Online Recovery Church

11 September 2023

An online church service set up to support people living with addiction during COVID has proved so successful that it has continued from strength to strength.

Tracey Hume, a Deacon from Newcastle, had been attending a 12-step meeting herself for six months when lockdown began. For her and the others who were supported by the fellowship meetings, this brought a sudden end to their close-knit community with the fear of relapsing a worry for many.

Although some aspects of the meetings were easy to move online, Tracey was concerned about those who were no longer receiving the spiritual support they needed. 

Being in recovery herself, Tracey decided to offer a 20-minute service, online, once a week with a brief reflection featuring prayers from the 12-step programme around which the recovery and support is based.

The online services were eagerly welcomed by the community and, when the first lockdown officially came to an end, everyone wanted them to continue.  The services have now become a permanent fixture, supported by the Newcastle Methodist District.

The first online meetings began with those local to the northeast who had attended the physical meeting, but since then people from the south coast, London, Ireland and Scotland have joined.

Recovery Church is not a replacement for the twelve-step meetings. It is a complementary and accessible religious service.

“I was very mindful that I had people who were going to come along who had either no faith, or are Christian, but both seeking a higher power,” said Tracey. “Because part of the strength of the 12-step programme is that you are not told who your higher power is, it’s a journey of discovery. The way we've evolved is to use the language people already use. So we do use God, but also use higher power. We put the two together so that everybody feels comfortable. We make it clear at the beginning of the service that we will use the term God but they can use language which is helpful to them.”

“People feel they can be more honest online, and maybe that's because there is that context of worship as a brave and safe space.”

The online experience reflects the reality of an in-person meeting confirms Tracey, “On the screen there's the equality you’ll find at any Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting. There are no big personalities or leaders in the room. Everybody is the same size on screen and there is no sense of hierarchy. 

“The online meeting is a safe space, we can control who can come in, so it's not a public act of worship in a building that anybody can walk into. I've been working with our regional safeguarding officer to ensure that we are safeguarding compliant while maintaining anonymity.”

“Having a community that we can connect with keeps us accountable. It helps us to be honest about how we are feeling. Reaching out and sharing a liturgy and ritual helps us to make better choices; ‘This is the space where I am going to come and be grateful. This is the place where I'll come and be honest. This is the place where I'll confess, where I've messed up, where I've hurt others, where we learn together and where we hold people in our hearts.’ It's something very physical and tangible, even though it's online.”

“It's the prayer and the mutual support, the encouragement and laughter that continues onto our private social media pages and the WhatsApp group we share during the week.

“We do have people who relapse but we are finding that these relapses are shorter and they get back to the programme quicker because they reach out straight away. People can be open and honest about the most vulnerable things they are experiencing and not fear judgement.

“We share resources to help reflection such as music and poetry that talk about issues that relate to how we process addiction and emotional pain.

“Around 15 is the maximum number we can really minister to as any more and it stops being the place where everybody can share and it ceases to provide the experience everyon needs. Breakout rooms don’t work because communities are about everybody hearing everything. If we're going into breakout rooms, we miss really important information about what's happening in somebody's life that informs what happens in WhatsApp during the week.

“Being a member of the community myself, it’s authentic that I share within those services just like everyone else does. It's about being with people, not doing something to them.. That's why we've always said to anybody who's involved in Recovery Church, in whatever capacity, has to be a person with lived experience of addiction.

“There's a quote that says the opposite of addiction is not recovery, the opposite of addiction is connection because addiction tries to isolate you.”

We all need to learn more about digital - whether it’s making online church part of our Sunday services or building relationships and community online, to how to be our authentic on our social media? We all need to explore faith in the digital era! You can join together with Methodists from all over Britain for our Exploring Digital online conference on Saturday 30th September.  Learn from key individuals who've mastered the digital world on how to connect and share the Gospel online. The event will feature insightful keynotes, group discussions and an expert panel. Details and booking here