Matt Peterson knows all too well how life can drive people away from church. And how the topic of addiction can feel taboo to many.
Peterson is hoping to change that. Which is why every Thursday since September, he has been at Ooltewah United Methodist Church to offer a free dinner at 5:30 p.m. to anyone interested. Afterward, he, along with others through the Recovery of Cokesbury initiative, invite the group to watch a live weekly video and then break off into small groups to discuss life's struggles.
"In church, it's like the elephant in the room," he said of addiction. But other struggles drive people away from the church as well, he said.
The product of what he calls "a very broken Christian home," he hopes to find others who may feel the same way, reaching out to them in a way he said may have been helpful in his own youth. That's how Peterson found himself at the helm of the Recovery at Ooltewah program, which is completely free and open to anyone suffering from addiction, loss or any other form of grief.
"You don't have to be a Christian, you don't have to believe in God, you can just come for dinner," said Peterson. "We just want people to get involved."
Drug addiction, sex addiction and grief stemming from the loss of a loved one or from other kinds of suffering are all topics Recovery at Ooltewah can offer assistance to help participants work through, Peterson said.
"I think our biggest obstacle is getting people through the door because of the church concept behind it," he said. "Yes, it's Christ-centered but it's a message that speaks to a lot of different areas of brokenness.
"Everyone [in the group] is welcoming and is very open. Everyone has experienced some sort of loss or hardship or brokenness. There is never any judgment cast and it can be as anonymous as you want it to be. Whether it's grief or loss or addiction, we focus on recovery."
For more information on OUMC's Recovery at Ooltewah, visit oumclive.org or visit the church at 6131 Relocation Way between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. any Thursday.
Free child care is available, and those interested are welcome to participate in part or all of the program.