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A place for recovery: Fargo church unique in mission of reaching out to those in recovery

With hands tightly clasped, the Recovery Worship congregation forms a winding circle around the sanctuary of Fargo's Crossroads while reciting the Lord's Prayer.

Holding hands to make a circle

With hands tightly clasped, the Recovery Worship congregation forms a winding circle around the sanctuary of Fargo's Crossroads while reciting the Lord's Prayer.

The prayer is a familiar closing for these parishioners; it's how they end their 12-step meetings.

That's the common bond among these worshippers - they are in recovery from addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.

They describe the worship as an integral part of their recovery. It's a place where they've found spirituality and camaraderie, where they feel welcomed and accepted.

Parishioners say they're excited to go to church, rather than attending out of obligation.


"It renewed and restored a hope in me I had long since lost," says Leslie Pray-Storley, who's attend Recovery Worship for 15 months. "I've searched long and hard for many years. This is my spiritual home.

"This place saved my life."

The church is approaching its third anniversary this month. Members long for a building of their own - they currently rent space from Olivet Lutheran Church. And they're preparing for the August retirement of their pastor - a man who came back from a heart attack to create Recovery Worship, and spent the past five days on a 35-foot lift to raise money for his ministries.

The Rev. Paul Brunsberg served as director for Lost and Found Ministry - an addictions ministry in Moorhead that helps with interventions and boasts an extensive resource library - from 1987 until a severe heart attack in 2000.

In two years, his heart healed, and he was able to return to his calling.

Brunsberg, an ordained Lutheran pastor, started Recovery Worship in hopes of filling a gap, to reach a population that wasn't being served.

He knew a lot of people in recovery didn't go to church. Often they weren't comfortable there, or previously had bad experiences with religion.

But recovery programs insist that belief in a higher power is necessary to achieve sobriety.


"They have this hunger for spirituality," he says. "I've never preached to a more attentive group in my entire life."

Brunsberg, now 64, strove to create a casual, Christian environment. Known to parishioners as Pastor Paul, he doesn't wear a vestment. Last Sunday, he donned a blue sweater and slacks.

At Crossroads, 2525 17th Ave. S., members greet each other warmly with hugs and handshakes. Parishioners get up in the middle of the service to get a second cup of coffee or a cookie.

About 150 people fill the sanctuary every Sunday, often flowing into the fellowship hall.

Brunsberg rings a bell to assemble the congregation.

"Calling all sheep, calling all sheep," he yells out.

"Baa!" one man responds playfully.

"Come on, Leslie, Faye, let's get going," Brunsberg calls to two women talking in the back. They wave off his rebuke with equal lightheartedness.


After all, once gathered, the first rite of worship is greeting one another.

Then, they open with a familiar recitation - the Serenity Prayer, said at the beginning of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step meetings.

Brunsberg has described the worship like a meeting with music. He's careful to refer to them as songs, not hymns.

Churchgoers present medallions marking sobriety anniversaries to friends and family. Time is set aside for sharing - parishioners raise their hands and are handed a wireless microphone to talk about the day's topic.

What in any other church may be called a litany is a conversation with God. They acknowledge sorrow and pain, and ask God to give them the strength to surrender.

Scripture readings are chosen to be relevant to the crowd. Brunsberg's sermons reinforce the messages of freedom, hope and forgiveness.

"God doesn't look upon any of us, even when we do wrong, as failures. He still looks at us as precious and important," he said last Sunday.

Communion is held after the service, because it tends to run long otherwise. Grape juice is used, not wine.


Brunsberg knows of a few other recovery churches, including churches in St. Paul and Detroit. He would like to see Recovery Worship in other communities.

"I hope this is a pilot thing that can be duplicated elsewhere," he says.

Mary Przymus of Fargo has been attending Recovery Worship since it started with only 25 people. She's now part of the church's praise choir.

"From the very first service, I knew that's where I belonged, that's where I was going to stay," she says. "It's been beautiful to see it grow."

Przymus, who describes herself as a chronic relapser, says she is always accepted, supported and prayed for.

"I'm supported and encouraged in everything I do, not just in recovery but everything," she says. "No matter what happens I can come back, and that has meant the world to me."

On Wednesday, Przymus was arrested for driving under the influence.

Though 35 feet in the air Thursday, Brunsberg knew of the arrest.


"People who struggle, I think we just try to be there for them, look at what did or didn't you do, and let's start over from today," the pastor said. "We're really dealing with something life and death."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

If you go

What: Recovery Worship

When: 10 a.m. Sundays

Where: Crossroads, 2525 17th Ave. S., Fargo

Info: Recovering persons in any 12-step program are welcome. For more information, call (218) 287-4878.


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