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An Easter message from Grace Downtown of Winchester

The Apostle John certainly did not know on that Friday what we know today. He didn’t know that the tragedy on Good Friday (it wasn’t even called “Good Friday” yet) would be Sunday’s victory. John wrote many years later that the lot of them still “hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:9).

That’s why what John did on Saturday is so amazing.

Of course, we really don’t know much about Saturday; there are no verses to read, no history to glean, no wisdom to share. What we do know is this: When Sunday came, John was still in Jerusalem.

Jesus was dead. Gone. It was over. Locked up in a borrowed tomb, guarded by Roman Centurions. John’s hope and friend and future were buried deep. But John didn’t leave. Why? Was he waiting for the resurrection? Nope. What he labored for and with for three long years died on the cross at Calvary. He certainly wasn’t expecting the Sunday wonder. So why then? Why was he still in Jerusalem?

I would have left. You probably would have, too. Why not John? You’d have to figure that the same ones who crucified Christ would have come after him too, right? After all, the crowds that cried out “Hosanna” the previous Sunday loved the crucifixion on Friday and those Pharisees might call for more. So why didn’t John get out of town?

Maybe the answer was practical; maybe he was honoring Jesus’ dying wishes by taking care of His mother. Or maybe he just didn’t have anywhere else to go. Could be he didn’t have any money or energy or direction … or all of the above.

Or maybe he lingered because he loved Jesus.

To some, Jesus was a miracle worker. To others, Jesus was Rabbi. To still others, Jesus was the hope of Israel. But to John, Jesus was his friend.

You don’t abandon a friend — not even when that friend is dead. John stayed close to Jesus.

John had a habit of this. He was close to Jesus in the upper room. He was close to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was at the foot of the cross at the crucifixion, and he ran to the tomb Sunday.

Did he understand Jesus? Nope.

Was he glad Jesus did what he did? Nope.

But did he leave Jesus? Nope. No way. No how.

What about you? Are you in John’s position today? Is it “Saturday” in your life, meaning somewhere between yesterday’s tragedy and tomorrow’s triumph?

Jesus is your friend and He wants you to be His. He loves you more than you could even know even if you don’t know Him.

Remember, John stayed in Jerusalem. And because he stayed on Saturday, he was around on Sunday to see the miracle.

Maybe you’re one of those folks who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. Maybe you don’t even like going because of the “looks” you get when you walk in the door.

Come out this Easter Sunday for a new experience with Jesus, with church, with people. “Come as you are” is who we are and you will receive no judgment, no pressure, and no “looks.”

Four Easters ago, we of Grace Downtown of Winchester had our first service in the back of a bar. With 40 people (now that’s a nice Biblical number!) Pastor Brad Hill started something of a revolution that has changed the lives of many all because of Jesus Christ.

This Easter we have our first service in our new 7,200 square foot facility at 35 E. Jubal Early Drive, Winchester. “The Church in the bar, ain’t moved far.” Come out and see for yourself how God has moved in the lives of so many. Come and see how faith and hope and love and grace transforms
and renews. Come and see how a church family grows and laughs and loves. But most importantly come out to meet or renew your friendship with the only One that matters, Jesus Christ.



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.”


Grace Downtown finds new home to allow further growth

WINCHESTER — After months of searching for a location, Grace Downtown of Winchester — a church that focuses on recovering addicts in the community — has found a new home.

Launched in August 2015 by Pastor Brad Hill, the church has been meeting in the banquet hall of Brewbaker’s Restaurant on the Loudoun Street Mall for more than two years, but it will soon move to 35 E. Jubal Early Drive, formerly The River Church.

Grace Downtown started with about 40 people and has grown to about 350, so it needs more room, Hill said Monday. The church has two Sunday services — 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. — and both are usually filled to capacity.

A recovering addict himself, Hill has said in previous interviews that the church’s “really unorthodox” setting in a bar-type environment has been a benefit and not a temptation. Though it was started for those in the recovery community, the church has grown to include those who have never personally struggled with addiction.

The new location will be leased by Grace Downtown from owners Mark and Jennifer D’Arezzo, who were pastors at The River Church. Fundraising and collection plate donations are helping make Grace Downtown’s move possible.

