Piecing together a new church community – the beginnings of Hope Recovery Community

by Meg McBride

Every year when we go on our annual vacation, I select a challenging puzzle that will keep us occupied over the course of the week. Our goal is complete the puzzle before our time away ends – to snap one photo of the completed project before we have to take it all apart and return it to its box. This year, I choose a 1500 piece Disney puzzle that featured many of the Disney characters my sons grew up with and loved. Disney World was a frequent vacation destination when my boys were kids (it helped a lot that their grandparents had a Disney timeshare and in the early 90’s a yearly Disney pass was a mere $200). I thought the puzzle would offer a sweet nostalgia.

The first step in puzzling is to dump all the pieces onto the table: looking for what I call the “bonus pieces” (the pieces that are still together from the factory!), then turning all the pieces right side up and searching and separating out the boarder pieces – the pieces with one straight edge that will hold the puzzle together and create its boundaries. As I began my work, I happened to be listening to a podcast on forming cooperative parishes among different churches to create collaborative communities who come together around a common and shared mission. I listened to the speakers challenge the listeners to create communities of inclusiveness, restoration, and holy friendships. As I began organizing my puzzle pieces, I noticed that many of the pieces contained faces – good character faces like Cinderella and Belle, as well as “bad” character faces like Ursula the sea witch (one of my favorites) and Captain Hook… even some of the pieces had the faces of character animals. So many faces of the Disney community in one place.

I couldn’t help but notice the metaphor for Hope Recovery Church (which is never far from my thoughts – even during this time of rest, I see symbolism everywhere). I pray that there will be many different faces that will interact with Hope Recovery Church. In those faces, the goal is to show deep value to every person so that every person can be lead back to their true and real identity in God and live as their most authentic selves. Value is defined as honoring each other’s unique personal experiences. These personal stories lend to distinct voices — all which contribute to our human story set within God’s story of God’s creation. Value is defined as respecting each other’s right to choose for one’s self — whether we individually agree or disagree with someone’s choices, we each have free will to decide for ourselves, recognizing that every choice has a consequence (some good and some not so good). Value is defined in being sensitive to and honoring each other’s boundaries as we recognize that each of us carries within us traumas, hurts and histories that often require the healing balm of God’s love and the security of real friendship that can be found in authentic community. We admit that healing takes time, patience and boundless mercy and grace — relationships are messy, hard, and challenging, but necessary for life. Relationships are a place of constant growth, adjustment, relearning and discovering new levels of sacrifice.

Forgetting to measure the card table I’d chosen before starting my project, I quickly realized that the completed puzzle will be bigger than the table… and so I set to the task of carefully relocating 3/4 of the assembled border and the many small puzzle piece connections I was able to make to a new location. I was reminded that the building of anything requires the flexibility to change directions, the openness to keep moving forward and not get stuck in disappointment — and a bit of humor to laugh at yourself. I believe that the Disney puzzle has been a gift offered to me as a metaphor for the church-planting work that awaits when I get back to Wilmington after vacation is over. For the next several days, I plan to focus on the faces before me — Disney faces and more importantly, the faces of my family as I continue to practice showing value, mercy and grace.

What does it look like to turn left?

When my sons were young, my family had the opportunity to travel with our in-laws to Disney World almost every year. We would often consult travel guides that helped us become “experts” at navigating the Disney complex. We became well acquainted with the best times of the day to visit the parks, advice on how to find the most affordable places to eat where you got the most food for your money and what locations afforded the best viewing spot to watch the evening light show at Epcot Center. I remember the guide even provided instructions on how to wait in line for rides. For years, I’ve held onto a belief that the shortest line was on the right. I was surprised when I came across this reading in “Living Clean: The Journey Continues,” (NA World Services, Inc 2012).

