A first step: Church for recovering addicts and ‘normals’ finds a new home

WINCHESTER — For four years, Brad Hill has given his sermons in the back room of a bar in Winchester — an odd place for a pastor who spends much of his time leading addicts toward recovery and whose congregation is half-filled with recovering addicts.

But Brewbaker’s Restaurant on Loudoun Street has become too small for a congregation that has grown from 30 or 40 people when it started to a membership that brings around 300 people to church on Sundays.

“We’ve blown up, we really have,” Hill said. “And I mean, we needed a bigger building.”

Starting on April 1, the senior pastor at Grace Downtown of Winchester will be preaching at 35 E. Jubal Early Drive in a facility large enough for a children’s ministry, a nursery and a growing membership.

The new facility, Hill said, came as a bit of luck. A Pentecostal church disbanded, he said, and was looking for a new church to take its place.

Two businesses offered full price for the building, he said. That cost was more than Grace Downtown of Winchester was able to pay.

“But they really wanted a church,” Hill said.

Eventually, My Grace Downtown of Winchester paid a full year’s rent at $65,000.

For Hill, the new building is part of a process of rebuilding his life after an addiction left him with next to nothing — and of helping addicts recover from their addictions.

Hill came to Winchester via Virginia Beach, where he was a pastor preaching to a congregation of around 1,500 people. Addictions to alcohol and other drugs left Hill homeless, out of a job and without friends in Virginia Beach.

“Everybody abandoned me,” he said. “I had a church of 1,500 people and everyone just ran from me. And so, I didn’t have any friends, my family had abandoned me as well.”

But he did have one friend in Winchester who was willing to let him stay at his house, on the condition that Hill got a job, entered a recovery program and kept away from drugs and alcohol.

So Hill came to Winchester in 2012 with three bags of clothes and an old green car and got a job at a call center.

Eventually, someone who learned of his past job as a pastor asked him to lead a three-person bible study.

“Those three people changed my life,” Hill said.

Since then, Hill has become the pastor at Grace Downtown of Winchester, leading a church that has devoted itself to helping others like him.

At the new facility, and at Brewbaker’s, the church has been a home for recovery groups.

Hill gives one-on-one counseling to people struggling with addiction and said he hopes that the new facility will hold recovery meetings at least once a day. He said that the recovery group he’s a member of, Narcotics Anonymous, will move over to the Jubal Early facility.

And he said he is also hoping that with enough space for children and adults, the church will now be able to have families who are struggling with their loved ones’ addictions.

“Not only do we have a church, but…my vision is to utilize this as a recovery building as well,” Hill said.

Since he moved to Winchester, Hill has adapted his preaching style to better serve people who are recovering from addictions.

His sermons used to be more liturgical, focusing on teaching congregants about the text of the Bible. Now, he teaches life skills in his sermons.

“My messages are geared toward helping folks do this thing we call life,” Hill said, adding that the church serves as a welcoming space for people who are “broken” or addicted.

“The thing that I think makes us different is that there’s no preconception,” Hill said. “We want you to come just as you are: if you stink or you smell or…if you just had a run the night before or you’re curious or you’re looking for change.”

With that, he said, has come growth for the church. The church’s membership has continuously expanded, with recovering addicts and people who have never been addicted — the “normals,” he calls them — but who believe in the mission of the church joining its ranks.

The move, he said, will allow the church to handle its growth and to allow families who want a place to leave their children a way to attend.

Eventually, he expects the church to outgrow this space, as well.

“I started a church in Virginia Beach and we started with a handful of families, and within three years, the church was at 1,500 people,” Hill said. “And we made multiple moves to get to that size. So this is kind of like our first step.”