Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2006

Church Reaches Out to the Recovering Community

by Shelley Cunningham, '98

Too many congregations live with the myth that 'Addiction doesn't happen here,'" Pastor Kathryn Brown, '01, said at the beginning of a workshop on Extending the Love of Christ to the Recovering Community. "They couldn't be more wrong."

Brown's congregation, Augustana Lutheran Church, Grand Forks, N.D., is fighting that myth. The church is known for its compassion and commitment to the recovering community. She estimates the previous pastor had heard "thousands of Fifth Steps,"--the point in recovery Alcoholics Anonymous says is about confessing. Now, under the leadership of Brown and lay person Jim Murphy, a licensed addiction counselor, the church is partnering with the community to help addicts get the support they need to live clean.

It's been exciting to see God's hand connecting the dots between the congregation and the community, Brown said. For example, like many churches, Augustana has long had an active quilting ministry. So Brown, who herself has heard a number of Fifth Steps, asked the quilters if they would make lap blankets to be given after the step is completed. "Of course it means something to the person in recovery," she said. "But it's come to mean quite a lot to our quilters too. They write notes so the recipients know they're being prayed for. And in the process, the quilters are learning about addiction and the process of fighting it." Augustana's ministry means something to the community, too. The church has been honored by the North Dakota Department of Human Services. A local group of social workers made a donation to the quilting ministry after noticing how many of their clients were carrying the handmade lap blankets.

Augustana's next step in reaching out to the recovering community is truly a collaborative effort. A task force, comprised of members of the congregation as well as from the judicial, social service and education communities, is working to identify needs of this community and brainstorm ways the church can serve those needs.

One idea is the formation of an outreach counseling services center specializing in addiction issues that will be based at the church. And this spring, Augustana plans to add a Sunday afternoon worship service that is "sensitive to the recovering community," Brown said. "Too often, while listening to Fifth Steps, I've heard people say, 'You don't know how hard it was for me to grab the handle of a church door.' It's not a place where they feel accepted or understood." The service will incorporate a number of the prayers that are part of the 12-Step program, as well as time for personal sharing, confession and forgiveness. "We want people to connect with each other, and to feel God's grace coming through the church," she said.