Lutherans in Minnesota, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Recovery worship can offer sanctuary to those overcoming addiction

Around the country there is a renewed emphasis on recovery worship, an occasion for worship meant to be a sanctuary for those who have been afflicted by addiction or mental illness. In participating congregations, the language used is meant to be recognizable for those going through recovery. Some services even include direct language from Twelve Step programs and often include healing prayers such as the Serenity Prayer or the Prayer of St. Francis (from the Catholic tradition) as part of the service.

Zion Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, hosts a "recovery worship" on Sundayevenings. Photo provided

“Having God language in a [recovery] program, or having a recovery sense through a church picking that up can help [people] feel more comfortable in their treatment,” -John MacDougall

John MacDougall, director of spiritual care and guidance at Hazelden, finds that a worship setting like this is not as crucial for those in the depths of treatment (whether inpatient or outpatient), because they are specifically focusing on overcoming their addiction. But it is very helpful in supporting those in early recovery.

“Having God language in a [recovery] program, or having a recovery sense through a church picking that up can help [people] feel more comfortable in their treatment,” MacDougall said.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, an ELCA congregation, has dedicated their Sunday evening worship to those going through the recovery process. Support material for the program states, “Here at Zion the spiritual needs of recovery are met, nurtured, and strengthened in a welcoming environment.”

As part of its outreach ministry, Zion extends the invitation to attend the service beyond their congregation. Those who attend are not expected to be members of the congregation; rather they encourage people to “consider this ministry an extension of your ministry.”

The service takes place each Sunday evening at 7 p.m., preceded by soup and bread at 6:30 p.m.

Steve Peters, minister of music and outreach at Zion, says they regularly have about 20 people in worship. While they have a few that come regularly, there is fluctuation in those who attend any particular week. “You see that in recovery, the inconsistencies. We expect that. It is not alarming,” Peters said.

Those who come are of all ages, and suffer from, or are affected by someone who suffers from, drug and/or alcohol addiction or mental illness. Some are not personally in recovery, but want a service that is specialized in that area. While Zion’s service follows the liturgy of the ELCA, the service is very organic and has an ecumenical feel. People across denominations have attended the worship. Peters notes that they have even had atheists attend. “It is a place for all to come,” he said.

People who come to the worship service are in all stages of the treatment process. For those just beginning, Peters, a trained counselor, or the congregation’s pastor, Mark Schmid, can provide counseling and help them begin the treatment process.

“People like that welcoming environment where they are not chastised for where they are. People can come in, be themselves.” Peters said

With strong support for the recovery worship by members of the congregation, Zion also integrates language from their recovery worship into the pulpit on Sunday mornings.

MacDougall encourages congregations that are not doing a full worship service dedicated to those overcoming addiction to integrate some of the language into their worship. “People will perk up and recognize that,” he said. Another tip he offers is to invite people to a special service, which can “hook them to come again.”

For clergy interested in learning how to work with those suffering from addiction, the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center, an organization funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Resources, offers a workshop for clergy. The goal of these events is to empower clergy to have sensitivity and understanding to help people dealing with substance abuse.

Two events have already been held — a kick off event in February and a follow up workshop in May. The next event will take place on September 14 and will focus on how the entire family works through the recovery process. The Minnesota Prevention Resource Center plans to hold these workshops two to three times a year.

MacDougall encourages clergy to be open to those suffering addiction and informed on how best to help them, “The more you can normalize the experience of addiction and recovery, the more likely people will be to talk to a clergy member about their problems.”

Information on upcoming events through the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center is available at More information is also available by contacting the project director Kevin Spading at or 763/712-7618.

To learn more about attending Zion Lutheran’s Recovery Worship, visit or contact Steve Peters at or 612/824-1017.

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