Open Arms in Delray

In 2007, the city of Delray Beach received the dubious honor of being named the drug recovery capital of the world. While city officials have done all they can to shed the name and the stigma associated with it, a local church plant has fully embraced this part of Delray that many would prefer to ignore. The Avenue Church (TAC) serves the Delray Beach recovery community through their Celebrate Recovery and Redemption ministries, as well as their welcoming outdoor church services.

Redemptive relationships
Head Pastor Casey Cleveland and Mission Pastor John O’Brien have a heart to serve people with addictions. Their mission is to build redemptive relationships. Their Celebrate Recovery group meets weekly to celebrate God’s healing power in members’ lives through the “8 Recovery Principles.” The group shares the experiences, strength and hope that result from accepting God’s grace in solving life’s problems.

For a more intensive journey into healing, TAC offers Redemption groups three to four times per year for those interested in venturing into the deep waters of God’s grace and truth. “Redemption is like Celebrate Recovery on steroids,” says O’Brien. The study uses the book Redemption by Mike Wilkerson, which compares recovery to the Exodus in the way that people “don’t make golden idols like the Israelites in the wilderness, but we do set up idols on our own desert road—idols like substance abuse, pornography, gluttony, and rage. And even those who don’t know the pain of actual slavery can feel enslaved to the fear and shame that follow sexual abuse or betrayal by a spouse.”

Church in the wild
The Avenue Church also holds outdoor services on big holidays at the Delray Center for the Arts. O’Brien described the experience as “incarnational” since it’s out in the open. “Spirituality is strong in Delray, but people are resistant to Jesus,” observes O’Brien. “We desire to build a culture where doubts about God can be shared openly and answers pursued passionately.”

In O’Brien’s words, God has been most glorified “either in getting to see people’s stories intersect with God’s story and Jesus or our opportunity to incarnate God’s love for people in the midst of their real-life struggles and circumstances. Two things are always happening: discipleship is taking place one-on-one and in the community and people are being introduced to God’s incredible love in the person and work of Jesus. Whether the latter embrace Christ or not, loving them well in Jesus’ name is our only proper response to having been loved by him first.” He highlights that other people do it better than him and that God pushes him out of the boat of his comfort zone.

Vision to serve the hurting
Cleveland was inspired to minister to people with addictions by Saul Kane, a licensed interventionist and recovery specialist deeply connected in South Florida. Cleveland overheard Kane’s conversation in a cafe about the “recovery business,” and was moved to strike up a conversation with Kane. “He proceeded to tell me his involvement in this community as one who is recovering himself and assisting others to do the same,” says Cleveland. Kane then invited Cleveland to attend one of his meetings and their fellowship developed from there.

“When Casey and I were at Spanish River [church in Boca Raton],” explains O’Brien, “he was the family life and small groups pastor. It was Casey who asked me to come to a halfway house with him.” O’Brien had been serving the community with Allison Good, Director of Women’s Ministry, when things started coming into place. Three years ago, Cleveland invited O’Brien to join him in planting a church in Delray – The Avenue Church.
“Delray is very unique and was voted America’s favorite small town,” says O’Brien. “There’s a lot of culture and outdoor life, food and hospitality.” The church’s association with the first mayor in town and the Chamber of Commerce has also provided many opportunities to serve.

Rooted in the gospel
O’Brien’s deepest desire is to witness the power of the gospel transform others. Like many people, he used to struggle with depression and anxiety. O’Brien grew up in a Christian household and was saved while in a Teen Challenge program when he was 16. He didn’t experience an immediate transformation, but he started to thirst for the Bible. O’Brien acknowledged that his need for change stemmed from a “lack of self-control, fear of man, and wanting to be accepted,” but his faith grew stronger. Today, as a pastor of a church with many years clean and sober, O’Brien loves to attend TAC’s Celebrate Recovery meetings every Monday.

If you are in the Delray area and are looking for a vibrant church that is committed to proclaiming the gospel and impacting the community, be sure to check out The Avenue Church.

The Avenue Church meets each week at the Delray Beach Community Center. For more information, visit theavenuechurchdelray.com. TAC’s Celebrate Recovery group meets at the Church of the Palms on Mondays at 7:00 p.m. Contact John for more information at 561-827-1655.

Sasha Richardson is a freelance writer and can be reached at sasharichard@yahoo.com.

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