- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) - Tige Culbertson, a medium-built pastor with a hint of gray creeping into his stubble, is speaking to the hushed congregation at Messiah Lutheran Church in Midland.

“What happens when we - when I - live in the past is I get chained to the past,” Culbertson says.

With the sleeves of his blue button-up shirt rolled up, he launches into the evening’s lesson, on one of the most famous phrases from Psalms: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For a group of recovering addicts, it’s a simple message.

“You are good,” said Culbertson, “not because of who you are or how you act, but you are good because you are a child of God.”

Restoration Fellowship, a Saturday evening worship group for people struggling with addiction, was founded in October 2011, after Culbertson’s own long journey in and out of church, according to The Saginaw News ( http://bit.ly/1dal8Yj ).

Operating in Messiah Lutheran Church in Midland, it works to make a safe place for its members, one where everyone, including the pastor, can openly share the past.

In the beginning, though, organizers were holding their breath.

“We really had no idea what to expect,” said Culbertson of the first service. “We planned for around 100, and we were hoping for more than 30.”

More than 70 people showed up, and the church-within-a-church has grown to host an average of roughly 120 people, with hot meals every Saturday before worship - part of what Culbertson described as a chance to build fellowship. Worshipers come from across the region.

“It’s a church plan that’s focused entirely on recovery ministry,” said Culbertson, noting the group’s calendar bases some of its lessons on the 12 steps of Narcotics Anonymous.

“People who are recovering from addiction, from abuse, from past pains, that’s what we focus on…Many of us in recovery find that we’re only as sick as the secrets we keep,” Culbertson said. “And when we start sharing those secrets, we experience the recovering and healing from them.”

When it comes to sharing, Culbertson leads by example.

Six years ago, while working as a pastor in San Antonio, the church discovered pornography on his office computer, leading to his dismissal and the loss of his call in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

His wife, Sara Culbertson, remembers the time leading up to the discovery painfully.

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