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Transformative ministry in the church basement

William Cope Moyers, vice president of public affairs and community relations at Hazelden Foundation, recently offered an adult forum series at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Photo provided by Hazelden

With a mission of bringing recovery into the heart of worship, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in West St. Paul recently hosted William Cope Moyers as preacher and adult forum presenter. Moyers serves as vice president of public affairs and community relations at Hazelden Foundation and is the son of the nationally known journalist, Bill Moyers. His first book, Broken, chronicled the story of his own struggle with addiction and road to recovery and redemption. Now What? An Insider’s Guide to Addiction and Recovery, his newly released book, was the focus of the St. Stephen presentation. With 75 in attendance at his forum on a cold Sunday morning, Moyers mused, “Obviously recovery is a topic that impacts a lot of people.”
Growing up as the “golden boy” of his community, Moyers’ parents were shocked when he started using and quickly became addicted to drugs. As a college graduate with a wife his parents describe as “wonderful” and a great job, Moyers still ended up lying flat on his back on the floor of an Atlanta crack house, abandoning his family with no word of where he was. “My father had interviewed presidents and heads of state, but he had no idea what to do when I became sick with addiction,” Moyers said.
His personal road to treatment and recovery has taught him how common addictions are and how vital it is to speak about them publicly and in community. “Addiction is a disease of isolation,” reflected Moyers. “Even after an addict enters recovery, many are filled with shame and afraid to let others know.” It is for this reason that St. Stephen launched the three-week Sunday morning recovery series.
”The impetus for this focus came from some key lay leaders,” shared the Rev. John Snider, St. Stephen’s senior pastor. “For many, addiction is a part of everyday life, whether it be our own or in a loved one. The Sunday morning series was a way to move recovery from the church basement support groups to the sanctuary.”

Zion Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, hosts a weekly recovery worship service. Photo provided by Zion Lutheran Church

“Addiction is a disease of isolation.”

At the forum, Moyers shared his keen concern for those who love someone with an addiction. “If you are a family member of an addict, you deserve to recover yourself, whether your loved one does or not.” Because addiction is a “terminal illness,” waiting for an addict to hit bottom before seeking help could mean waiting until they die. “That’s way too long,” cautioned Moyers, who is a fervent supporter of the Al-Anon recovery program.

Battling one’s demons alone

Zion Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minneapolis has offered recovery worship for the past four years, experimenting with several different formats, to meet the needs of its community. Participants come from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Al-Anon. Others are dealing with grief, loss, abuse, or a major life transition. The weekly Wednesday evening service begins at 6:45 p.m., following the Lyndale Community Dinner at the church; it is held in the congregation’s Fireside Room.
The worship space is set up much like a recovery group with a circle of chairs awaiting participants. Pastor Meta Carlson shared, “It’s meaningful for some that they do not have to walk through a narthex into a sanctuary to attend this service. There are those who have had a difficult experience with organized religion.” While the 12 steps and serenity prayer are always incorporated, the liturgy changes from season to season. “Worshippers like coming to a place where they can talk openly about brokenness and then reflect on how to find God’s grace in the midst of it.”
Because of its innovation, the Minneapolis Area Synod recently selected Zion’s recovery service for its Seminary of the Streets program. Pastor Lee Ann Pomrenke of River of Life Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minneapolis is a member of the coordinating committee. “Our goal is to highlight ministries that others can learn from and possibly emulate in their own setting.”

The recovery worship draws Zion members as well as people from the community.

Those who signed up to visit Zion’s recovery service were moved to see worshippers who previously had no church home now coming to Zion on Wednesday evening. “Several of the participants talked about how recovery worship is distinct both from a 12-step group and a standard Lutheran worship service.” Pomrenke said the Seminary in the Streets group was impressed by the way both were tied together so beautifully and effectively.
Dr. Jessica Duckworth, assistant professor of congregational and community care at Luther Seminary, remarked, “When people talk about the decline of the church, I’ve thought for years that we’re missing what is happening in the basement every night of the week through recovery groups.” Duckworth is delighted to hear about the move in local churches to bring recovery into weekly worship. “Our call as a community of faith is to stand with those in recovery. If a pastor and a congregation are open to hearing their stories, moments of incredible transformation await.”
Mary Brown is an ELCA pastor serving as director of congregational relations for Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

Finding a 12-step worship

Zion Lutheran Church’s 12-step worship is held each Wednesday night at 6:45 p.m. The congregation is located at 128 West 33rd Street, Minneapolis. Please enter through the blue door on the north side of the parking lot. Receive Zion’s recovery worship newsletter by calling 612/824-1017.

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