“It’s not just a church, it’s a community center,” Hill said of the 7,200-square-foot space with a sanctuary and fellowship hall that will allow the congregation to grow. Hill said some property owners were reluctant to lease to a church like Grace Downtown, but the D’Arezzos were hoping another church would move into their space.

“They went out of their way to accommodate us,” Hill said.

In looking for a new location, Hill said the space had to be able to handle 400 to 500 people, and it needed to be close to downtown, as many of those who attend services don’t have a vehicle or a driver’s license.

Though the new location is close to downtown, it’s still a considerable walking distance, so the church is looking into providing a shuttle service to church members.

Hill admitted it’s going to be a little hard to let go of Grace Downtown’s status as the only local church that meets in a bar.

But, he said, “The church in the bar ain’t that far.”

He added that the new location will allow the church to host events and start new programs, like a children’s ministry.

Grace Downtown’s first services in its new location will be April 1, Easter.

For more information about the church, visit

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at



Recovering addict specialists aim to help users, families

By EVAN GOODENOW | The Winchester Star

Feb 7, 2018 Updated 5 hrs ago

WINCHESTER — The first meeting of a new group of recovering opioid addicts helping fellow addicts and their families and friends focused on organizing and outreach.

“There are people walking in the shoes that we walked in. We just want to be able to give them some hope and encouragement,” group co-organizer Bethany Searfoss told about 15 anti-drug advocates and peer recovery specialists at the Congregational-Community Action Project (C-CAP) headquarters in downtown Winchester on Tuesday. “We’re tired of seeing people hurting, and we’re tired of seeing our friends and family suffer.”

Peer specialists, who undergo 72 hours of training to become certified by the state, will meet individually with addicts for 30-minute sessions each Tuesday for the rest of February. Group meetings will also be held to provide education and resources. While no counseling occurred Tuesday, organizers said they’re confident that as people learn about what’s available, they’ll participate.

Topics discussed Tuesday included distributing pamphlets with addresses and phone numbers of organizations that provide counseling, therapy and treatment as well as helping addicts with multiple problems. Some may be domestic violence victims, homeless or mentally ill.

Other topics included how to talk to addicts without being condescending and working with Winchester Medical Center to connect peers with addicts who go to the hospital after overdosing. The hospital is planning to make peers available to addicts later this year.

Searfoss and fellow peers Niles Comer and Kim Shupe came up with the idea for a support group in December to help reduce the opioid epidemic, which killed 40 people in the area last year and 42,249 people nationally in 2016. They hope to increase sessions to Tuesdays and Thursdays in March and get some of the 32 certified peers in the area to participate.

Searfoss, a 49-year-old former crack cocaine addict who has been clean since 2007, said in an interview that she spoke this weekend to two mothers of addicts who are desperate to help their children. Searfoss said the goal of counseling is to steer addicts toward treatment if they’re willing to try it. If they’re not ready, peers will still be there to listen and provide support. Searfoss, a certified peer since December 2016, said it takes time to build trust with addicts, and peers need to be willing to be available to addicts they’re mentoring 24/7.

Searfoss, the clothing manager at C-CAP from 2011-14, said the location at 112 S. Kent St. is ideal for peer meetings. She said some C-CAP clients are addicts or mentally ill, or they have friends and family who are.

“C-CAP is a safe place for a lot of people in this town,” Searfoss said. “They already feel comfortable here and they trust people here.”

For hours or more information about C-CAP, visit or call 540-662-4318.

— Contact Evan Goodenow at

CTE in works for boys school

By REBECCA LAYNE | The Winchester Star
Jan 10, 2018

CROSS JUNCTION — A future Career and Technical Education center at Timber Ridge School will promote vocational skills while helping students who might have a substance abuse problem.

The proposed center was unveiled at a presentation and dinner at George Washington Hotel on Tuesday. Speakers were Lauren Cummings, executive director of Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, and Brad Hill, a former addict and the pastor of Grace Downtown of Winchester.

Timber Ridge Executive Director John Lamanna said officials believe that the CTE center can help with relapse prevention by teaching students life skills and the work ethic to keep a job.

“If they have vocational and skills training and a living wage, they are less apt to go back to substance abuse,” he said.

