At a time when almost 21 million Americans struggle with addiction, four communities across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area have created new opportunities for people with addiction to find recovery, community, and hope.
These four new faith communities— Celebrate Recovery at Celebrate Grace in Bismarck, North Dakota; The Recovery Ministry at Brooklyn UMC in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota; The Road at Canyon Lake UMC in Rapid City, South Dakota; and Recovering Love Church in Richfield, Minnesota—are passionate about reaching new people and helping them find healing and wholeness through Christ.
Addiction, recovery, and faith
From alcoholism to drugs, shopping to gambling, addiction takes many forms and affects people’s lives and relationships in many ways. Given the vital role that community plays in the recovery process, churches have a key opportunity to meet the needs of those on that path.
“Our truth has been distorted, our view of society and God and relationship has been so twisted that we don’t have a focal point to focus on,” Rev. Chris Chase said of addiction. He leads church plant Celebrate Grace and its Celebrate Recovery Ministry, and he himself is in recovery from drugs and alcohol.
Recovery-based churches take people by the hand and show them that “not only can they overcome the hardship they are going through, but they can get on the other side of that and experience a whole new love and grace that God has been trying to show them all along,” said Chase.
The foundational structure of Celebrate Grace is its 16 small groups that meet at various times each week. All of them come together at a Celebrate Recovery worship service and dinner, which attracts 40 to 70 people each Friday night. The church has seen nearly 70 professions of faith, nine adult baptisms, and entire families finding recovery and healing. Watch a video about Celebrate Recovery’s ministry.
It’s no coincidence that most leaders of recovery ministries are in recovery themselves. As Rev. Howie Baird reflected on the needs in his community, his experiences as an elder in The United Methodist Church, and his five or six years of struggles with addiction, he recognized that God was calling him to start a recovery ministry about a year ago. He leads The Recovery Ministry at Brooklyn UMC in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, which launched its Sunday evening worship service in September and offers various recovery group meetings throughout the week.
“My life has been completely transformed because of my recovery,” said Baird, who moved to Minnesota from the Dakotas Conference. “This ministry is an affirmation and an extension of that.”
Rev. Brett Roes, who leads The Road, a new off-site ministry of Canyon Lake UMC in Rapid City, South Dakota, said “being a part of a faith community is incredibly life-giving to anyone—but I think it is especially so for those in recovery. Speaking from personal experience, recovery just isn’t something that most people can do well on their own.”
The Road gathers weekly in a local café for small group time and has larger gatherings each month. It will eventually form a congregation with a weekly recovery-themed worship service.
Roes notes that there is still a stigma and sense of shame around addiction—even within most churches.
“We need recovery-specific faith communities because sometimes that’s the only way that people will be honest about their struggles,” he said. “It’s a really powerful thing to walk into a group and know that every person there, in some way, understands and resonates with what you’re going through.”
Roes noted that although there are instances of spiritual life and death in all aspects of ministry, addiction can lead to actual physical death, “which means there’s a great responsibility on all of us within The Road to show up and care for and love one another as best we possibly can because we’re literal lifelines for each other.”
Rev. Brad Herman, who leads Recovering Love Church in Richfield, Minnesota, puts it this way: “Addiction, just like the gospel of Jesus Christ, is indiscriminate. The truth is that we have all been leveled by addiction and, from that state of being, we all gather to seek a common solution: the grace of God in Christ Jesus.”
Recovering Love had its first worship service in September. Services are on Saturday nights, to overlap with the times bars are open. It also offers prayer and meditation meetings and recovery group meetings during the week.
‘Ready for a real encounter with Jesus’
Recovery ministries generally reach the unchurched or those who left the church at some point in their lives. Rev. Ben Ingebretson, Dakotas-Minnesota Area director of new church development, said what makes people seeking a recovery-based church unique is that they tend to have a readiness for personal transformation.
“This is not routine cultural or nominal Christian spirituality,” said Ingebretson, who has worked alongside all four new recovery ministries by providing training in best practices, start-up resources, and leadership support and coaching. “Recovery participants tend to be ready for a real encounter with Jesus that changes everything.”
Building community and supporting each other is a critical part of each ministry, as is sharing personal stories of struggle, transformation, and hope.
Seeing God at work
Prayers are being answered and lives and families are being transformed within each of these recovery ministries. At Celebrate Recovery, every person who comes to a worship service is prayed for. Chase said, “We have people come back and say, ‘Thank you so much for praying for us. Our prayers are being answered. Healing is happening.’” For Chase, having people in recovery bring their entire families to a recovery service, and witnessing the family heal together from the damage of addiction, is the most rewarding part of his job.
For Baird, seeing participants become part of a community and grow in their faith is incredibly gratifying. He shared a story of a person in the early stages of her recovery who attended Brooklyn UMC’s Recovery Ministry. “I can see that she’s finally getting the support she’s been looking for,” he said.
Roes has seen similar growth in those involved with The Road. “We’re seeing people put together longer times of recovery than they have before,” he said. “We’re seeing people ask questions about God and profess a faith in God in ways that they haven’t before. Time and time again, God has brought goodness from The Road—even in the moments when I wasn’t sure it would be there. But God continually shows up, partnering with this community to bring life and freedom. I still work as hard as ever, but now I do it with a much deeper and abiding trust that God is with us, working alongside us.”