Celebrate Recovery’s Unity on the Frio

“They went into it half-hearted, just wanting to have a good time,” laughed Chuck Richardson, the ministry leader of Celebrate Recovery at PaulAnn Church in San Angelo, Texas. “I said, ‘Well, in order to have a good time, we have to do a few things.’” 

He was referring to the men and women who attended Celebrate Recovery’s most recent “Unity on the Frio” retreat in the Canyon, and who were initially reluctant participants in the group’s kitchen crew and clean-up teams. Richardson added, “But once we get down there, the hardness of the world gets out of their heads and their hearts, and they see the value of nature and beauty. They start to see the value of teamwork and coming together.” 

Learning to work with and appreciate others is an integral part of personal healing and the recovery process. Richardson looked to Ephesians 4:1-3 to guide their reflections. 

The San Angelo Celebrate Recovery community retreats to Linnet’s Wings each year so that they have a chance to truly relax, which leads to a greater openness to healing together. Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step program that focuses on healing from a wide list of “hurts, habits, and hang-ups,” including drug and alcohol abuse, like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Founded in 1991, Celebrate Recovery also seeks to help those recovering from sexual addiction and pornography, eating disorders, and abuse.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Ephesians 4:1-3

Since 2006, Richardson’s Celebrate Recovery ministry has met at PaulAnn Church, where 80-100 people show up every Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. to enjoy a good meal. Afterward, they attend the large group meeting to discuss subjects like making amends, forgiving others, or taking “personal inventory” to deal with past hurts. They then break into small groups to discuss the teaching and share their own struggles.

“Some of the folks call this church because we are Christ-centered and we have worship,” said Richardson, referring to the Thursday night gathering. “This is kind of like the first church they might be stepping into because they don’t have to dress up or clean up. They’re accepted the way they are.”

The acceptance and comfort that people experience on these Thursday nights they also experience in the Canyon—along with an added dose of fun. According to Richardson, the individuals who come down with him “love playing volleyball, and they love to kayak or canoe because they never have a chance to do that where they’re at. Some of them don’t get out of town at all.”

“About five years ago, I felt God tugging on my heart.”

Richardson became involved with Celebrate Recovery when PaulAnn Church opened its doors as a new location for the nation-wide program in 2006. “There were about 15-20 of us who had come out of dark places in our lives too, so we could relate,” Richardson said. After about six months, the program was seeing 30-50 individuals every week and now draws as many as 100 people each week.

“About five years ago, I felt God tugging on my heart. ‘Chuck, you need to retire and start doing this full time.’ I didn’t want to–I was scared,” Richardson said.

Now a full-time ministry leader, Richardson is all about inclusion. In fact, Fresh Start Ministries, a long-term, faith-based recovery home specifically designed for women and their children in San Angelo, has been joining the Canyon retreats every year. “Our weekend experience fills a void from childhood that most don’t even know is missing,” said Cecily Miller, director of Fresh Start Ministries.

“The clients we serve generally grew up in less than desirable conditions. Most come from long histories of abuse and poverty,” continued Miller. “Practically every person we have brought over the years has never been to any type of camp setting in their lifetime … we want them to encounter God during their time and experience his presence through the Word and through nature.”

Richardson hopes to open up the retreat to other San Angelo recovery groups, such as the Alcohol & Drug Awareness Center for the Concho Valley and Hopper House.

That’s why Celebrate Recovery will hold their retreat this year at Echo Valley, a much larger campsite than Linnet’s Wings. Planning for a new campsite has spurred on Richardson’s vision for uniting the many local recovery groups. “I don’t know if we could fill the 300 beds at Echo Valley, but gosh it would be cool if we did.”

Richardson wants to see even more men and women, who are trying to find new paths in life, get to experience times of quiet reflection like he witnessed on last year’s retreat. “There was something about that group of people. They would get up and spend the first hour, before we served breakfast, in their Bibles and writing in their journals. They were out there on the picnic tables, all really quiet. No talking at all,” he said. “And it was like, man, this is amazing. They’re really soaking it all in.”

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