Timber Ridge is a private school in Cross Junction for emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disordered adolescent boys. Lamanna said they often arrive with a trash bag of belongings, and it’s not unusual for them to have one or both parents in jail or have lived with multiple foster families. The school provides not only class time, but also a psychiatric and diagnostic-assessment treatment unit and an accredited addiction, recovery and treatment service for adolescents.

According to Randy Jones, chief executive officer of OWPR Architects and Engineers, manufacturing and construction companies cannot find qualified masons, electricians, welders, small engine technicians, certified fork lift operators or skilled building tradesmen. The CTE center at Timber Ridge, he said, could provide skilled workers for these occupations.

The new CTE program will be housed in a former 3,800-square-foot underused gymnasium on the campus. It will have an area for carpentry, welding, masonry and electronics, along with a small engine shop and a forklift area.

Renovations to the gymnasium will include roof repair or replacement, new exterior doors and windows, new HVAC and plumbing, new walls and ceiling, an exterior entry porch and more. The cost is estimated at $997,000. Jones said it is not yet known when the building will officially be open.

During Tuesday’s event, former Timber Ridge student Ron Estep, class of 1989, praised his alma mater for helping him to understand appropriate relationships and be a productive member of society.

“Thank you, and I love you,” he told the members of the crowd affiliated with Timber Ridge. “Thank you, guys, cause you truly saved my life.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at



Politicians drawn to city church for Recovery Sunday

By CATHY KUEHNER | The Winchester Star

Sep 18, 2017 Updated Sep 18, 2017

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie (right) speaks Sunday at Grace Downtown of Winchester church as part of National Recovery Sunday to promote drug addiction awareness.

Scott Mason/The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — September is National Recovery Month. On Sunday morning, Grace Downtown of Winchester opened its doors, as always, to those struggling with addiction and compulsion, those recovering and those offering support.

Among those offering support at the church Sunday were Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-10th; Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie; and Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County. Winchester Sheriff Les Taylor, a Republican running for re-election in November, also attended the 9:30 a.m. service at Brewbaker’s Restaurant on the Loudoun Street Mall, but did not speak.

As he introduced the guests, Grace Downtown Pastor Brad Hill said, “We need to end the stigma of addiction right now. I brought these people here not because they are politicians, but because they get it. They get me. They get you.”

“We all know someone dealing with addiction,” Comstock told several hundred worshippers. “Years ago, we knew people with cancer, but we didn’t talk about it. Today, suicide needs to come out of the shadows. Addiction needs to come out of the shadows.”

In August, Comstock, a member of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives, hosted two round-table discussions with local, state and federal stakeholders to discuss the drug epidemic.

More than 1,400 Virginians died from drug overdoses last year, outpacing the number of Virginians killed in auto accidents, she said.

Gillespie said addiction, recovery and mental health are among his top priorities. “Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. We are not talking about bad people. We are talking about good people who are not well.”

Gillespie said people need access to immediate help when they need it and that intervention — reaching people before addiction sets in — has to be part of the solution.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this epidemic,” he said.

Lauren Cummings, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, also briefly spoke Sunday.

“Since 2012, 146 people have died [from opioid overdoses] in the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition area,” she said. The coalition covers Frederick, Clarke, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties and the city of Winchester.

So far this year, 29 people have died from opioid overdoses in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, but there were no overdose deaths in August, which may be a glimmer of hope, Cummings said.

“People need to know our area is exposed to the addiction epidemic and it is not any one particular drug,” Cummings said. “Until we understand the disease and get people the help they need, we won’t be able to make real change.”

As part of National Recovery Month, the second Addicted to Hope Rally is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 23 at Handley High School. The rally aims to educate attendees about substance use, its signs and symptoms and how to help someone in need.

“If you know anyone who needs someone to walk the walk to recovery, we can help,” she said.

“What all of you know is our community is overcoming the stigma of addiction,” Cummings said. “People like Brad and the Grace Downtown church are helping people overcome their addictions and the stigma.”

Grace Downtown is a non-denominational, independent church focused on the addiction recovery community. Hill freely speaks about his own recovery when he addresses the hundreds of people who regularly fill the Brewbaker’s banquet hall, 168 N. Loudoun St., where the church hosts two services every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.

