By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
In so many ways, the church is there to celebrate the high points in our lives. When we are young, we are christened or baptized. Some of us are even confirmed in the church in our early teens. Ideally, the church leads us to fulfillment in our professional and personal relationships, and sooner or later if all goes according to plan, the church joins us in marriage with the one we love.
What’s that saying about best-laid plans?
“We’d all like to believe in fairy tales, but the truth is marriage – and life – is tough,” said Bonnie Sisco, director of Rebuilding Blocks of Recovery, a divorce recovery workshop hosted by the First United Methodist Church of Tupelo.
The workshop gives divorcees a safe place to deal with their emotions and gain perspective through the support of others in their situation. Over 11 weeks, the workshop addresses 10 different topics: denial, grief, anger, love, identity protection, transitions, trust, self-worth and relationships, sexuality, and celebration.
“We work through the negative first, then start the healing. Some come to us numb, some hurt, some mad, but we try to help them know they can be OK and move foward,” she said.
In the past, divorce came with a certain stigma, Sisco said, but now it seems to be everywhere. She said in some way, everyone has been affected by divorce. In her time with the workshop, she’s seen all types of people walk through her door.
“You’d think after 30 years of marriage, a couple would be past the point of divorce, but often that’s not the case,” she said. “We used to have more females, but in recent years we’ve had more men coming.”
The program started 22 years ago, when an associate pastor at FUMC went through a divorce and found a lack of support in the church.
“At the Methodist church our motto is ‘open hearts, doors, and minds.’ We’re supposed to be a local beacon and reach out to the whole person in their failures just as much as their successes,” Sisco said.
Sisco said usually 15 to 25 people enroll in the workshop. After a supper of fellowship, a speaker addresses the group on the topic of the week before participants break into small group discussions. Small groups are led by volunteers who have achieved success through the workshop.
“It helps to have someone who has been there and done that to tell you, ‘you will survive,'” Sisco said.
These leaders are very committed to the workshop, some driving from as far away as Selmer, Tenn.
“The volunteers have a sense of purpose and usefulness. It blesses them to help others,” she said.
Sisco said recovering from divorce alone, outside of a workshop setting was possible, but very difficult. Divorced people often bring the same baggage to their next relationship.
“When you don’t have anyone to talk to, your thoughts go around and around in your head, but to speak them releases their control over you,” she said. “It helps to hear that others have problems, too.”
Sisco has observed that people often stray from the church after divorce because they feel isolated or scared their fellow church-goers will reject them.
“People know the workshop is faith-based. We don’t downplay the faith aspect, but we don’t push it on them either,” she said. “Our weekly speakers come from all different denominations and they aren’t just going through the motions. They really care, and that’s what the church is supposed to do.”
For those suffering from addiction, Celebrate Recovery offers a Christ-based 12-step program “for any hurt, habit, or hang-up.”
By Celebrate Recovery’s definition, a hurt refers to an emotional reaction to another person or situation (abuse, abandonment, codependency, etc.), a habit refers to an addiction (drugs, food, gambling, sex, shopping, etc.), and a hang-up is a negative mental attitude to cope with others and adversity (anger, depression, fear, etc.).
Tupelo resident Susan Naron serves as the state representative for Celebrate Recovery in Mississippi, and is a graduate of the program. She said Celebrate Recovery follows the format of Alcoholics Anonymous but incorporates Christ as the backbone, drawing heavily from the Sermon on the Mount.
“I’ve seen first hand where I will get me without Christ,” she said. “God makes something out of our broken lives. I’ve gained so much since I got sober.”
Like First Methodist’s divorce workshop, Celebrate Recovery begins with a meal, followed by a large-group meeting and finally small-group conversations, led by those who have found success through the program.
“When we get on our feet, we give back to the program by sponsoring other members,” Naron said. “We can relate, and share our lives then and now.”
Naron said no one is ever completely cured of an addiction and often surface issues like alcoholism and codependency are symptoms of deeply rooted personal issues or experiences. These issues cannot be undone, but self-exploration in the small-group setting helps members come to terms with the root causes of their behavior. Once they come to truly understand their turmoil, they can work through how to deal with it and move forward. Coming to know others – and Christ – in the program provides people with a safety net, a support system in times of vulnerability.
“No one is asking anyone to be perfect. Group members are there to support one another, not ‘fix’ them,” she said. “God loves us exactly where we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay there.”
The program began in Lake Forest, Calif., in 1991, but was brought to West Jackson Street Baptist Church in 2005 and to NorthStar Church in 2012. They meet weekly year round. According to Naron, over 700,000 people have gone through the program, and Celebrate Recovery has 20 branches in Mississippi.
Rebuilding Blocks of Recovery divorce workshop opens for registration Monday. The program will meet each Monday night from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Rebuilding Blocks also offers a children’s divorce counseling program called “Broken Rainbows” for children in 1st through 8th grade. Those interested may contact Bonnie Sisco at the First United Methodist Church in Tupelo at (662) 690-8100.
Celebrate Recovery meets weekly in Northeast Mississippi at the following locations and times:
– Fellowship Baptist Church, Starkville, 6:45 p.m. Tuesday. Contact: Jean Bryan-Berry, (662) 320-9988.
– West Jackson Street Baptist Church, Tupelo, 7 p.m. Friday. Contact: Tonya Joslin, (662) 842-7875.
– NorthStar Church, Saltillo, 6 p.m. Saturday. Contact: Eric Garner, (662) 401-1317, (662) 869-7778.