, yet rarely is there a foot that doesn't tap with the beat by the segment's end!

After that uplifting moment comes either a lesson on a recovery issue or a testimony given by a leader. These are not professional speakers, but men and women who, having felt the healing power of Christ in their own lives, desire to share with others who walk similar paths. It is these leaders' hearts that speak so eloquently and clearly.

Following the talk, it's off to small groups facilitated by trained leaders. Here, one joins others of the same gender who are struggling with similar hurts, habits and hang-ups. Confidentiality and care are foremost in the minds of the leaders. Participants use workbooks written by John Baker and Rick Warren, combining a twelve-step approach with eight principals of the Beatitudes.

The popular Lighthouse Café completes the evening. This is an opportunity to come together in a warm, inviting and informal atmosphere with delicious baked goods to nurture the body. So popular is this time that many linger long after the scheduled time-frame for the evening!

Frank, a fifty-year-old workaholic is learning to live life with balance. He came as a non-believer, but God had other plans. Through the caring community of CR, Frank invited Christ to be an integral part of his life journey. Teresa, having recently lost her mother, is working through the grieving process while learning to live beyond an abusive, co-dependent relationship. Mark, struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, tonight hangs on to the hope he hears at CR. The stories abound, the celebrations are endless as we are privileged to see lives change at the hand of the Healer.

There will always be people who walk in despair, who believe they are without hope in finding healing and forgiveness. Many will carry their hurts, habits and hang-ups with them all the days of their lives never knowing that God longs to take away their burdens. We believe that God has given us the ministry of Celebrate Recovery to come alongside those who walk through our doors carrying their burdens. It is our fervent prayer that our churches be a place where hurting people can find community and health, and by the power of God's hand — a life of peace and celebration.