2008-03-28 / Neighbors

Simi Valley congregations trying to light a path to recovery

By Carissa Marsh Special to the Acorn

Simi Valley Presbyterian Church has launched a weekly "Celebrate Recovery" program for people who struggle with addiction, abuse, codependency or other life challenges.

"It is a program for people with hurts, habits and hang ups- whatever problems people are experiencing," said Steve Koep, director of the new ministry at Simi Prez. "We look to provide healing for those who are suffering and to change lives."

Celebrate Recovery is a Biblebased, Christcentered recovery program that began in 1991 at Saddleback Church in Lake Valley, Calif. Today the program is implemented by more than 200 churches across California.

The curriculum incorporates the 12 steps- most commonly associated with Alcoholics Anonymous- with the eight principles from the New Testament's Beatitudes.

Much like other Celebrate Recovery programs, each Friday gathering at Simi Prez begins with an optional dinner at 6 p.m. before the main meeting at 7. This meeting includes a time of worship as well as speakers who share lessons and testimonials.

Attendees then split up into gender-specific small groups where they can express their thoughts and feelings without interruption.

Koep said the meetings are centered on fellowship, accountability and, of course, anonymity.

The goal is to free people from addictive, compulsive and dysfunctional behaviors, including alcoholism; drug, sex and gambling addictions; compulsive eating; and codependency.

The program also addresses divorce, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

"It's amazing what we all struggle with, one way or another," Koep said. "And quite frequently we tend to hide those things that in fact separate us from God. We don't tell our friends, our counselors, even our spouses."

Church pastor Jeff Cheadle, who Koep called the driving force behind bringing Celebrate Recovery to Simi Prez, said he's long admired the program's ability to bring about positive change.

"We've been considering it for years, but it wasn't until this past fall that we realized we had the leadership and resources and began to train the leadership," Cheadle said. "I'm really excited about this program. It has changed so many people's lives."

What distinguishes Celebrate Recovery from programs like A.A. is that the focus is not on an ambiguous "higher power" but instead on Christ, Koep said.

"Generally speaking, other recovery programs- while they are spiritual programs and they have saved hundreds of thousands of lives- the one thing they lack is the emphasis being on Jesus Christ," he said.

Simi Prez had its first meeting March 7, and while that night drew just 15 people, Koep said he hopes more will come.

"We did not have the number of people attend that we had prayed for, but those that attended were extremely moved by the experience," he said.

Two other local churches with Celebrate Recovery programs are Grace Brethren and the Church at Rocky Peak.

Though Grace Brethren has been using the Saddleback model for nearly three years, the group remains small, with 10 to 20 people attending the Thursday meetings, according to Scott Bennett, who co-directs the ministry along with his wife, Kari. Together the couple has about 40 years of sobriety under their belts.

The 90-minute program does not include dinner and is "strictly concentrated on working the steps and getting people sponsors," Bennett said.

He said that the meeting provides a safe, open environment where people can vent.

"It's a way to get it off your chest and take away some of the power," Bennett said.

David Mirback, who leads the men's recovery ministry at Rocky Peak, agreed, explaining that Celebrate Recovery fosters a camaraderie that allows people to come as they are without judgment.

Mirback, who has 24 years of recovery experience from drugs and alcohol, explained that attendees are not only at different stages in the recovery process, they are also at different stages in their faith. He said not everyone is Christian and belief is not a prerequisite to join.

"We don't beat people with Bibles," said Mirback, who was not a Christian when he entered recovery. "The blessing that usually happens is they see other people who have been dealing with the same struggles, and in watching them live it inspires hope."

Rocky Peak's program has had great success since it began in January 2007, with 100 to 120 people showing up each Friday night, according to Mary Pat Paulson, the women's recovery ministry leader.

Because of its size, Rocky Peak offers seven problemspecific share groups as well as several small study groups throughout the week.

Paulson, who has battled bulimia, chemical addiction and codependency, has been in recovery for 25 years and knows firsthand the power of working the program each day.

"I know the 12 steps saved my life," she said.

Koep said that if Simi Prez's program is half as successful as Rocky Peak's, they will be doing very well.

"If we all support one another, it would be quite powerful," said Paulson, who would like to see a network of local churches with Celebrate Recovery meetings each night of the week. "In recovery, no matter what issue you're dealing with, it's nice if you have something every day of the week to go to."

Celebrate Recovery Meetings

Simi Prez: Meets every Friday night; 6 p.m. for dinner

($5 donation requested), 7 p.m. for main meeting (no cost) in the worship center.

4832 Cochran St., Simi Valley

(805) 526-5475

Grace Brethren: Meets every Thursday night at 7 p.m.

in room A13.

2900 Sycamore Dr., Simi Valley

(805) 582-4300

Rocky Peak: Meets every Friday night at 6 p.m. for dinner

($5), 7 p.m. for main meeting in small auditorium. Child care is available 22601 Santa Susana Pass Rd., Chatsworth (818) 709-0113

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