By Andrea Barilla
NEW WILMINGTON — EDITOR’S NOTE: Names have been changed to protect privacy. Individuals willingly shared their stories for this story.
It’s the first Thursday night of the month at New Life Baptist Church on Route 208 in New Wilmington, and the tables are filled. The grill is fired up with hotdogs, and the spread is potluck salads and desserts. At the tables sit people from all walks of life: corporate sales managers, teachers, stay-at-home moms, soccer dads, former prisoners, teenagers recovering from addictions. Many wear T-shirts that say, “Yeah, I’m one of those people.”
The people breaking bread together have struggled with hard life issues – some with addictions of all types (alcohol, drugs, pornography) – while others struggle with self-worth, depression, codependency, or anger. But here, there is no judgment. Here is a safe place, a place where people can be their most authentic, knowing their words will be kept in the strictest of confidence. In fact, confidentiality is required.
Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step program now in 19,000 churches worldwide, is making a difference in this little corner of western Pennsylvania.
Celebrate Recovery was founded by John Baker, associate pastor at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. The New Life group, started in 2005, is led by Pastor Ron Nagel and meets from 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday. The first Thursday of each month, there is a cookout at 6.
“At first I was embarrassed to say I came here on Thursday night, that I was one of ‘those’ people,” says Kerry, a stay-at-home mom who struggles with self-worth and emotional eating. “Now, I think everybody needs to go through this program. Absolutely. Everybody has hurts, habits, and hang-ups, and it’s debilitating if you don’t deal with those issues.”
Recently, Celebrate Recovery has been garnering more attention with endorsements from Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and movies like Home Run, which features the group as the main character’s rehab program.
The first hour of CR involves music as well as a lesson, testimony, or guest speaker. Volunteers then read the 12 steps and their biblical comparisons as well as eight recovery principles based on the Beatitudes. Lessons include such topics as stepping out of denial; admitting we are powerless to change our habit, hurt, or hang-up with our own strength; and making amends.
Sometimes, group members share their testimonies of how they have walked through recovery.
“Celebrate Recovery has helped me to see that I have the possibility of being clean with His [God’s] help. The lessons have given me a kind of syllabus to work through to guide my recovery,” says Nick, a teenager who has struggled with addiction. “CR gives me something to live by, to work by, a direction to keep me on the straight and narrow.”
Kerry has found practical help at CR as well. “Something I have found helpful is the concept of retreat, rethink, and respond. This past week, I had company. Typically, I get really stressed when these family members come, and I just can’t handle it. At one point this past week, I started to tense up. But then I retreated. I went up to my room and prayed. Then, I was able to come back down to my family. Even my husband commented on how well I handled that. I was able to get past the stress a lot quicker, and it didn’t ruin our whole day as it would have in the past.”
The second hour is spent with gender-specific small groups, each tailored to a specific struggle and led by a leader who has recovered from that struggle. The focus is on supporting, not fixing, each other.
“I’ve made some really good friendships here,” says James. “It’s helped to have a group of guys to be real with. Most of the time men put up a front like ‘Hey, I don’t struggle with anything.’ They won’t say outright, ‘I have a hard time being a good husband’ or ‘I have a hard time avoiding temptation.’ But in this group, guys can share that, and it’s not like ‘let me tell you how to fix that’ as much as it is ‘hey, thanks for being honest.’ ’’
Dave, a dad who struggles with chronic illness and impulsive spending, adds, “Most of us guys share each others’ phone numbers. If we have a question, problem, or need a prayer, we just text or call somebody from our group, and there’s usually somebody on the receiving end more than willing to help out.”
Shari, an administrator and mom who struggles with codependency and anger issues, says CR “is a place where I allow myself the freedom to not ‘have it all together.’ I tend to put the burden of perfection on myself in which I must get it all right – be a terrific mom, a great wife, an employee who is well spoken of. Here at CR, though, I’m allowed to say without repercussions that I can’t do it correctly all the time. I find the freedom here to lay down my perfectionistic tendencies and release them – at least for a few hours each week.”
“My life was upside down when my friend invited me to Celebrate Recovery,” says Tony, who is navigating his way through a divorce. “But CR has a different flavor, an authenticity. The leadership here has reached out to me. The messages are down-to-earth. Guys from my small group have extended the hand of friendship to me; sometimes we go out to dinner before CR. There’s a dose of reality here.”
“If you ... have even the littlest inkling that you’d like to see what it’s about, come out,” Pastor Nagel said of the program. “Especially the first Thursday of the month with our cookout. Come out and see what we have to offer – the prayers that we give, the support, the encouragement – come out and try Celebrate Recovery.”
Info: Pastor Ron Nagel, 724-946-2816 ext. 211; www.celebraterecovery.com