“In the same way, we learn that finding God’s will is often just a matter of showing up. When we show up for life with a willingness and an open mind, the next right thing tends to present itself. We don’t have to look that hard to find it. A sponsor suggested, ‘Introduce your feet to the floor when you wake up in the morning. Show up to the shower to wash. Show up to your appointments and respect your commitments. When you hit a wall, turn left and find an opening.’ We learn to listen to our conscience–that still, small voice within that tells us if we’re heading in the right direction. The opening is often where we least expect it, leading us to a path, an opportunity, or a miracle we weren’t looking for.”

(Living Clean, pg 60, Italics mine).

Recently, I made an error in judgement by sharing information that wasn’t mine and I broke a confidence. I know that this was wrong. The harm I’ve caused created a deep wound to the persons I offended. I don’t know if there is a way to restore the relationship. In this case, a mere, “I’m sorry,” isn’t going to do it. In writing my inventory and sharing it in a 5th step, I was seeking to understand the “exact nature” of the motive behind what I did. I’ve got some clues, but I’m still asking God to reveal more to me. I’m still writing and praying. The NA literature talks about the work of reconciliation as a process, “to reconcile with the truth of what I did and begin the process of making peace with the consequences of our actions,” (Living Clean, pg 152). This will require, of course, making through amends to persons I have harmed when I am clear and ready to move forward in a 9th step. 

Turning left is about exploring deeper levels of where we need God’s healing and grace — “to be very aware of who we are becoming, and use this new information about our past to help us move forward,” (Living Clean, pg 154). I have a God in my life that offers forgiveness freely… all I have to do to step into a space where I can begin to receive God’s mercy. Oftentimes, I feel so badly about what I’ve done that I feel like I don’t deserve the space of God’s free forgiveness.  The program reminds me to not subject myself to abuse anymore – even the abuses I put on myself. 

“We sometimes feel like we are defined by our character defects. The most unpleasant things about ourselves are the things that can seem to be the most true. But even though we may see some painful things about ourselves, we know that’s not the whole truth about who we are,” (Living Clean, pg 59). 

Only God can help us see who we truly are.

We have to ask God, “please show me who I am in your eyes God?”

Turning left is about seeking out God’s will for my life by stopping, praying, writing, waiting… maybe committing to take no more action that complicates the situation further…  shutting up and entering into the silence… asking God to speak to me… being open for God to reveal God’s will… sitting with recovery friends… going to more meetings… taking care of my basic needs… putting recovery first.

Turning left is about seeking out persons who believe in me and can offer safe support, who can practice intentional listening and give honest feedback to help me take responsibility for my life. These are people who can show me through their love and acceptance how God sees me. These are people who are “for me” — who can pray with me, talk with me and walk with me. 

Turning left may mean having to wait in a longer line to get on the ride.

For today God, grant me a path to forgiving myself that begins with forgiving the other by using the tools of the program to see my part in the situation, to take responsibility for my actions and to seek reconciliation with God, with myself and with the people in my life. I am the only person I have control over. The rest is in God’s hands. Amen.

New Beginnings…

Hello Friends (New & Old)!

Eight years ago, following a divorce that stalled my life, I accepted an invitation to relocate to Wilmington, NC to get a new start. I had lived in Bethlehem, PA for over 20 years and before that in Reading, PA for my entire childhood — it was a big decision and a big move. Once I got to Wilmington, I almost didn’t stay. I was struggling to find work and my roommate situation was not working out. There were a few moments when I considered packing up my car and going back to Pennsylvania. There was one day right before Thanksgiving 2011 when I actually had the car half-packed.

The day I almost drove home, I sat at the coffee shop, sharing my sob story with the barista at the counter… trying to make the decision to leave or stay. As I was sobbing into my coffee, a girl I had seen in AA meetings walked into the shop and sat down beside me. She didn’t notice that I was crying but looked directly at me and confessed that she wanted to go home for Thanksgiving, but hadn’t made amends to her parents and was afraid they wouldn’t welcome her. I halted… dead stop… wiped my tears away and asked her if she had some time and some paper.

