Bible-based Celebrate Recovery groups help with personal battles
By Mirko Petricevic, Waterloo Regional Record staff
Andrea Lutz isn’t spending her time in prison simply counting the hours until she can go home. Since coming to Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener 18 months ago, Lutz has embraced a bundle of Christian programs that are available to inmates.
In addition to taking two Bible study courses by correspondence Lutz, 27, has enrolled in Alpha courses in Christianity, has been working for the institution’s fulltime chaplain, and attends Saturday evening prayer meetings and Sunday evening worship services. She plans to preach her first sermon this weekend. Yet she has made her prayer-packed schedule even busier by signing up for a 12-step Christian program called Celebrate Recovery Inside. It’s a program inspired by Alcoholics Anonymous, but based on the Beatitudes Jesus professed in his Sermon on the Mount (The Gospel of Matthew 5).
Lutz said she is serving a 10-year sentence for manslaughter after turning herself in to police and pleading guilty to killing the man who sold her cocaine in 2007. An articulate woman with pale bluegreen eyes and a soft face, Lutz was baptized at the Kitchener prison last year. But Celebrate Recovery Inside, available at Grand Valley Institution for the fist time this year, is helping her work through her personal battles. “It’s getting me ready to be able to offer the help and the support that somebody else will need in the future,” Lutz said. “If I don’t deal with my stuff, then I’m not going to be any good to anybody else.”
The program, run by community volunteers, is an adapted version of Celebrate Recovery ministries which are run at churches across North America. Lutz is scheduled to speak tonight at Grandview Baptist Church in Kitchener. The event is intended to raise money for, and spread awareness of, a volunteer effort to establish a halfway house for women in Waterloo Region. Lutz will share the lectern with Ashley Smith Robinson, the woman who was taken hostage in 2005 by a man who killed four people during a shooting spree in a courthouse in Atlanta, Ga. Smith Robinson talked her captor into turning himself in to police by reading to him from the bestselling spirituality book The Purpose Driven Life written by American megachurch pastor Rick Warren. Smith Robinson is in Waterloo Region this week to help raise funds for the halfway house and to promote Celebrate Recovery.
Celebrate Recovery was started in 1991at Saddleback Church, the megachurch led by Warren at multiple locations in California. The 12-step Bible-based program is billed as a way for people to recover from old hurts, habits and hang-ups that continue to make their lives more difficult. And it isn’t only for prison inmates or people addicted to drugs, said Deb Jones, Eastern Canada director for Celebrate Recovery, who oversees programs at more than 30 churches. One of the groups has been meeting every Thursday night at Lincoln Road Chapel, in Waterloo, for nearly five years.
Between 85 and 100 people gather in the sanctuary for an hour-long teaching. Then people break into groups of about eight to 12 to discuss issues such as addiction to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, pornography, anger management or codependence (described by Jones as when a person’s self-worth depends on someone else). Each group is composed of either men or women, but not both. And in order to keep it a safe place to share, things that are said in a group is supposed to stay in the group. Only about one-third of participants are trying to overcome addictions to prescription drugs, street drugs or alcohol, Jones said.
But that’s just the weekly meetings. People who want to dedicate more time toward battling their demons can enrol in the 12-step study program. Members meet for two hours, one night a week for nine months to a year. About 120 people have gone through the 12-step studies in the past five years, Jones said. Volunteer leaders have themselves worked through the 12 steps, including homework assignments, at least once. After the third step, when members turn their lives over to God’s care, new members aren’t accepted into the group. “By that time, you’ve established trust and there’s a real connectedness to the group,” Jones said.
“It’s like a family.” Cathy Sherman, a volunteer who helps lead small-group sessions at Lincoln Road Chapel on Thursday nights, introduces herself as celebrating victory over alcoholism and still struggling with codependency. The Waterloo woman said she investigated Celebrate Recovery after her tendency to drink too much alcohol, too often, affected her family life. About five years ago she offered to babysit her grandson for an evening. But Sherman said her daughter declined the offer because she couldn’t trust her mom to stay sober for the entire evening. “That really hit home,” Sherman said. She had started drinking excessively a couple years after her husband left his longtime job at a local radio station and they were struggling to start their own family business.
The fear of facing an uncertain future led her to return to booze as a way of coping with the stress. It was an addiction she thought she left behind 20 years earlier. “I fell back to the age-old crutch,” she said. “My world fell apart and I just let it.” She had been a longtime volunteer at Lincoln Road Chapel’s Sunday school and women’s ministry. So she was afraid someone might recognize her if she went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, she said. “No way was I going to AA,” she recalled herself thinking.
She’s now working her way through the 12-step study for the fourth time, helping lead small groups at the church and facilitating the study for women prisoners at Grand Valley Institution. “If I hadn’t got to that point, my faith wouldn’t have grown so deep,” she said. Dan Sherman, Cathy’s husband, also felt the effects of his wife’s battle with the bottle. “It was heartbreaking to watch her suffering,” he said. But he had his own issues to deal with.
“We all do, whether we admit it or not,” he said. A few years ago, Dan accompanied Cathy to a Celebrate Recovery social gathering. “I went for the free food,” he quipped. He listened to some speakers recall how one thing or another made their lives unmanageable. He just shook his head and rolled his eyes. Sure, ever since he was a teenager he had trouble with authority. Run-ins with different bosses cost him more than one job, he said. It wore on him. “Always a feeling of regret when I did lose my temper,” he said. But eventually, he thought the program might help him manage his own anger.
Since then he has worked through the 12-step studies three times—twice as a facilitator. “There’s no express elevator to recovery,” he said. The first step is coming out of denial, he added. But from what Dan has witnessed during his time volunteering with Celebrate Recovery, it seems the biggest step for many people is getting in the car and driving to a meeting. “That walk across the parking lot is the longest 30 seconds in their lives,” he said.
Reprinted from the Waterloo Region Record