Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

Monacrest Free Methodist Church in Monaca, Pennsylvania, is living The Free Methodist Way through its 3rd Step recovery ministry.

In a new episode of The Light + Life Podcast, Monacrest Associate Pastor Emilee Smith, 3rd Step Pastor Raeanne Barlow and her husband, Bill Barlow, share their ministry of Love-Driven Justice in an interview with Brett Heintzman.

“I have long had a heart for people who struggle with addiction, and people who love those people who struggle with addiction. I have a history of addiction in my family,” said Pastor Raeanne, who traced the ministry’s founding to a Free Methodist General Conference 2015 video that featured TN24 Recovery Ministries at Next Level Church in Holiday, Florida. “Our pastor at that time [Doug Rabe], who’s now our superintendent, came home very excited about that ministry and wanted to start one at our church.”

A Monacrest couple volunteered and began training to lead a recovery ministry, but other life events caused them to step aside. Raeanne became concerned that the emerging recovery ministry might end, but she also served as the children’s ministry director and did not feel she could take on the recovery ministry simultaneously.

“I just was praying about it, and we put fleeces out,” said Raeanne, referencing Judges 6:33–40. She thought, “Maybe if Pastor Doug asks me to do it, I’ll do it.”

Along with serving as an associate pastor in the Harvest Conference, Raeanne has worked as a social worker and a family therapist.

“I have the training, and I have the degree, and I was the obvious person, but I was the children’s ministry director,” Raeanne said. “But God, He intervened.”

One day, a song on a Christian radio station captured her attention as she returned home from taking her children to school.

“It was ministering to me, so I stayed in the van to listen to the song, and as the song was ending, I had a recollection. The Holy Spirit reminded me of a vision I had 18 years before,” said Raeanne, who flashed back to a winter retreat from her time working in the Rochester, New York, area at Roberts Wesleyan College and volunteering in the youth group at Edgewood Church. “We were out in a snow-covered field, and we were having a prayer time, and I had a vision during that prayer time. … I just saw figures standing up and falling over in the snow.”

She hadn’t understood the vision at the time, and it nearly faded from her memory until she recalled it in her van.

“I’m sitting in my driveway thinking about this recovery ministry and just lamenting that we didn’t have a leader at our church anymore to do it, and the Lord brings that vision back to my mind, and I knew immediately that that’s what that vision meant,” she said. “That many years ago, God was preparing me to step forward and say, ‘I’m the one. God has called me.’”

She entered her home and told Bill, and they called then-Pastor [and now Harvest Conference Superintendent] Doug Rabe. The church found another children’s ministry director so Raeanne could focus on recovery ministry.

“We started meeting, and things were going really well. We had a group coming from a halfway house in the area and were doing really cool things, and good ministry was happening,” she said.

The Barlows visited TN24 while on vacation in Florida. “It’s not exactly the same, but we took a lot of what they do and incorporated that,” Raeanne said. “The Lord gave us the name 3rd Step from a conversation that I had with somebody who was attending [TN24]. … He was sharing that the pastor had talked about ‘the third step’ the week before and what a difference that made.”

She explained that “the third step in a 12-step recovery ministry is ‘turn the care of my life over to God.’ That’s becoming a Christian. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the turning point.”

When 3rd Step started meeting on Wednesday evenings at the church, Pastor Emilee was serving in Cuba as a missionary with another Methodist denomination. When she returned to Monacrest, she knew immediately that she wanted to help with the recovery ministry. “God has always drawn my heart toward people that society casts aside,” said Emilee, who began working closely with Raeanne and Bill.

After a local Christmas parade, the Barlows invited participants of the recovery ministry to their home. One man was especially moved by the in-home Christmas celebration and told them, “I’ve never done this before. Nobody has ever invited me in their house.”

After a couple of years of progress, the recovery ministry unexpectedly faltered.

“That halfway house closed. Attendance started declining,” Raeanne said. “Addicts tend to be transient. It’s hard to keep track, and they don’t have transportation. Then they get a job and they’re working in the evening.”

“As things started to decline, we almost tossed around the idea of throwing in the towel,” Emilee said. “It got to the point where we would look around, and there wasn’t really anybody who was in the audience who was struggling. It was just the regular church attenders.”

The leaders gathered in a room at the church and began to pray.

