It happens everywhere. Drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and child sexual abuse exist in every social class, ethnic group, and age. The incidents are often silenced, hidden under a veil of guilt and shame. Recovery ministries seek to provide a sanctuary for victims to find safety, counsel and healing. For those called to this ministry, there are several issues Northeastern Seminary students and graduates have found essential as they are equipped to help others.
“The biggest issue recovery ministers deal with is that of paying attention to the critical need for anonymity and confidentiality,” says Greg Brotzman, M.Div. ‘06, of Celebrate Recovery, a program at Northgate Free Methodist Church in Batavia, N.Y. The ministry deals predominantly with alcohol and drug abuse and is led by a team of volunteer leaders. Brotzman has found that recovery occurs when people feel they are in a safe environment. This stems from a place where trust has been established and out of that trust people begin to release the pain that is behind their addictions. Consequently, “listening well is a critical skill necessary for ministry to those in recovery,” he states. The Seminary’s personal spiritual formation curriculum uniquely fosters these skills as a key element of the faith sharing experience.
In addition to listening, recovery takes time. One must be prepared to “be there for the long term, ready to listen and care, and [provide] a safe place where people can feel valued and respected,” counsels Brotzman. It can take years for recovery to actually take place in a life. During this time, there is often a “struggle with feelings of being used and abused after addiction gets the better of the one [you] are working with and [they] become disheartened and distant from helping,” shares Geri Metcalfe, MATL C24, who worked with Cornerstone Manor Women’s and Children’s Shelter and Men’s Center. “When walking alongside persons suffering from addiction, a readying of the heart is critical,” she advises. She also encourages, “we must remember we do not do the heart work; God does!”
Heart work occurs, to be sure. Many working in recovery ministry have themselves “been victimized as children in domestic violence and child sexual abuse,” shares D.J. Robinson, M.Div. C23, an ordained elder at Elim who founded T.A.M.A.R., Theological Awareness Ministry for Abuse Recovery. She started the ministry during her field education at the Seminary, to equip pastors and laity with preventative care training to effectively address and respond to victims and survivors of domestic violence and child sexual abuse. Among the people she has worked with, she has found it common for victims who have found healing to want to help others.
“God is God of the oppressed,” emphasizes Robinson and this work of hearing, listening, encouraging, and defending is the work of recovery ministries.
Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.
Northeastern Seminary is committed to the personal and spiritual growth of every seminarian. Through the innovative and integrative Personal and Spiritual Formation curriculum, students are exposed to the rich resources and disciplines of formative Christian spirituality. We affirm that the indispensable foundation for Christian ministry is a vital relationship with God through Christ, and so we seek to provide a nurturing community in which genuine Christian faith can deepen and thrive.
So how did it turn out for the apprehensive student journeying through faith sharing?
“Thanks to our facilitator who was patient and accepting, and the blessing of God, we learned to let our guard down. We felt more at ease with each other and most importantly with ourselves. We shared deeper and more intimate parts of ourselves, as with the grace and love of God, our nervousness was replaced with understanding, trust, and care for one another. Personally, I started looking forward to faith sharing because I was able to learn not only new things about myself, but I also started to examine in a new light some old beliefs, patterns and behaviors. I could see a change in group members who were also sharing more intimately as a safe environment and certain confidentiality had been established. The work in ourselves had begun under the guidance and direction of God.”
Click here if you would like to learn more about the Spiritual Formation curriculum at Northeastern Seminary.
Faith sharing, according to Dr. Rebecca Letterman, associate professor of spiritual formation, serves as a counterbalance to our culture of hurry, efficiency, and the “fix it now” and “do it yourself” syndromes—a balance that enables us to live at the “pace of grace.” Suzanne Pearson (’09) found faith-sharing groups profoundly counter-cultural in that, “it forces one to listen to another without the violence of interjecting one’s own personal experiences and prejudices on another’s experience.” Baiba Peelle (’07) concurs, “When each person is allowed to share without commentary from the others, the group becomes a safe, accepting, non-judgmental place where differences are not divisive but become part of the whole community.”
Developing this discipline helps the seminarian begin to cut through the clutter of voices competing for time and attention to learn to discern the voice of God. Darlene Mieney (‘09) notes that group facilitators are there to help students listen to God rather than ask for opinions from others. For Gloria Roorda (‘02) “the experience allows God to touch something deep in us that up to that point we were unaware needed touching.”
Central to faith sharing is profound respect for the individual, the power of listening to what is going on internally, and the power of God to work in silence. There is a constant climate of invitation to notice and respond to what God is doing or continuing to do in one’s life—paying attention to one’s ordinary experiences. This engenders the understanding that God is active and able to work in profound and life-changing ways.
Still, even with all the fruit that may be cultivated through faith sharing it remains a challenge for some. Letterman observes that because of its focus on listening, it constrains verbal responses to others, a distinct difficulty for people who base much of their learning and ministry on words. And when students expect that the group exists for support, problem solving, or conversation, facilitator Mary Ann Fackelman suggests a readjustment take place before they can actively and accurately engage in the process.
Read Part One here.
The student was apprehensive, reluctant to fully engage. After all, those experiences and feelings he was asked to share were intimate—they belonged to him. The nervousness was palpable among the small group of students as they met for the first time. Thus, the faith-sharing process at Northeastern Seminary begins.
This process, a central element of the personal and spiritual formation program, is described by Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation Rebecca Letterman (‘08) as an intentional place and space in which students take time to reflect on moments of significance in their lives. It provides a way for students to slow down enough to perceive God at work in themselves and others. They experience the hospitality of interested listening and also have the opportunity to learn to listen deeply to others. In this setting students discover they are not alone; others struggle with similar things in their lives and ministries. And it provides experiential learning of the theological truth: "God is at work in the world—sometimes even without me!"
The intentional growth reflection sessions are led by a certified spiritual director, most often alumni of the program. Graduates recall that the faith-sharing experience, with its commitment to observing silence and creating spiritual and emotional space, has a counterbalancing effect as it allows for synthesizing data gathered in the classroom. As Suzanne Pearson (‘09) describes, “It offers space and time … for spiritual reflection on the massive volumes of academic material one is learning and to listen for the living word of God.” John Miller (‘04) agrees, “It moves the ‘information’ into the ‘formation’ of the person,” while Steve Dunmire (‘05) notes appreciation for the process: “Especially in hindsight, I think it’s one of the areas where Northeastern made my seminary years a time of spiritual growth, not just learning.”
Read Part Two.