Thousands find help, Celebrate Recovery


JUNE 19, 2008

"Freedom from your hurts, hang-ups and habits." That's how the Web site for Celebrate Recovery, a nondenominational Bible-based recovery program, describes itself.

Established in 1993 at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif., the Celebrate Recovery program has spread to more than 10,000 churches nationwide and has been completed by more than half a million people.

In Watertown, it's a much more intimate group that meets on Thursday nights. Led by John M. and Deborah A. Van Epps, the meetings may be as small as six people and encompass issues ranging from alcohol and drugs to sexual addictions, eating disorders and trouble forgiving.

"It touches base with a lot of problems," said Mr. Van Epps.

Celebrate Recovery focuses on these problems with a Scripture-based version of Alcoholics Anonymous's 12 steps. Its members seek to provide fellowship and celebrate the healing power of God in their lives, regardless of whether they are struggling with chemical dependency, anger or a plethora of other issues.

As Mrs. Van Epps put it, "Even if you've got a storybook life, you've got problems."

A recent meeting of Celebrate Recovery featured upbeat recordings by contemporary Christian musicians, PowerPoint presentations and some cheerful digressions as well as serious discussions.

It opened with participants citing things they were thankful for that week, simple things like escaping unscathed from a recent thunderstorm or having a new boss at work, and continued on with the reading of eight recovery principles based on the Bible.

Before breaking into small groups for more personal talk, the members closed with a reading of the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Mrs. Van Epps began leading the Celebrate Recovery group a year and a half ago after alcoholism, the death of a son and divorce took a heavy toll on her life.

Although she spent more than eight years with the Compassionate Friends support group and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as well, Mrs. Van Epps felt that the nonreligious organizations were lacking something and she was uncomfortable referencing Scriptures in front of members.

So Celebrate Recovery was quite literally a godsend for her when it came along.

"I just knew it was the right thing for me," said Mrs. Van Epps. "I couldn't have quit without God's help because I tried it on my own so many times and it didn't work."

An anonymous member of the Celebrate Recovery meeting added her written testimony: "In the beginning (two years ago) I debated about coming to this group, but when I heard that one of the leaders had suffered from panic disorder in the past, I knew I had to come," she wrote.

"I was dealing with that at the time and I knew she would relate," she wrote. "It helps to be able to talk with someone who has been through what you're going through it validates it.

"I did receive help with this issue and also dealt with unforgiveness that I had been harboring. What a relief to have that burden lifted! This is a great ministry and has been a tremendous help to me."

Another participant, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said, "I feel completely different than I did a year ago, and everybody tells me that I've changed, am totally different from a year before, that I'm smiling more."

Mr. Van Epps said, "That's awesome; that's what it's all about."

Watertown TIMES NY

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