By: Amanda Willis
For his entire life, Ned Lewis had been looking for something to make him feel better. At the age of 5, he developed an addiction to sugar. He would pick through his mother’s purse to find money to fund his cravings. Later he turned to alcohol, then to marijuana, and eventually to crack cocaine.
Even when Lewis was at the height of his career—a successful banker with three houses and a big stock portfolio—it wasn’t enough.
“When I searched for more, I found the crack pipe; I ended up broke, homeless, and lost everything I had,” he said. “The search for more led me to nothing.”
Four years ago, Lewis moved to Minnesota from Colorado to enter a treatment program for his addictions. In addition to finding help recovering from his addictions, he also found an abundant life in Christ thanks to St. Paul’s Recovery Church, which ministers to those seeking recovery, growth, and healing.
A number of United Methodist churches across the Minnesota Conference offer recovery services and other types of support to those working to overcome addictions—and, at the same time, they are reaching new people for Christ.
Recovery Church began in 2000, initially about the size of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It is now one of the largest recovery ministries in the United States and reaches more than 1,000 people each week through worship services, daily meetings, and events featuring guest speakers. The Sunday worship services (at 9 and 11 a.m.) usually have about 300 in attendance.
Lewis always believed in some type of higher power but had never really explored what that meant for his life until he began attending Recovery Church. There, he discovered a loving God that speaks to him in a way he can understand.
“I started seeing life differently and instead of taking, I started giving,” he said. He now lives by the health realization model, which teaches people to change how they react to their circumstances.
Lewis gives back to the church by serving as the chair of the finance team—and he works with incarcerated men and women and at-risk youth through an after-school program.
Lewis is not alone.
Others have also found peace and serenity through recovery worship services and meetings like Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon/Alateen, and Narcotics Anonymous that take place in local churches.
The United Methodist Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV) equips church leaders to respond to alcohol, chemical abuse and dependency, and related violence. Since 1992, SPSARV has provided churches and conferences with resources to support all facets of substance abuse ministry. It does this through grants, education, advocacy, training, and networking.
In Minnesota, SPSARV recently supported the work of an intern who shares her time between Recovery Church and Mounds Park United Methodist Church, also in St. Paul. The intern, Sarah Kronkvist, is a student at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and she’ll continue in her role through December.
Kronkvist attended a program for families and friends of alcoholics after her husband went through a treatment program for alcoholism in 2007. She hoped the program would help her family and give her a better understanding of the disease. Along the way, both she and her husband began to accept God in their lives, and they became part of the United Methodist Church.
“My husband found spirituality,” she said. “It was the fertilizer that we both needed to bloom our faith.”
She now spreads the message of hope, healing, and God’s love at Recovery Church by helping staff, attending meetings, participating in worship, and leading a Bible study on grace. Her goal is to share the love of God as part of the 12-step program that most members of Recovery Church follow.
Mounds Park UMC, meanwhile, doesn’t have as established a program but is seeking to reach more people in recovery. Many people in its neighborhood are recovering from addiction. The church started with a monthly Bible study that follows the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Rev. Dennis Alexander preaches about recovery from time to time during worship (Sundays, 10:30 a.m.). It also hosts potlucks to present medallions to those who have marked a new milestone in sobriety.
Making a difference
Liz Dvorak has been sober for 11 years and one month—and a member of the Recovery Church for that same amount of time. She didn’t grow up in an alcoholic home, but her father battled a mental illness, and it was difficult on the family. Dvorak recalls that things were always tense.
She began drinking when she was 20 because she felt it helped ease the tension. But after 28 years of active drinking and damaged relationships, she decided to enter treatment.
“I finally got to a place where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired of my own stories about how it would be different this time and reached out for help,” she said.
Recovery Church has become such a vital part of Dvorak’s life that if she misses a Sunday service, she feels like something is missing from her week. She craves the spiritual nourishment she gets from worshiping God with others who are also in recovery.
Others feel the same way. Rev. Martha Postlethwaite, who is in recovery herself, was appointed to Recovery Church in July.
“We are very aware that we aren’t perfect, so we practice imperfection,” she said. “The way people love this church is amazing—these are people who know what it is to be hungry and thirsty for God.”
Other recovery services in the Minnesota Conference
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church