The 9:30 a.m. service had a standing-room only crowd on National Recovery Sunday. There were mothers with infants, families, young men and women as well as elderly parishioners.

For his sermon, Hill focused on the parable of Jesus, the healing pool and the man who had been an invalid for 38 years but blamed others for not helping him.

“Do you want to be made well?” Hill asked, paraphrasing Jesus. “You have to make the decision yourself.”

Grace Downtown “is open to everyone. It doesn’t matter your addiction or situation,” said Hill.

Coffee, pastries and fruit are set out early on Sunday morning, and people begin arriving at 7 a.m. There is a praise band and no dress code.

Children 5 and under and those 6 to 13 are invited to worship in other areas of the facility.

Visit or follow Grace Downtown of Winchester on Facebook, where services are broadcast live. Call 540-514-8297. Contact Hill at

Find the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition at

— Contact Cathy Kuehner at



Grace Downtown Church in search of home

By ONOFRIO CASTIGLIA | The Winchester Star

Jun 2, 2017

WINCHESTER — Grace Downtown of Winchester, a church with a focus on the local addiction recovery community, is looking for a home.

The church has been meeting downtown in the banquet hall of Brewbaker’s Restaurant for the last two years. Pastor Brad Hill, who has himself struggled to overcome addiction, said on Thursday that the church started with about 40 people and has since grown to more than 350. Two services are now required every Sunday — one at 9:30 a.m. and one at 11:30 a.m. Both typically fill to capacity,

The church was founded for recovering addicts, but Hill said it has grown to include people who have never personally struggled with addiction.

“Upstanding members of the community who support what we are doing.”

To accommodate a growing congregation, Hill said a permanent home is in order; the church is looking to either rent or buy. Through donations, fundraising efforts and weekly giving of alms and tithes at services, Hill said the church is financially capable of doing so.

There are some weighty considerations, though. First off, the new spot should be able to accommodate some 400 or 500 people, Hill said. Also, it needs to be downtown or close to it. Many of the people attending walk to church because they don’t have personal transportation or a driver’s license, Hill said. For example, the recovery community at Edge Hill Retreat Center sends about 40 people each week. It’s “instrumental” that a meeting spot be in walking distance of downtown.

Hill said he has found spots that meet these requirements, but has run into skeptical property owners who say they won’t rent to an operation like Grace Downtown.

“There’s a stigma, I think that’s the best word to use,” Hill said, adding that potential landlords have expressed concerns over people loitering outside. “[Church attendees] maybe hang out for 15 or 20 minutes after church and … they walk.”

Laura Rhodes, owner of Brewbaker’s Restaurant, said on Thursday that the church has been a pleasure to host.

“It’s been amazing to be a part of an experience that’s touched so many people.”

Rhodes said her business hasn’t “had any issues” with the church. The opposite is true, in fact — oftentimes church members stay after to help “flip” the banquet hall for another event coming later in the day and they help clean up. “Everybody has been very respectful of the property.”

Anyone interested in working with Grace Downtown on a new location can contact Brad Hill at

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at



‘Church is a bar’ helps deliver people from temptation

By JACKIE PUGLISI Winchester Star

Jan 3, 2017

Worshippers at Grace Downtown of Winchester listen to announcements about the church’s upcoming events during the New Year’s Day service on Sunday. The church holds two services on Sunday mornings at Brewbaker’s Restaurant. More than 300 people attend the two services.

Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star

Pastor Brad Hill greets worshippers to Grace Downtown’s New Year’s Day service on Sunday at Brewbaker’s Restaurant. He has been holding services there since August 2015. The church caters to people recovering from any type of addiction, homeless people and those who may not feel comfortable in a traditional church setting. It also welcomes those who want to support these communities.

Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star

Donna Hartless (left) and Dondi Searfoss volunteer at the church’s cafe, where coffee and pastries are served before worship services.

Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star

Kim Shupe plays the drums with Grace Downtown’s worship band during its service on New Year’s Day. A recovering addict, she has been attending the church for 15 months. “I have hope today,” she said Sunday. “I don’t know what my direction is in life, but I’m out of the driver’s seat. I know God is directing it.”

Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — The first church service Kim Shupe attended at Grace Downtown changed her life.

As a recovering addict, she learned about the independent church in the back room of Brewbaker’s Restaurant on the Loudoun Street Mall through a local recovery center. She was two days sober.

“I don’t remember what the sermon was about, but I remember not feeling scared anymore,” she said Sunday. “A calm came over me, and I wasn’t feeling the turmoil [of my addiction].”

At the end of her first service, Pastor Brad Hill called people to the altar, and Shupe went forward. Three women in the church prayed with her as she asked God to come into her life.

That was 15 months ago. The 40-year-old White Post resident now regularly attends services and weekly Bible studies. She also plays drums in the church’s worship band.

“I have hope today,” she said. “I don’t know what my direction is in life, but I’m out of the driver’s seat. I know God is directing it.”

Through the church, Shupe has a group of people she can go to for anything.

“They accept me for me, and I’ve never had that in my life,” she said.

Shupe is one of the many people who have found a safe haven at Grace Downtown.

The church was started by Hill, who is better known as Pastor Brad. The first service was held in August 2015.

Hill, 56, was ministering at Grace Community Church in Winchester when he had the idea to start the independent church.

“I saw a need for those in recovery,” he said. “In the 12-step program, the first three steps deal with a higher power.”

Hill believes God has to be part of the recovery process for it to be truly successful.

The church reaches out to those recovering from any type of addiction, people who are homeless and those who may not feel comfortable in a traditional church setting.

“We try to help folks develop a relationship with God,” Hill said. “We have people come in from off the streets, from the recovery center and halfway houses, and people from all walks of life who discover God in a new and fresh way.”

Hill thought it would be great to offer something downtown and teamed up with Brewbaker’s Restaurant co-owner Laura Rhodes. Having the church in a bar setting has been a benefit instead of a possible temptation.

“A lot of people will come here instead of another facility because it’s familiar,” Hill said. Before services, guests are treated to coffee and pastries set up on the bar, while the beer taps remain closed.

Services are held at 9:30 and 11 a.m. on Sundays. More than 300 people attend the two services.

“We started with a handful, and it continues to thrive,” Hill said.

The services are kicked off with contemporary worship songs played by the church’s worship band. Hill’s sermons are geared toward life and struggles that might occur. His first message of 2017 on Sunday focused on how the congregation could fit into God’s will for their lives.

“It’s really unorthodox,” Hill said. “It’s not your typical church. There is a lot of interaction with members in the service. It’s raw and real.”

Along with Sunday services, there are men’s and women’s Bible studies during the week. The church also offers a children’s program and a youth group, since many who come to the church bring their families.

“It’s important for the community to realize there’s a need for churches to reach out and accept people where they are regardless of where they’ve been to give them a vehicle for hope and to succeed at life,” Hill said.

Hill knows first-hand the struggles of drug addiction and has dealt with it for a majority of his life. He was ministering at a large church in Virginia Beach about five years ago when his dependency on prescription medication got the better of him. He had to leave the church, and he found himself homeless and penniless.

He had a friend in Winchester who offered him a place to stay, with the condition that he would get clean and start a 12-step program.

“I was given a second chance,” he said.

Many members of the church feel a connection with Hill because they relate to his story.

Frederick County resident Bethany Searfoss, 48, was attending Grace Community Church when Hill decided to start Grace Downtown. As a former addict who has been clean for 10 years, she decided to check it out.

“My husband and I came here and it was a complete fit,” she said.

The couple started serving in the church, and their children attend the youth group.

“This church has allowed me to grow closer in my relationship with Christ,” Searfoss said. “Brad’s sermons speak to me every single week. I have grown so much.”

Through the church, she is able to work with people in the community struggling with addiction outside of the Sunday services. She, Hill and other church members travel to jails and recovery centers to share their faith and a message of hope.

Searfoss is also a co-leader for one of the women’s groups with Hill’s wife, Mary.

“It’s a family down here,” Searfoss said. “We’re a church in action, and we want people to know we’re here. We’ve had people say there’s a warmth and friendliness here, and acceptance.”

