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“I knew about Tige’s addiction for 10 years,” she said. “I’d just keep catching him. But who do you tell in a pastor’s family?”

She remembers the public revelation as a time of relief.

“Everybody was devastated, and I was happy just to get some help,” she said.

Her husband, Tige, pronounced like “Tiger” without the “r,” began attending a recovery group. The Culbertsons joined another church together, as congregants. They stayed in Texas for a year longer, Sara Culbertson describing what felt like a “cloud hanging over us.”

Before leaving for Michigan in early 2009, Tige Culbertson worked as Realtor. When the Culbertsons settled in the mitten, he worked as a loan officer. The couple lives in Hemlock.

After meeting with church leaders, Culbertson received his call once again from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in late 2009. Interviewing for pastor positions didn’t go smoothly, though.

“We’d interview well, and we’d get to the point where I’d talk about what God had carried me through, and there were crickets on the other end,” he said.

In spring 2010, Culbertson told a leader in the Lutheran Church an idea for a new kind of church with a recovery focus and heard positive feedback. He worked to get funding from a number of Lutheran districts throughout Michigan, as well as from Messiah Lutheran Church, and “just about anybody and everyone Sara and I have met in our entire lives,” he said. At the first service, they had enough cash to operate for three months.

“Each month, God continued to cover the costs. We’re still underwritten by Messiah, but we’re looking for alternate means of income,” Tige Culbertson said.

In all, it’s been a way for him to bridge gaps with his congregants and share his story with them - an integral, disarming part of the church’s message.

“What I share I don’t share based on theory; I share based on experiences God has carried me through,” he said. “I’m the broken person who stands up front and says, ‘I know what it feels like to be the broken person who is full of shame and without hope.’”

For the Restoration Fellowship flock, that attitude can make all the difference.

“A lot of people go to church and put on their church face, you know what I mean?” asked Dave Hotopp, a Midland resident working to get his master’s degree in professional counseling from Central Michigan University.

A former pastor, he says he doesn’t struggle with addiction and attends because of the atmosphere.

“This place is so real. It’s very solid biblical teaching,” he said, “and at the same time it’s very loving and supportive.”

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