A grubby, unappealing caterpillar is designed to one day become a beautiful butterfly. One of the most fascinating aspects of this journey is the struggle it goes through as it emerges from the cocoon. The great effort forces fluid into its wings, strengthening them for flight. Any attempt to make it easier for the butterfly by breaking open the cocoon will leave it unable to spread its wings, and unfit to fend for itself.
A butterfly is the logo for Fresh Start Recovery Programme, an unusual, not-for-profit, treatment programme for opiate addictions, started 16 years ago by my Dad. My husband Kevin-Neil is the senior chaplain, and for the past few years has been hosting a weekly open meeting which has shifted our view of what “church” can look like. Fresh Start Community is a Jesus-centred gathering of people from all walks of life. Some of them are recovering from serious substance abuse. Some are homeless. Some are trying to move out of lifestyles of crime and prostitution. Some have come to minister to “addicts”, but ended up staying and allowing those “addicts” to minister to them. Many of them could tell you life stories which would move you to tears, and leave you shaken. And each one of them is engaged in the struggle to spread their wings and take flight.
In most churches, ministry takes place from the front. The leader often carries the responsibility for the spiritual growth and well-being of the entire community. In Fresh Start Community, they meet in a circle, and ministry takes place side-by-side. The facilitator creates space for people to reflect, and think, and share their stories and insights with one another – allowing space to “struggle well” together as they emerge from the things which hold them back from their true design.
It is a great privilege to work with people in recovery. They are often more willing than the rest of us to be honest, to be vulnerable, to acknowledge their need for God and for others. The Bible tells us God is close to the broken hearted. He is near to the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, the ostracised and undervalued. It doesn’t matter how badly anyone has messed up – God is always willing to wipe the slate clean and give that person a “fresh start”. If we are prepared to walk alongside people on the path towards transformation, we might just end up being transformed ourselves.