Searfoss said the church is a safe haven for a lot of people and offers a place where they can feel comfortable. Within the church is also a level of accountability and mentoring between the leaders and members, as well as the members themselves.

“We want people to know they’re welcome,” Searfoss said. “It’s a safe place where they can be vulnerable and we can be trusted.”

— Contact Jackie Puglisi at



Pastor speaks to Rotary Club


WINCHESTER — Like many others in the community, Pastor Brad Hill has lived the hell of an addiction-fueled life.

But with more than four years of sobriety and recovery under his belt. Hill explained to the Winchester Rotary Club Thursday that there is hope in the fight against the deadly disease. And he is living proof.

“Either I was going to get help, or I was going to die,’ Hill said. “That was the choice I had.”

As pastor of Grace Downtown of Winchester, which meets at Brewbaker’s Restaurant on the Loudoun Street Mall, Hill is deeply embedded in local recovery and treatment efforts.

Hill didn’t go into great pains to discuss the details of his past during Thursday’s presentation, but instead focused on what he referred to as Winchester’s vibrant recovery community.

And while Hill, like many others in the community, is tired of people dying from overdose — including 24 in the region so far in 2016 — he’s quick to point out the progress that has been made.

Last week, following a string of overdoses in the region, Hill said he was tired of burying friends to the epidemic, a sentiment he again echoed Thursday.

The creation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition, implementation of the Northwest Regional Adult Drug Treatment Court and treatment facilities such as the Oxford House network, are among the strides being made.

One of the drug treatment court’s first participants, 42-year-old James Thall, also has proven that the court works to change lives. Thall, who was introduced at Thursday’s meeting, also celebrated more than 70 days of sobriety, and was last week graduated to phase two of the court.

Area Rotary clubs also have been instrumental in the fight against substance abuse, including providing an $18,000 grant to the substance abuse coalition, which is expected to provide peer support training.

The work, however, is far from done, Hill said.

“We’ve got some people in place to make a change in this community,” he said. “It’s not your money that we need, it’s your support; we need to get motivated as a group.”

— Contact Christopher Earley at



Recovering addicts in the Winchester area have found faith at a “Church in a Bar”

By Sierra Fox |

Published 01/08 2017 08:20PM


Nicole Howard, one of the choir singers at Grace Downtown of Winchester church, is overcoming drug and alcohol abuse. She looks forward to coming to church every Sunday.

She said, “I came out to Winchester, Virginia to get a fresh start and this church has really helped in giving me that fresh start that I needed.”

This church is in a bar where recovering addicts come to share their faith and a message of hope.

Shelley Temple, church-goer said, “I’ve seen lives change here. It has made my faith rise so much when I see the lives being changed.”

Nicole has been clean for six months and is one of many people who have found a safe haven in Grace Downtown.

“Singing in the band and being part of the church has really helped me with my road to recovery,” Howard said. “It’s extremely uplifting and it’s good to be involved with a group that’s so supportive and it really does allow me to clear my head.”

The church reaches out to those recovering any type of addiction; People who are homeless and those who may not feel comfortable in a traditional church setting.

Having the church in a bar setting has been helpful and comforting rather than a temptation. Before services, guests are treated to coffee and pastries, while beer taps remain closed.

Pastor Brad Hill knows first-hand the struggles of drug addiction and has been clean for almost five years.

He said, “I’m in recovery, that’s something people can identify with. I personally came to Winchester broke, homeless, without a thing and I got clean in Winchester and as a result I found my faith, I found my spirituality again and I found the focus I needed in life.”

People without any addictions are welcome too. The church calls them “normals.”

May Hill, Brad Hill’s wife, “He calls me a normal, I say it’s a setting on the dryer, we all have our issues and I’ve had some things happen in my life as well and I can use those to share with some of the woman of the church.”

“There is a drug problem, there is a homeless problem,” Temple said. “We’re doing everything we can to help combat that. But this is for regular normal people too.  You don’t have to be a recovering addict or homeless person. This is home for everybody.”

Pastor Brad’s message for everyone in 2017 is that “God has a plan” and he also added that, “2017 is God is going to knock your socks off with the blessings he has for you in 2017.”



Life after addiction: Jamie Thall

By Deborah Martinelli |

Published 01/05 2017 09:50PM


Over the last several years, opioid addiction has plagued the four-state.

