Wil Cantrell (’01) describes his life purpose as "to grow closer to Christ, to live more and more in the ways of His Kingdom, and to help others do the same."
As pastor of the Lebanon Memorial United Methodist Church since 2010, Cantrell entered his new post asking a few questions: What are the greatest needs in our community, and how is God calling us to meet these needs?
In speaking with families and community leaders throughout Russell Co., Va, he learned that there was almost universal agreement that substance abuse and addiction is the greatest issue facing the community. In fact, he found most of the other needs like extreme poverty, unstable family living conditions, food insecurity, child abuse, poor performance in school, and economic decline all stemmed to a significant degree from substance abuse problems.
“As a pastor, I see the problems people face in this community. And although we don’t like to talk about it, addiction to drugs and alcohol is at the top of the list,” said Wil Cantrell, pastor of Lebanon Memorial United Methodist Church. “We think it’s time to face the problem. We’re offering people who want to recover from all forms of addiction a program that will actually help them accomplish that,” he added.
Lebanon Memorial United Methodist Church responded to these needs by launching the Recovery at Lebanon ministry in October 2012. The weekly event is held Thursday nights and is based around the principles of love, inspiration and transformation.
The program offers a free dinner that allows those in attendance to spend time with others in a nonjudgmental environment. This love creates the safety necessary to accept the challenge of being vulnerable and allowing God to deal with underlying issues that keep people in addiction and compulsive behavior, Cantrell said.
The meal is followed by a celebration service that features contemporary praise music and a message based in scripture and supplemented by a focus on the 12 steps toward addiction recovery.
“The most important thing I do on Thursday nights is hug and hang out with people,” Cantrell said. “I don’t have to overtly challenge or talk tough to people. Jesus and the twelve steps challenge people plenty. My job is to love people and help create an environment where they have the safety to respond to Jesus’ challenge.”
Less than a year after launching the program, Lebanon Memorial averages approximately 100 people in attendance each Thursday night, making Recovery at Lebanon one of the largest church-based recovery ministries in Virginia.
“I truly believe Recovery at Lebanon is the most significant thing that has happened for the recovery community in Russell County as far as I can remember,” said Russell Co., Va. sheriff Steve Dye.
The Recovery at Lebanon ministry has teamed up with Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., a church with a decade of experience with large-scale recovery ministry.
Lebanon United Methodist Church has also partnered with another local church, the Lebanon Community Fellowship, to provide a worship band and servant leaders. Their pastor, Jeff Williams, actively participates and promotes the ministry.
Recovery at Lebanon considers Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon strong partners in the work of recovery in their community.
Cantrell says that future goals of the Recovery at Lebanon program include seeing the death rate from drug overdose, the number of DUI arrests, and the number of children living in unstable home situations decrease dramatically. He also hopes to help other churches in Southwest Virginia launch similar ministries.
“Lots of people say to me that they think that Recovery at Lebanon is a very risky ministry that must demand a lot of courage. I tell them, ‘Recovery at Lebanon is fun! It’s just a bunch of humble people committed to loving each other and encouraging one another to seek out how God wants to change their lives. What’s more fun than that!’”