“I remember as I was praying about 3rd Step that God said, ‘Don’t quit. It’s not done,’” Emilee said. “We were obedient to God, and we didn’t quit, and we pressed on.”

Even though addicts weren’t attending the meetings, leaders realized that other people were attending and hearing God-Given Revelation, and they knew they needed God’s help to continue sharing His Life-Giving Holiness with addicts and their loved ones.

“We knew that we needed God’s help in this 3rd Step ministry if we were going to really help people and watch lives be transformed from some really tough stuff. Somehow God’s got to bring His power to our service,” Bill recalled. “We said, ‘Let’s try fasting and praying.’ We did, and we saw results. We saw people come in. We saw a guy who had snorted heroin for 20 years lay it down, get connected with God, and stop.”

When setbacks occurred, however, leaders faced recurring temptation to quit. Brett Heintzman — whose ministry has included longtime emphases on addiction recovery and prayer —  accepted an invitation to come to the church. Even though he had just become the new denominational communications director, he kept the appointment and included fasting as part of his teaching. On the podcast, Raeanne told Brett that 3rd Step continued in part “because you came and because of your teaching and the way the Spirit used you to encourage us to not give up and to indeed start fasting again and to stay invested spiritually in the ministry.”

Fasting has remained important for 3rd Step’s leadership.

“We’ve got to say God is more real than food, that the kingdom of God is more real than what we feel in our stomach. It’s a small sacrifice, and it does make a difference,” Bill said. “Our Lord is so kind, and He responds to that.”

Jail Ministry

While leaders considered the future of the 3rd Step ministry, Pastor Emilee sensed God leading her in a new way.

“I started feeling this pull on my heart that I wanted to do something in our local jail,” she said. “I started feeling like God was saying, ‘Get involved. Do something.’”

At General Conference 2019, she visited a booth for a prison ministry. She didn’t feel called to the specific program promoted in the booth, but she sensed God saying, “I’m reminding you of what I told you before.”

After returning home, she eventually decided to call the jail and introduced herself as a local pastor looking to get involved. She later received a call from the warden who invited her to a meeting at the jail. She and Pastor Raeanne met with the warden and the jail’s chaplain. The pastors were initially discouraged when the warden suggested that the jail keeps recovery and religion separate, but then he said a group that came to the jail on Monday evenings would no longer be coming because the leader was moving away. He added, “Our Monday evenings are going to be totally open, and we would love if you would bring the 3rd Step ministry into the jail and run that service here for both the men and the women.”

“We walked into the meeting with no expectations thinking ‘maybe we’ll get a Bible study” or ‘maybe we’ll get a little time spot once a month,’” she said. “We walk out with ‘OK, you’re doing 3rd Step in the jail twice a month every other Monday for both the men and the women.’”

Pastor Raeanne shared that “you’re only allowed four people in each group, and they lock you in the room. There’s no guard. It’s just you and the inmates, and it’s fabulous. It has been such a wonderful time. 

Meetings have halted temporarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the jail chaplain recently told them they may be able to return by summer’s end.

After being released from jail, some of the former inmates have begun attending 3rd Step meetings at the church.

“We can run this ministry in the jail and offer recovery and hope in Christ in the jail, but beyond that, when you get out, you can come to that same ministry with those same familiar faces,” Smith said. “When you get out of jail, you have already established this community that loves you, cares about you and wants to see you encounter Christ and grow in your relationship with Christ.”

Bill said that after some of the 3rd Step participants left jail, the first phone number they called was for the recovery ministry 

Housing Need

Housing is a big issue overall in their county, and the housing shortage especially applies to people who are released from jail while struggling with addiction. Some end up in unregulated three-quarter houses (a form of transitional housing with less supervision than a traditional halfway house) and risk relapsing.

“In praying about that, the Lord started leading us toward the idea of some type of housing,” Raeanne said.

Other parts of the United States have established tiny house communities for people experiencing homelessness. The 3rd Step leaders have considered this approach (which would require a change in Pennsylvania housing law) and have had discussions with a property owner who would be open to a long-term lease for his property that is temporarily being used as a campground for workers building a plant. If state law doesn’t change to allow tiny houses, one possibility could be for 3rd Step to establish its own three-quarter house.

Bill said they’ve considered calling future housing “the Outpost” because the housing would be “an outpost for the kingdom of God.”


Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light+Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.