As we light the candles of Advent I must tell you about a wonderful way the light of Christ powerfully pierces the darkness of drug and alcohol addiction. Meet Recovery Church (www.recovery.church), a ministry for people in recovery by people in recovery. Founded and led by Palm Beach Atlantic University alumnus Phil Dvorak, this ministry has become a movement, spreading across the country as God brings freedom and purpose to those in addiction – people like Chris Phillips.
Chris had come all the way from Washington State to enter a Palm Beach County treatment center. But he was more than skeptical in 2018 when the center van took him to the Recovery Church service in Lake Worth Beach. “I told them I didn’t want anything to do with Christianity.” The group at Recovery Church responded, “No problem. Just keep coming back.”
Phil Dvorak, who has traveled his own path of alcoholism and recovery, explained how this welcoming, “no judgment” attitude gives newcomers a supportive community and space to find their way. “They’re a part of our family,” Phil said. “They can belong before they believe and belong before they behave.”
So Chris became a part of that community, and as he worked through the Alcoholics Anonymous “12 steps” in his treatment center, he realized he was amidst people who were “not just sober, but happy and free.” His newfound friends at Recovery Church “were right there” when Chris “was softened up enough to let God in,” he said. “And once you let God in, Man! He does all the work.”
The way to stay sober
Today 46-year-old Chris is sober, living and working in the area and serving as a volunteer at Recovery Church. The way to stay sober, he has learned, is to help your fellow alcoholic or addict. He’s shared his story at Palm Beach Atlantic in classes taught by Dr. Philip Henry, professor of counseling. PBA’s master’s degree program in clinical mental health counseling has prepared many graduates to serve in treatment centers.
Phil Dvorak completed that program in 2003, and he recalls the professors “who just poured into us and invested in us.” He values how PBA faculty integrated their faith into their curriculum, and he made that method his own after he began working in the treatment field. He was working full time at a treatment center when the center director told him, “You should plant a church for addicts and alcoholics in the community.”
I don’t have time to plant a church, Phil thought. But with nudging from his boss and from a pastor friend, he took the lead to open the first Recovery Church. To his surprise, about 75 people turned out the first night, and after that, “it just exploded,” Phil said. “It kept growing and growing.”
Phil realized the new church was filling a gap between treatment centers and conventional churches. “If you’re in addiction and you walk into a church,” he said, “the natural response from the people who aren’t struggling the same way is to feel a little uncomfortable.” And if a person’s in recovery, but thinking about using drugs again, “in most churches he can’t be transparent and completely honest about his struggle.”
Come as you are: RAW
At Recovery Church, the transparency begins with the people on the stage leading worship, sharing their testimonies and teaching from the Scripture. Some wear a T-shirt that proclaims, COME AS YOU ARE – RAW, citing Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
A PBA photographer visited the Thursday evening service at Recovery Church in Lake Worth Beach, taking photos only of the people on the stage, but observing the heartfelt worship of the 130 or so men and women gathered. “By the way these people sing ‘Who breaks the power of sin and darkness,’” he said, “you can tell they’ve truly experienced that power.”
Recovery Church became Phil Dvorak’s full-time job, and recently the church hired its second full-time worker, Junior Saint-Val. Junior serves as a pastor and national coach as the ministry plants Recovery Churches in other areas. Recovering addicts and alcoholics who came to Palm Beach County for treatment have called for Recovery Churches to be planted when they returned to their distant homes. As a result, Recovery Church Movement now counts more than 1,000 people gathering each week across several states.
Junior and Phil hope to see Recovery Church operating in 30 locations by the end of 2021. God has worked in a remarkable way, they say. And Junior cites the gentle, humble leadership in the movement’s leader: “I’ve seen Pastor Phil, late at night, putting himself second, going out of his way to help alcoholics and addicts.”
I’ve not had the blessing of attending Recovery Church, but in my mind’s eye I can see Phil Dvorak putting an arm around the shoulder of a struggling brother in Christ. In the same way, I can see our counseling professor Philip Henry sharing his heart of compassion with students. God is good. And Jesus Christ does, indeed, break the power of sin and darkness.
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu) For more articles by Dr. Schwinn, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-debra-a-schwinn/