COLUMBIA, Md.—John Baker, founder of Saddleback Church’s “Celebrate Recovery” program, committed his life to Jesus as a child, but later struggled as an alcoholic. His life spiraled downwards and his wife left him. In desperation, he began attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. While visiting with his children he went to their church with them—Saddleback Church. It was there Baker recommitted his life and was reconciled with his wife. He found it difficult, however, when he needed to share his struggles with church members. They often felt uncomfortable. He didn’t want to go back to a program that acknowledged a “higher power.” It was then that God gave Baker a vision for Celebrate Recovery (CR), a godly environment where people could work together to recover not only from addictions, but from any of life’s hurts or hang-ups.
Since the program began over 16 years ago, 10,000 churches have helped 500,000 individuals complete the program. Twenty-eight of those programs are in Maryland and 14 in Delaware. One third of them in Maryland are in Southern Baptist churches. Miracles are happening in those CR meetings.
Renee Mattison is a leader of a CR group at Faith Church, Glen Burnie. Mattison got involved when Associate Pastor Clarence Byerly saw a need and began the program. Byerly thought it was a vehicle the church could use to help people get over their life struggles.
“Once we got started it was wonderful. We have folks who come for addictions, come with anger, everyday issues that Christians don’t think they have to deal with but that affect your life,” Mattison says. “It’s a wonderful way of breaking free of things that bind us.”
She laughs as she shares that as she began leading groups she started to discover some issues of her own.
“I had anger issues and anxiety and panic attacks. Celebrate made a huge difference,” she said.
One of the most important aspects that she discovered is that people struggle with issues they think no one else will understand and it’s surprising to hear that others struggle with the same issues.
“You realize you’re not alone,” Mattison said. “Most people come to their first meetings and don’t talk a lot,” she said. “They’re afraid, but when they hear others sharing similar stories they begin to relax.” Also, she said, people discover they’re not going to “get talked about.”
Byerly said, “We have people struggling with eating disorders, workaholism, anger, pornography, depression, grief, and other issues. The key for dealing with an issue is whether a person is willing to admit the problem and deal with it. We call it, ‘coming out of denial.’”
“It’s so wonderful to have a place in church to go to where it’s safe,” Mattison said.
“Celebrate Recovery deepens your relationship with the Lord. You see the body of Christ as real people with real problems.”
“There is a bond we all seem to be developing between ourselves,” she said.
Jerry Arata, a member of New Hope Church, says he came to Celebrate Recovery “…in a quest to find purpose in life.” Arata was a Christian, but struggled with questions about why he did the things he did, acted the way he acted and thought the way he thought sometimes. A friend invited him to CR and Arata went with him.
“That’s when I started to get the answers I was looking for. I began to learn a lot about my hang-ups and issues and how to deal with them.” Arata said.
Kathryn Williams, a CR leader at Streetlite Christian Fellowship, said, “Over the past five years, I have had the honor and the privilege to watch thousands of men and women suffering with various hurts, habits, and hang-ups walk through these doors and leave through the very same doors a changed person.” Williams was involved in a secular recovery program. When she found Celebrate she said, “all of the pieces began falling together.”
Bridget Wilson attends the CR program at Streetlite Christian Fellowship. Wilson wrote in an email to BaptistLIFE, “CR has saved my life, my marriage and my family — I thought that I was going there to help save my husband, but I ended up saving myself. CR has given my family a new lease on life and has allowed us to be more open and honest with one another as well as others in our extended family. CR has also provided us with many new family members through the friendships that we have developed and the relationships that we have built there, as well as at Streetlite Christian Fellowship.”
Kris Sharrar, who also attends Streetlite wrote, “As a Christian struggling with addiction to alcohol and drugs, I became homeless and felt unloved and unwanted. I felt disconnected from God, ashamed and guilt-ridden. Through the Celebrate Recovery ministry at Streetlite Christian Fellowship in Baltimore, I rediscovered my loving, forgiving, and merciful Heavenly Father.
Karen Kohloff, from Streetlite, wrote, “Celebrate Recovery has been one of the best, if not the best, tools God has ever provided me with.
In secular 12-step programs, participants acknowledge a “higher power.” Jerry Arata said, “I know that higher power.”
By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent