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Red Brick Church in St. Petersburg focuses on salvation from addiction

Nahilce Ravelo prays at the Red Brick Church, at 2750 Fifth Ave. N, which was designed to be a haven for the downtrodden.
Nahilce Ravelo prays at the Red Brick Church, at 2750 Fifth Ave. N, which was designed to be a haven for the downtrodden.


Empty coffee cans on picnic tables near the doors of the Red Brick Church stand ready to catch cigarette butts.

At the church with a mission to welcome anyone in recovery or seeking help for alcohol, drugs and other addictions, many smoke, said Pastor Jodi Hopkins.

And drink coffee.

"All functions, we have coffee on," she said.

Inside the frayed red church across from St. Petersburg High School, pews are secondary to the round tables and chairs arranged before a small altar that one recent day displayed a cross, a sculpture of praying hands, candles, almost real-looking pussy willows and a framed drawing of Jesus clasping a lamb close.

"Here, it doesn't matter what you look like, how you're dressed," Hopkins said of the 2-year-old ministry that appends "a United Methodist Recovery Center" to its name.

The Red Brick Church, in Historic Kenwood, may be one of only a few area congregations whose ministry centers wholly on addictions. It certainly is the only United Methodist church in Pinellas County dedicated to "people in recovery and in need of recovery and for friends and family of people in recovery," as Hopkins, 53, herself in recovery, puts it.

Other congregations also try to meet the need, often with programs that might include a weeknight worship service, social time and group sessions.

Many, like First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks in Largo and First United Methodist Church in downtown St. Petersburg, offer a 12-step Bible-based curriculum called Celebrate Recovery that originated with preacher and bestselling author Rick Warren. In Lealman, Pastor Glenn Miller's Solid Rock Christian Church fights addictions with a long-term residential treatment program that houses those it helps throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

One of the newest efforts has come from the Rev. Basha P. Jordan Jr., a recent transplant from Baltimore, where he still runs a recovery ministry. Jordan, who describes himself as "a recovering and delivered individual," has a local radio program and holds "free addiction conferences."

Hopkins was motivated to launch her ministry at the Red Brick Church two years ago while serving as substitute pastor at what was then Albright United Methodist Church. The property where generations had worshiped since the mid 1800s was about to be abandoned.

Hopkins remembers her "incredible sadness."

"It was a sadness in terms of me standing after worship on the front steps of the church and looking up and down Fifth Avenue and realizing the doors were being closed. … I could not stop weeping."

She knew then, the onetime retired United Methodist pastor said, that "this was to be a church for the disenfranchised, the downtrodden."

The ministry opened Sept. 1, 2010, and initially was called Serenity United Methodist Church.

"I had one person besides me and my husband," Hopkins recalled.

Now an average of 40 people attend two Sunday services, though the church draws hundreds more each week for 12-step meetings, Bible studies, a food pantry, volunteer service work and Friday evening open-mike sessions.

The Red Brick Church, its name an apt description of its exterior, also serves as a community service site. Additionally, Hopkins is the local volunteer coordinator for Fresh Start Ministries and Mentoring, a re-entry program for people on probation. The congregation, whose members include the homeless and some in court-mandated drug treatment programs, is not a wealthy one.

"The struggle is always sustainability," Hopkins said. "This is an old church (building) with a lot of special needs."

The ministry is shored up financially by the United Methodist Gulf Central District in Largo, which owns the church, as well as the Florida Conference with headquarters in Lakeland and "people who are willing to invest in this," said Hopkins, who gets part-time pay for what she describes as full-time work.

"I agreed to that, because it is not about the money. It's about the calling and it's an adventure," she said.

But the fledgling ministry has had its share of sadness. On Dec. 23, Barry Lancaster was riding his bike a few blocks from the church when he was hit and killed by a driver who was charged with DUI manslaughter. He had often used the food pantry and had been struggling with alcohol, Hopkins said. She held a memorial service for the 47-year-old, who was mourned by church volunteers and those who had known him from the streets.

The back of the historic church is a gathering place with its hodgepodge of donated couches. The coffee machine can be found here, along with copies of the Life Recovery Bible, with annotations for 12-step study.

The Red Brick Church, with its focused mission, is a safe haven, Hopkins said. At Communion, the chalice holds grape juice instead of traditional wine, and all are welcome to partake.

It was before Communion recently that Everett Riley, 76, and his wife, Lucretia, 70, a retired nurse, became members of the Red Brick Church in a brief ceremony.

"We've been going to different churches and trying to find a place to fit in," Everett Riley said. "It's not pretentious at all. You don't have to put on your Easter fineries to come here."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

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