That afternoon we worked for several hours writing her 4th Step, doing a 5th step, discussing and praying over character defects and writing out the amends she would take home and read to her parents. She would later report to me that her Thanksgiving was wonderful and that he parents had received her. I believe only because she had committed to doing her 12 Step work.

I didn’t leave Wilmington. I stayed. I stayed put. I got new roommates and finally landed a job and I believed that God wanted me here for a reason…

In 2012, I started attending Celebrate Recovery with a friend. I just wanted to go for a few weeks and work on some relationship issues I was having with my mom at the time. I didn’t want to get too involved… Well, my friend Karen J. had come to visit me and the first time I took her to CR, she outed me!!! I would begin to help and lead CR for the next six years. It was a wonderful experience, rich with personal and communal growth, where I found a real family of friends.

In the summer of 2016, after completing another 4th step, I began to sense that God was calling me to do something with the best of recovery and church. Because of a rich and wonderful team of folks with wisdom and a love for recovery, I was able to create and lead two years worth of teachings for CR, which they lovingly and willingly let me “test drive” in the CR venue. Pastor Jim helped me do “sacrament” every fifth week – hosting Holy Communion or sitting in silence after engaging the text with Lectio Divina practices. It was beautiful, as well as fruitful. In 2019, I felt a shift and a new season upon me. Time to start really thinking about what recovery church would and could look like.

2019 was a painful and productive year. The journey to saying, “I believe God is calling me to start a recovery church,” has been an ebb and flow of pure bliss, excitement and anticipation and also many, many doubts, fears and tears. It’s been a process. For every “NO!” I’ve said, there has been a deeper “yes….., ok…… yes…… YES!!!” When I’ve tried to get out, I’ve found myself only called to dig in deeper. When I’ve cursed and stomped me feet, I discovered greater understanding and unity. When I’ve tried to run away and forget, I’ve run into a wall made of God in every direction I’ve tried to hide. I am at a place where I can no longer say no – no matter how hard I try.

So here I am with a idea, a webpage and a dream. That’s tangibly what I got right now on Monday, November 18th, 2019. I also have my deep love and appreciation for the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which taught me how to live in 2001 when I was a lost person. I have the teachings of all the wisdom people who loved me directly (sponsors, friends, mentors… even enemies). The wisdom of all those who shared their experience, strength and hope with the rest of us who are trying to find peace, freedom and joy: recalling my early years reading De Mello, Fox, Williamson, listening to Joe H. and Mark H. and witnessing the inspiring fearlessness of a few guys from NJ who created a group for the worst off of us called ANA (Alcoholics-Narcotics Anonymous).

I do believe it is my turn to share my wisdom with others, to steward a space/place where people can encounter the living God, meet the heart of Christ and the experience the power of the Holy Spirit. To foster a place that welcomes people as they are, but loves them enough to challenge them to walk free from their states of suffering. Because that was me 18 years ago, standing one evening outside of The Sunlight of the Spirit meeting, crying in the cold dark night to my sponsor, Joanne P., saying that the 12 Steps would not work for me… I was simply hopeless. She said to me something that has always remained clear in my mind and heart, “I’ll believe for you until you can believe for yourself.” And her belief was enough for me to make a beginning… a beginning then… a beginning now.

Hope Recovery Church – Vision

A Missional Congregation located in downtown, Wilmington, NC

“Let Love be Genuine. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” – Romans 12:9

Our Vision

Recovery exists in in the love of Trinity — a love that is genuinely shown to one another though unity, service and a life together that deepens through spiritual formation.

We invite all who are seeking a deeper connection with God to come to our table of grace. We wait with open hands and open hearts for the person who is still suffering. We promise to tell God’s truth as we risk telling our personal stories through vulnerable acts of courage. We believe by faith that God meets us where we are, but God loves us too much to leave us suffering in brokenness. We believe recovery is possible for all people.