Lester Memorial United Methodist Church is a house of worship; a gathering place where congregants listen to and study God’s Word. It’s where family and friends can get together to rejoice in their mutual love of Jesus Christ.
It is also where some come to find spiritual and emotional healing through a program the church has hosted for the last eight years. Celebrate Recovery (CR) is a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery program that helps people, as described in a brochure written by former pastor Barry Hallman, to “discover God’s healing presence for life’s struggles.” Hallman is now retired, but still works with CR, as does current pastor, Harvey Beck.
When a 12-step program is mentioned, the mind usually goes straight to drug or alcohol addiction. To be sure, CR addresses addiction, but it also encompasses much more. Hallman and Alan Cheney, CR ministry leader, quickly note other issues that people deal with, or too often to their detriment, do not deal with at all. Their list includes co-dependency, food and sex addiction, anger issues, betrayal, abuse, failure, divorce, and grief, to name a few. “CR is not just for people dealing with chemical issues. This program is about so much more,” Cheney said.
At a recent meeting, everyone was made to feel welcome, whether a newcomer or a veteran of CR. The atmosphere was upbeat with smiles, laughter, and hugs in abundance. It was clearly a group of people who stand in support of one another.
Every Monday at 6 p.m. a “large group” meeting begins. According to Cheney, there is music and either testimony, teaching, or a guest speaker. The music is contemporary gospel performed by a band consisting of CR regulars. At this recent meeting, Chris Gortney gave his testimony. Gortney is the pastor at Redeemed Ministries in Cleveland. His message was profound and powerful. He held the more than 50 people in attendance spellbound by his reflections on his life’s struggles and his redemption. Finally, he acknowledged to the group that “it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to share that with others.”
Every week after “large group,” everyone breaks into smaller groups that are gender specific. Men and women go to separate classrooms and further break into other groups, be it those struggling with chemical issues or groups specializing in the non-chemical issues mentioned earlier. These are called “Open Share Groups” where one can communicate their thoughts, their problems, their struggles, and their accomplishments. They can seek help and advice from the group in a confidential, safe environment.
All the people who work with CR are volunteers and they all, Cheney says, are required to complete training, which includes something known as “steps study.” Here they learn what it means to be in a 12-step program. It is important to note, however, CR differs from traditional 12-step programs in one significant way – while conventional programs talk about acknowledging a higher power, that power in CR is Jesus Christ. “We teach with God’s words and scriptures,” Cheney said. “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount meshes beautifully with the 12 steps.”
CR began in 1991 at Saddleback Church in California. It is now part of 35,000 churches across the country, according to the CR website, www.celebraterecovery.com.
Programs have also been started at other sites ranging from prisons to universities.
CR at Lester Memorial meets every Monday night, regardless of holidays, beginning at 5:45 p.m. in the church’s fellowship hall where snacks and refreshments are available. It costs nothing to attend and child care is provided for children from six months of age to the sixth grade. CR is not just for the church’s members. Hallman said anyone is welcome, whether they are the “victim or the victimizer. We welcome them all. I want them to know the grace of God that I’ve known for many years.”