Words Marla Cantrell
This world is not a gentle place. We face disappointments, more stress than we can handle, and family issues that cause us to stay awake at night. And these are the everyday problems. There are other times when the battles we fight leave us so wounded we feel as if everyone we encounter can see our hurts, can see how miserably we’re failing.
Pastor Ed Saucier, leader of Celebrate Recovery® at Community Bible Church on Dallas Street in Fort Smith, Arkansas, says he has a way to help. Five years ago he brought the popular twelve-step program to his church, thinking it could help the congregation. After working the Celebrate Recovery® program himself for a few months, he realized he was getting more out of it than anybody else. “We have the tendency to see those in recovery as ‘those people.’ But we’re all ‘those people.’ We all have something in our lives we need to deal with.”
Celebrate Recovery® is similar to Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, hence the twelve steps. But in Celebrate Recovery®, the steps have been reworked to show Jesus Christ is the one and only Higher Power. It also broadens the program to include problems besides chemical addictions. At Community Bible, the program covers a wide range of issues, including things like codependency, depression, addictions, anger, eating disorders, anxiety, and grief.
The way it works is this: The church opens its doors every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome, and people come from miles around to be part of the group. Volunteers greet attendees at the door. There is an information desk for those with questions. Child care is available. The program starts with dinner, followed by an open assembly with music and a short lesson. From there, those who’ve gathered break up into one of thirteen classes, gender and issue specific, where they share their stories and get support from others facing the same challenges. Each group has a leader, someone who has been through the program. And there are sponsors and accountability partners, so that each member gets individualized support.
Ed is quick to point out that those in leadership roles are there to simply guide others through the process. “We’re not a therapy group, we don’t try to give advice, we don’t play like we’re your therapist. We just provide a safe environment where people can learn these time-tested steps to recovery, and in so doing you get better. Those twelve steps are just remarkable.”
There are guidelines to protect the privacy of those attending. No one is allowed to talk about what’s been said or who is in the group with them. This security is a key part of the program. Another critical component is that no one is charged for these services. If they want, group members can buy “participant’s guides” that are seven dollars each (there are four that cover an entire year), although it’s not required. There is another small fee for the food that is catered for the night, but you can skip the meal if you’d like. Other than that, it’s all free.
When Celebrate Recovery® first began at Community Bible, they had between six and eight people attending. Now, there are approximately 140 every week. One of the people who went through the program is Haylea Newcity. She was so amazed at what it did for her, she began volunteering and she’s now on staff at the church as part of the Celebrate Recovery® team.
“I’m still in the program; I’m starting my fifth year,” Haylea says. “It’s changing my life. What I’m learning is a valuable, huge asset. Probably the best part is the support that’s offered, to be around people that are open about their struggles and looking for a way to change and are able to say they don’t know how to do it themselves. You’ll hear these testimonies, and you’ll think, They got through that and so can I.”
The thought of the transformation in her life causes Haylea to stop. Her voice quivers. “We live in a world where we beat ourselves up so much, we get sick and tired of being sick and tired. Being able to talk about it is huge. But you do have to want it. It’s hard to talk about at first, but once I did, it didn’t control me. It has no power over me. When you do that, the process of healing begins.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting on the front row of what God sees. These ladies (men meet with men and women with women) have come in so broken, no job, or they’re broken in their relationships, and now their marriages are back together. They’re sober. They’re much happier and much healthier.”
Ed is listening intently. He says, “We have people who come here who tell us this program saved their lives.”
Since it began twenty-four years ago, Ed says nearly one million people have gone through the Celebrate Recovery® program. It’s been translated into twenty-eight languages and is active in twenty-four countries. More than 20,000 churches participate. Ed, as a state representative for Celebrate Recovery®, has been able to help other churches, including several in Fort Smith, offer the sessions.
His dream is to one day have a central facility in the city where there are meetings every night of the week, sponsored by a group of churches. The impact, he believes, will be monumental. Already he sees the community improving. When drug and alcohol problems are dealt with, people stop missing so much work, for example, which helps companies grow, which in turn fuels the economy.
But there is a much more far-reaching outcome, according to Haylea. “You learn in recovery that hurt people hurt people,” she says. “If you come to recovery and learn the tools you need to heal from those things, it’s a trickle-down effect. If you have children, it will change how they treat others at school. It’s huge.”
Ed and Haylea are excited about what they’ve seen at Community Bible, and the program is expanding. They now have classes for kids and teens, so that everyone in the family can be served. Thursday is their favorite day of the week, since they get to share the lessons they’ve learned with those hungry for answers. “You approach life in a very healthy, responsible manner,” Ed says. “You own up to your problems. You quit pretending that everything’s perfect or wonderful. You don’t let it beat you up or intimidate you.
For me, that was a huge deal. The unfair expectations of my life were just beating me up, and the sick thing is that I was the one putting the expectations there. I am my own worst enemy if I’m not careful. You have to learn how not to do that.”
Ed and Haylea talk about their days before they joined Celebrate Recovery®. They were both struggling with problems that wouldn’t go away. Their worlds are different now. There is so much joy, so much happiness. It fills up their lives, and they continue to share their good news with everyone they meet, because they are certain they have an answer that could make this world a much better place to be.
Celebrate Recovery® meets every Thursday (including holidays) in the Worship Center at 9201 Dallas Street in Fort Smith. You don’t need to be a member or regular attendee of Community Bible Church to attend.
5:30 PM – Dinner
6:00 PM – Large Group Session
7:00 PM – Open Share Groups
For more information, visit communitychurch.com, or
call Ed Saucier at 479.452.9201.