They come for a variety of reasons. Alcoholism. Depression. Addiction. Anxiety. Low self-esteem.
But while different problems bring them together, the participants in Indiana Area Celebrate Recovery — a Christian-based 12-step program addressing all of life’s “hurts, habits and hang-ups” — all want the same thing: peace.
“We want to do anything we can to help people be whole,” said the Rev. Joseph Stains, one of the group’s leaders and pastor of Homer City United Methodist Church.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The name of a participant in the Indiana Area Celebrate Recovery group has been changed to protect her identity.
Indiana Area Celebrate Recovery is a chapter of the global organization with groups at 19,000 churches worldwide, said Shirlee Tanner, a leader.
The local group’s third anniversary is Monday, with its first meeting held Feb. 25, 2010.
Tanner was among those who helped bring the program to the area after watching friends and relatives struggle with addictions.
“I just felt that they needed a safe place to come and a program that is Christ-centered,” she said.
The Rev. Harold D. Hicks, of Harvest Anglican Church, was also among those who started the program locally.
Hicks was looking for an opportunity to provide a safe haven for families in the healing process.
Organizers learned how to conduct meetings by attending another Celebrate Recovery at Cornerstone Ministries near Export, Westmoreland County. That group provided them with advice and a 90-day start-up kit.
On their first night, a friend of Hicks, clean for 14 years, spoke to the group.
He had tried Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other programs, but only found success when he accepted Christ, Hicks said.
Now, that man is 17 years clean.
Programs such as NA and AA are out there, but have been diverted from Christ-centered programs to more general programs, Hicks said. Celebrate Recovery uses 12 steps similar to those of AA, but the steps include references to the Bible.
And it’s a more encompassing program, he said, with speakers and Bible study.
“God does it all,” Hicks said. “We’re just his tools.”
Participants, he said, fill the holes in their lives created by addiction or other struggles with Jesus Christ.
“The belief is that true healing comes from transformation, a change,” he said.
While there are pastors involved, the group is nondenominational and the program is not for the churches, Stains said. Rather, they are a bridge to church and faith for participants.
The local group has about 25 members. They meet 52 weeks a year on Thursdays, even on Thanksgiving, at Homer City United Methodist Church.
“People don’t put their hurts, habits or hang-ups on hold” for the holidays, Stains said.
Like other programs, the group stresses anonymity and confidentiality, Hicks said.
And there are sponsors and accountability partners to help offer support to participants and encourage them to better their lives.
Celebrate Recovery is open to the public, and Stains encouraged people to attend to see what it’s all about. Seeing what the group does firsthand can be beneficial to everyone, especially those from related agencies, such as recovery or law enforcement.
The group is also in need of support, though not necessarily the financial kind. They need people who will help spread the word and make the ministry known.
They welcome speakers and need musicians from contemporary Christian bands to play music, which can be very uplifting to the group, Hicks said.
Virginia was a broken woman when she came to her first Celebrate Recovery meeting. She and her husband had lost everything to addiction.
She didn’t want to go in. But when she found the courage to take that step, they were accepted immediately and never judged, she said.
For Virginia, Celebrate Recovery was the religious influence she didn’t experience growing up. Now, she has a spiritual relationship with God, which is an inspiration for her to be a better person and make wiser decisions. She has learned to trade unhealthy choices for healthy ones.
“My whole life has changed,” she said.
Before, when her addiction was a problem, she still thought she led a normal life. But as she worked on her recovery, she realized that the goal wasn’t to get back to normal, because what she had before wasn’t normal.
She just didn’t know it.
Virginia has worked her 12 steps, the last of which involves helping others and giving back. In that step, Virginia excelled, Hicks said. Now, she is in a leadership role in the program.
“I want to bring everyone in here I know is hurting,” she said.
Carol McCracken suffers from anxiety and depression.
When she first came to Celebrate Recovery, she “couldn’t stop crying.” Through the group, she had grown in her faith and learned to trust the Lord, she said. This has inspired her recovery.
McCracken is also now in a leadership role. She uses her experiences to reach out and provide help to others.
“It’s really changed my life so much,” she said.
For both women, the group is like a family, and they meet with other members on their own time for socialization. And in the group sessions, participants find support in each other, but don’t try to fix each other, Virginia said.
“Everybody here, they love you like they know you,” Virginia said.
Tanner stressed that the group is formed on love and acceptance.
‘This is a place they will not be judged,” she said.
At Celebrate Recovery, healing comes from the inside out. Leaders recognize that in order to be healed, participants must find the root of the problem and “get to the heart of what is really going on,” Hicks said. Once these issues are realized and revealed, healing begins.
Hicks said he has seen more lives transformed in three years in this program than all his years in church.
Celebrate Recovery helps participants learn to cope.
“It’s all about coping,” Hicks said. “It helps get your coping skills honed to God.”
Celebrate Recovery helps people cope with various afflictions, not just alcoholism and addiction. Participants also come for issues related to mental illness, low self-esteem, anger management, eating disorders and more.
In fact, a majority of those who attend do so because of a hurt or hang-up, not an addiction.
“A lot of folks hesitate because they think it is for addicted people,” Stains said. “It’s much more broad-based.”
Rather, it’s for “anything broking in the human spirit” that God can heal.
“Everybody has a place here,” Stains said.
Everyone, Hicks said, suffers from some sort of hurt, or hang-up. In that sense, even the leaders are participants.
“We all have flaws in character, and we have to embrace that,” Stains said. “It can only make us all whole.”