“I have a front row seat to the best show on Earth,” Celebrate Recovery ministry leader Russ McDowell said of his involvement in the recovery program at GatheringPoint Church in Bourbonnais.
According to its website, “Celebrate Recovery is a biblical and balanced program that helps us overcome our hurts, hang-ups and habits.” The program, founded by Pastor Rick Warren, began 20 years ago at Saddleback Church in California and started small. After much success, helping thousands of people recover through the program at Saddleback, it extended to other churches. Today, Celebrate Recovery exists in over 20,000 churches globally.
The program is based on 12 Christ-centered steps and eight recovery principles. The principles are based on the eight beatitudes. The 12 steps, grounded in scripture and prayer, are based on admittance of personal “hurts, hang-ups and habits.”
McDowell, a lay member of GatheringPoint and former member of College Church, began leading Celebrate Recovery in 2012 when Pastor of Congregational Care Deborah Bell approached him about the idea of starting the program at their church.
“He’s a wonderful man who has been through recovery, and he’s a mature Christian and just has great leadership,” Bell said of McDowell.
The program coincides with a full calendar year, starting over each year, but is “not a program you ‘graduate’ from,” McDowell said. “Most [participants] go [to Celebrate Recovery] more than one calendar year,” he said. “But no matter when you join during the year, it’s not confusing – you can start at any time.”
The program meets weekly, with 26 lessons and 26 personal testimonies presented on alternating weeks over the course of the year. The lessons include themes like denial, hope, action, admittance, gratitude, giving and relapse.
McDowell said the biggest misconception of Celebrate Recovery is that it is a place only for believers and those involved have to have struggled with alcoholism or substance abuse. “We welcome everyone,” McDowell said. The group addresses other issues, as well, like codependency, divorce, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, domestic violence, financial challenges, sexual addiction, food addiction, eating disorders and any other hurts. Due to the program’s adult themes, it is reserved only for those 18 years or older.
Bell encouraged Olivet Nazarene University students to attend if they felt inclined. “Anyone is welcomed to check out this group,” she said. “Celebrate Recovery is completely confidential; a safe place for all.”
Each meeting begins with a time of fellowship and visiting in the church’s café. Then, the group assembles for general announcements followed by a time of worship. Depending on the week, either a live testimony or a lesson is presented. Afterwards, the large group breaks into men’s and women’s small groups. Each meeting ends with the large group meeting again in the café for dessert and coffee.
Celebrate Recovery begins at 6:45 pm on Tuesday nights at GatheringPoint, but also meets at River Valley Christian Fellowship in Bourbonnais – the only other local church to host the program. Meetings at River Valley are held at 7 pm on Friday nights and are led by ministry leader Robert McBurnie.
“It’s not a quick fix,” McBurnie said of the program. “It’s not magic; it’s a long, hard grind, but it’s worth it.”
“It’s so helpful to have people in your support who care about your recovery,” Bell said. “Healing is a process… We have seen miracles happen at Celebrate Recovery.”
—Taylor Provost, News editor