As more and more people struggle or know someone who is struggling, it is important to look at those who have clawed their way up from the struggles of addiction.

“First and foremost is my family and my kids. If I can do good by them, then everything else will fall into place,” said Jamie Thall, the second drug court participant in Winchester-Frederick County.

One-hundred-forty-two days ago, Thall was not the same person he is today.

He was spending around $100 a day on his heroin addiction — which earned him several trips to prison.

“Well, when I went back to jail, it was like a reunion. You see your friends. You wait to see who is going to come through the door this time,” Thall said.

Last summer, Winchester and Frederick County introduced a drug court that supports offenders through recovery instead of relying on prison sentences to provide reform.

Thall said for him, it came down to two choices: drug court or death.

“When I found out that Tim Coyne was trying to bring the drug court here, I was on it to my lawyer. I said, ‘I want this program. I don’t care what it takes. I will go through all the steps. I want this,” I said, ‘This is probably my last chance,’” Thall said.

Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition officials said Thall flourished in the program. Although he was the second person to participate, his success made him the unofficial poster child of the drug court – something that he doesn’t mind.

“In a way, yes and no,” Jamie explained when asked if the title puts pressure on his recovery, “but I accept the challenge because it’s what keeps me going.”

He’s not without struggles. Instead of worrying about where he will get his next high, he now balances taking care of his children, sticking to his curfew and holding down a job as a felon all while resisting old habits.

He said it was hard to find work at first, but there are plenty of people in the Winchester area ready to help.

“Some of the places in the area are understanding because they know the drug court is helping people, and they’ll look at you different and try to help you,” Thall said.

Thall said he hopes to someday become a counselor to help other recovering addicts.



Recovering heroin addicts find faith in pastor, who has walked a mile in their shoes

By Carolyn Blackburne |

Published 02/08 2016 12:06AM


At Grace Downtown of Winchester, you’ll hear the sounds of a sermon.

“How many of you woke up this morning and said, ‘thank you God for what I have?’” said Pastor Bradley Hill.

You’ll see young ones squirming in their seats, too – but what you will feel is something you may not be used to.

“He has become, to me, a gift from God to this community,” said Jenny Fanning, a member of the church whose son is a recovered heroin addict.

Pastor Brad, as his congregation members call him, said he rolled in to Winchester homeless, penniless and friendless because of his own heroin addiction. However, there was one person who still believed in him.

“This person had some rules – ‘number one, you need to stay clean. Number two, you need to go to [narcotics anonymous] meetings, and number three, you need to get a job,’” Pastor Brad said.

Now, the pastor who almost gave up on himself is preaching in a bar, to a choir of those reeling in recovery.

“‘I ain’t going to no meetings, man, that’s for addicts.’ Really?” Pastor Brad said sarcastically, impersonating addicts who he said make up excuses for themselves.

One of his congregation members who hears this message is Matthew Fanning. Fanning said he remembers the day he stopped praying to die.

“It was June 14th, that I just had this overwhelming feeling if I didn’t get help, that was going to be me,” Fanning said, referring to one of his best friends who overdosed on heroin. “It wasn’t one of those things like, ‘finally my prayers are answered.’ It was like, ‘I’m going to be buried, I’m going to leave my family behind.”

His mom reflects on her son’s lowest low, which ultimately brought him to rehab.

“He was slumped over the steering wheel of his car, and I was really afraid he was going to be dead,” Jenning Fanning said, with tears streaming down her face.

Jamie Armel is another member of the congregation whose addiction almost killed him. He said he has been using drugs for more than half of his life.

“I started using heroin when I was 15 years old. I grew up around it,” Armel said. “I had some family members that used.”

Armel said his habit took him from the streets, to jail – and the next stop would have been to the grave.

But now, Armel is recently clean. He thanks Pastor Brad for his recovery.

“I think of Jesus being the guy who was actually in a bar when he was alive. He was dealing with people who had issues,” Pastor Brad said.

There are more than 300 members at Grace Downtown of Winchester. Pastor Brad said anyone who is searching for recovery, struggling through withdrawal or needs someone to talk to is welcome to join their ministry.

The church meets every Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.