October 14, 2012 was a milestone event for the church and community served by the Safe Harbour Recovery Ministry of Bay Harbour United Methodist Church in League City, Texas. The church’s fifth annual Recovery Sunday featured a speaker who had formerly served on the church’s staff even as she became addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. Speaking with courage and integrity to some 400 persons in three worship services, she described her struggle, her surrender and her five years of sobriety, captivating the listeners and marking the most powerful Recovery Sunday event the team can remember.
After thanking the visiting speaker, a Safe Harbour team member in long-term recovery led a time of invitation for others to come forward to stand with them. First came the Safe Harbour team along with their family member, then others in recovery – both members and visitors – who were willing to stand at the front of the church. The energy in the worship center was palpable as men and women called out personal milestones of recovery – 37 years, 25 years, nine years, two and one-half years – repeated into the microphone so the congregation could acknowledge and celebrate with them. The final invitation asked those present to stand as a symbol of their willingness to support the efforts of the Safe Harbour team toward education, prevention and early intervention relating to alcoholism and other addictions.
Since trained by Faith Partners in 2007, the Safe Harbour team has averaged ten to twelve members, including therapists, addiction professionals, many family members of alcoholics and addicts, and youth. Asked about its ongoing success, the team first credits the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit, followed by the essential, dedicated support of Senior Pastor John Newsome, who speaks of addiction-related problems in his sermons and prayers throughout the year.
Another vital element of the team’s effectiveness is the participation of team members on Recovery Sunday. “I believe that our willingness to speak out about our own lives and how alcoholism and addiction have affected us and our families gives our congregation permission to become more forthcoming about their own problems,” says Don Oden who, with his wife Margie, facilitate the Safe Harbour team. In previous years, some Recovery Sundays have included team members’ brief verbal testimonies of five to ten minutes, while other years have featured “cardboard testimonies” in which men, women and youth have stood silently before the church holding hand-lettered signs that speak of their recovery and God’s grace. Besides the pastor’s support, the music ministry is a key element, with music specially selected to highlight the message of God’s grace.
“It’s hard for me to articulate what I was feeling during the service on Recovery Sunday,” wrote one new church member in an email to the team after this year’s event. “It’s rare to see such honesty and openness towards recovery and 12 step work in a church setting. It gave my heart great joy knowing the church I’m a member of acknowledges recovery and offers a place where people can find a solution. It was simply the most beautiful hour I have ever witnessed in a church service. It’s a blessing to know I am not alone.” She and her husband, both in recovery, have joined the Safe Harbour team. Another woman who has been leading a women’s Bible study at Bay Harbour found herself on Recovery Sunday seated next to a visiting friend from her Alcoholics Anonymous group.
When recovering persons were invited to come forward, her friend stood up to answer the call and she froze with fear. “But I finally said to myself, be proud of what you’ve done! So I got up in front of a packed church and revealed that, yes, even a Bible study teacher can be an alcoholic and survive it. I never thought I would be proud of being a sober drunk, but I was that day!” She, too, has become a member of the Safe Harbour team. As is typical for many church settings, the Safe Harbour team most often serves family members, but has also helped those suffering from alcoholism and addictions into recovery by connecting them with local 12 step meetings, even taking them or meeting them at their first meeting. That individual’s team contact continues to provide ongoing support and encouragement, keeping identities confidential even among team members. It is totally up to recovering persons if and when they feel comfortable revealing their struggles either in an annual Recovery Sunday service or in any other church setting, such as small study groups.
Currently the Safe Harbour team sees a growing edge in more intensive work with the thriving youth program at the church. In 2008, Bay Harbour and the Safe Harbour Team received a Community Champion award from the Bay Area Alliance for Youth and Families, an organization that unites more than 60 community resources in efforts directed toward the prevention of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use among young persons. But there are always new generations of young people growing up.
Safe Harbour Team Member