Recovery Worship

Separation. Guilt. Shame. This woman was no different. Her life experience had led her through addiction, violence, abortion, and abuse.
Church felt useless. She had tried some different services around town, but inside she didn’t feel clean and shiny enough. She couldn’t connect to the other worshipers no matter how hard she tried. Sometimes, she felt even more alone after a church service than before. She wondered if the other churchgoers could tell the kind of life she’d led.
But a church devoted to recovering people isn’t as far a stretch as it might seem at first glance. Alcoholics Anonymous, the first 12-step program, was spiritually based from the beginning. Its founder, Bill Wilson, an alcoholic, was trying to find a way to stop drinking. The time was 1930s depression-era America. Alcoholics were among the most desperate, subjected to treatments such as salt wraps-“the cure” and institutionalization in mental hospitals.
Wilson met Dr. Bob Watson, himself an alcoholic trying to recover. The two men began adapting the work of a Christian group in England called the Oxford Group and shaping this work into a path that might free alcoholics from the terrible compulsion to drink.
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous correlate to scriptural principles. Some of Wilson’s concepts included the thought that if he could just help one other alcoholic, perhaps he would stay sober himself. At one point, Bill W, as he is better known, despite being an agnostic, had a spiritual awakening-“a flash of white light, a liberating awareness of God”.
Today, many other recovery groups providing a “spiritual awakening” to numerous people with substance and behavioral addictions have adapted the 12 Steps.
One church that is making a difference in addressing the needs of people in 12-step recovery is Recovery Worship, located at the intersection of 17th Avenue and 25th Street South in Fargo. This non-denominational fellowship sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA), brings together recovering people from many 12-step programs-Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Al-Anon, and others.
The program initially grew out of the work of Paul Brunsberg and the Lost and Found Ministry, a free local addiction library funded by Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead. Now pastored by Rev. Ray Branstiter, the church has a weekly attendance of nearly 150 recovering people.
A typical Sunday morning finds a service full of lively and creative chaos. Children run in and out. Adults get up and go for coffee during the service. A few head out the back door for a smoke. There seems to be genuine reverence for “God as we understand Him to be” and gratitude for life in those surprised to be alive—the fortunate 10% of addicts who found recovery and whose addictions are no longer winning as long as they continue to “work the program.”
Pastor Ray says “Recovery Worship is a “shelter from the storm” for those who are living a life in 12 step recovery.
“We provide a non-judgmental, multi-denominational worshiping experience, a safe place for fellowship with people who will understand our struggles, and a place where we can humbly worship our Higher Power.
“I have a deep respect for step three of the twelve- step program: ‘(We) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him or Her.’
“I understand the struggle many females in recovery have with the heavy male imagery of God in most churches so I work hard at presenting an inclusive view of God at Recovery Worship.”
In an attempt to provide access and meet the needs of a new community of recovering people, a mass or eucharistic service was started six months ago. This service resembles the more structured service one might find in the Episcopal, Orthodox, or Roman Catholic Church.
The service features a form of homily called the “dialogue homily.” Scriptures are read and the floor is opened for discussion.
Eucharist (or communion) follows the dialogue homily. The service utilizes grape juice instead of wine, another accommodation to the special needs of those in recovery.
The Recovery Mass is not connected to the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, it is a part of the Eucharistic Catholic Church, an independent Catholic denomination based in Ontario, Canada.
Archbishop Roger LaRade, OFA, of the Eucharistic Catholic Church clarifies that “we are Catholics not under the jurisdiction of the Vatican, and we offer the Eucharist and the other Sacraments for those seeking a more welcoming and inclusive Catholic liturgy and spirituality.”
Pastor Ray says, “There are many people who grew up with structured services and this is a necessary place for them to come on the road to recovery.”
Mass is led by Father Lew Troska, originally ordained in the Roman Catholic Church and currently on a long-term leave of absence.
Brother Michael-Christopher, in recovery himself as well as being a licensed professional counselor for mental health and addictions, says “Our ministry is to be led by the Spirit of God as we know Him, to help those struggling with addiction of any kind, not to change their religion of origin.”
Recovery Worship’s website indicates that there are no members in the traditional sense. Some stay on and make the church their home For many, the church may be a “halfway house” of sorts, helping them to return to the religion of their roots, as called for by the “Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Questions and comments:

If You Go

Recovery Worship, 2525 17th Ave SW, Fargo
Sunday Service: 10 a.m., open to everyone of all spiritual traditions; including those not in recovery programs. Nontraditional Protestant service.
Saturday night, 5 p.m.: Recovery Mass of the Eucharistic Catholic Church. Open to all
Wednesday nights: Usually a pot of soup to share and a variety of classes and groups. Past events have included a dream study group, Native American drum group, prayer shawl group.
Other evenings: visit the church website at

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