Recovery and Faith Formation on the MarginsEmail This Share This Tweet This
by Rev. Melissa Maher, Lead Pastor, as told to TMF
Located in Spring Branch in West Houston, Mercy Street is an alternative church community that is transforming what the church and its ministries can look like. Our church is for people who have walked away from the church or have been wounded by the church. We aim to create a safe harbor of hope and transformation, so all may experience the radical grace of God. Many of our members are on a road of recovery, either from a bad church experience, a substance use disorder or a life crisis.
TMF Grants Ministry helps us contribute to the growing research that shows that spirituality can positively affect long-term sobriety and recovery. TMF’s partnership is helping us deepen our relationship with Santa Maria Hostel, Texas’ largest multi-site residential and outpatient substance use disorder treatment center and one of a very few to provide a comprehensive continuum for pregnant and parenting women and their children. The result is that we offer women ways to grow their faith and spirituality while they recover, helping them develop a strong foundation, as well as modes and attributes of resilience.
What I love about TMF is how they are not afraid to be pioneers about what the church needs to look like in the 21st century. That is the creative spirit that launched Mercy Street. Our church got its start in 1997 after Chapelwood UMC Pastor Jim Jackson invited Matt Russell to join the staff. Fresh out of Fuller Seminary, Matt wanted to understand why people were either leaving the church or not turning to the church for community and spiritual development. So, he started having coffee with individuals, then small groups. In nine months, there were 100 people gathering for coffee. It was a prayer moment. God starts where you are, and sometimes it is with coffee and cookies.
Years later, mercy and transformation are at work at Mercy Street. Two-thirds of our congregation participate in a 12-step recovery program, and all are in “recovery” from a spiritual or life crisis which altered their relationship with God and took them on a journey of brokenness to wholeness. So, we are a little bit different from most traditional churches.
Twenty-one years ago, we established a partnership with Santa Maria Hostel. While we began with transportation and support, we are growing into a larger role in their faith formation as our ministry grows. We have a waiting list for volunteers who want to help. Once people get out of treatment, they often go back to volunteer. This partnership between a church and a nonprofit organization means we are flipping the traditional idea of who is the teacher and who is the learner. We are learning a lot from women in treatment and how they found hope.
Our relationship with Santa Maria Hostel has deepened over the past four years thanks to the leadership of Betsie McClimans, Mercy Street Community Care Program Director. We are providing art classes around healing and self-care hosted by our volunteers. When creativity comes into the mix, there’s this conversation about healing and spirituality that takes place. It reminds me of the message the Apostle Paul shared in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 about how we are these fragile clay jars that carry a beautiful treasure. We give women opportunities to deepen a relationship with God, to themselves and others. The root of addiction is trauma, always. But, our relationship with Christ can bear the weight of trauma. And it doesn’t end there.
TMF’s investment in Mercy Street and the women at Santa Maria Hostel helps us hold this “middle space” with recovery on the margins. We ask women where they are with their spirituality, so we can track their spiritual journey. We want to better understand how spirituality affects long-term recovery.
Outreach is a way for the church to make a difference. Mercy Street has taught me about a new sense of hospitality and the spiritual gift of resilience as we walk alongside women and men in recovery. The intersection of spirituality and recovery is fragile, messy and faith forming. This beautiful collision is where faith blooms. Through grief, shame and trauma we help one another heal. All the barriers are down. We don’t need to put on masks.
Envisioning the future, we see coming alongside other churches that are seeking to share mercy. This sort of outreach is a way you can make a difference and keeps your church grounded. We burn through the barriers so there is a way for God to come in. In the midst of the hard questions, God is showing up and lives are transformed. Being resurrected from your worst days gives hope that God’s not done with your story yet. While we are fragile, like those clay jars, we are incredibly resilient.