Celebrate Recovery (CR) is a Christ-centered 12-step program that originated at Saddleback Church, Rick Warren's church in Southern California back in the early 1990s. It was the brain child of Warren and one of his flock, John Baker. It is now in thousands of churches worldwide.
My involvement with CR began in April, 2010. A friend of mine was the ministry leader of a new CR program at Northland, the church I'd attended for many years. I ran into her at one Sunday night service and asked what she'd been up to. She mentioned her involvement in CR. We're both licensed professional counselors, and the thought occurred that CR might be a good resource for my clients. All I really knew about CR was that it had something to do with addictions. Little did I know that it was about far more than just addictions and that my initial curiosity would eventually lead to it becoming a major part of my life.
I attended that first Friday evening out of curiosity, but I was immediately captured by what I experienced. There were about 50 or 60 folks present, and I ran into a couple people I knew. At that point CR at Northland had been going for about six months. I was struck by the skill and enthusiasm of the worship band, and the warmth in the room was palpable.
Every newbie attends a one time orientation group their first week. The following week I attended the men's small sharing group for men with codependency issues. I chose that small group as I felt that my addictions were well behind me, even tho I'd never really thought about me being particularly codependent. The other choices besides the chemical addiction group were codependency, anger and sex/porn addiction.
Pretty much every CR meeting unfolds in the same fashion. There is a 45-60 min time of food and fellowship that precedes the formal meeting. The hour long big meeting follows and includes worship and either a teaching on the traditional12-steps or the eight principles of CR. The teachings alternate weekly with a testimony from a member who's life has been changed by their commitment to following Jesus. After the big meeting there is the small group sharing meetings that are gender specific and problem specific. Smaller CRs will usually just have addiction and codep groups. Larger programs will have more specialized groups such as a men's anger group or a women's abuse group or overeating group. Following the small groups there is Solid Rock Café, another 15-30 min time of coffee, cookies and socialization.
Nearly nine years later I now attend two different CRs. I still go to Northland most Friday nites, but I also attend CR at CrossLife in Oviedo on Thursday evenings.. At CrossLife I'm one of the leadership team. Typically, the attendance at CrossLife is 20 to 25, whereas at Northland it is 75 or more.
Two highlights of my CR involvement were attending the CR Summit at Saddleback in 2011, and two mission trips to NE Scotland in 2011 and 2012. A team from CR stayed at Sunnybrae, a drug rehab near Aberdeen, for 10-days and taught the residents and staff CR principles, as well as speaking at several area churches.
I believe very strongly in the confessional aspect of CR's small group sharing. Scripturally, it is based on James 5:16, "Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." Over the past nine years I have seen this model facilitate considerable healing. One of the ground rules is that you can only talk about yourself. Participants make "I statements" and listen. We are unburdened by sharing our issues and then we learn from observation of other's struggles. The facilitator does not play therapist; they're present only to see that the guidelines are followed.
Typically, men do not share their faults and insecurities with other men. As part of the male code of strong and silent, men rarely share their dirty laundry -- except in CR they do. Wounds and problems not aired in The Light do not heal. God forgives, but the healing occurs in the acceptance of our fellow companions on this journey, and the hour of sharing our struggles and victories is sweet respite from our typically hectic and stressful weeks.
I have experienced more spirituality, fellowship, and authentic worship in Celebrate Recovery meetings than in pretty much any Christian setting outside of a home church meeting. Having it occur on a Friday evening at the end of a hectic week kind of echoes a Jewish Shabbat. A Shabbat is a family celebration and CR is a family -- a large and dysfunctional one, but a family nevertheless.