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Colorado Pastor, Wife Support ‘Spiritual Refugees’ Recovering From Drug Addiction

by Demarco Moore

February 22, 2023
Free Spiritual Community Pastor and Executive Director Ryan Canady Celebrated 10 years in long-term addiction recovery on January 7 2023

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 | Updated: Feb. 23, 2023, at 11:32 a.m. (CST)

Editor’s Note: This blog has been updated to reflect that Free Spiritual Community is not a religious church.

In 2018, Ryan and Tami Canaday embraced a question that could help break the silence of drug and alcohol addiction in their Colorado community.

“What would it be like to start a faith community that centers on issues of addiction and recovery?”

Pastor and Executive Director of Free Spiritual Community Ryan Canady gives a quote about addiction recovery

The married couple grew tired of seeing friends die from the disease and recognized a need for a support network. Ryan, a pastor since 2007, has also been in long-term recovery from alcohol addiction since 2013, and no longer wanted to run from his calling “to help others find God and beauty in the midst of mess and brokenness.” He learned that sharing your personal journey and building a community is crucial to healing from addiction.

“I started hearing other stories of other people in recovery and it was just this light bulb moment for me,” said the 40-year-old. “I thought I was so alone and broken and unique. I had so much shame wrapped up in it. But every time someone shared, I heard my story and thought for the first time ever, I feel understood and not so alone.”

The Canadays started FREE Spiritual Community in 2018, a recovery organization that has grown from only 12 people sharing personal stories in the Canadays’ backyard to weekly services of over 200 people in a 12,000-square-foot space near the University of Denver.

“A lot of people call this place home,” Ryan said. “They feel like they’re accepted and welcomed here, no matter if they come from a religious tradition or not. That’s been a cool thing.”

Recommended: 9 Best Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 

What is FREE Spiritual Community?

FREE Spiritual Community is a recovery community for people healing from drug and alcohol addiction, as well as “spiritual refugees.” The organization refrains from calling FREE a religious church, because of the “baggage” that comes with it, Ryan said.

“We have a lot of people here who don’t identify as religious,” he explained. “They are ‘spiritual refugees.’ We’re a spiritual community, and that’s more in alignment with the recovery community.”

The organization’s goal is to break the silence of addiction, which often causes people to struggle with the harmful effects of substance use. Unfortunately, many people avoid seeking addiction treatment or telling people what they’re experiencing. For FREE, the spiritual community started in the Canadays’ backyard, where they hosted gatherings, celebrated recovery milestones and created a safe space for people in recovery to open up.

They’ve since transitioned from a 3,000-square-foot storefront to a 12,000-square-foot space in south Denver. 

“On a Saturday night now, we have 250 people,” Ryan said. “[That many] people don’t fit in my backyard. Our neighbors started saying ‘our streets are crowded. You guys have to stop doing this.'”

In-person services are held on Saturdays at 5 p.m. (MST), with a second service set to begin in March.

Free Spiritual Community Hosts Sober Mic Nights and Religious Services on Saturdays in Denver

FREE Spiritual Community hosts Sober Open Mic Nights and Saturday services in Denver. (Photo provided by the FREE Spiritual Community Facebook Page)

Focusing on spirituality

“FREE” is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in that it focuses on spirituality. However, its meetings, or “gatherings,” are more fluid. Ryan teaches stories from the Bible, and storytellers share their addiction recovery stories and experiences. There is prayer, music of all kinds, and coffee – “lots and lots of coffee.”

“God keeps giving me a reason to keep saying ‘yes’ to the path of being free, and to walk with others on this path,” Ryan said. “It’s about learning to live one day at a time and trusting God in the next step, and living into the constant reminder: this journey is about progress, not perfection.”

Recommended: Colorado Campaign Helps Reduce the Stigma of Addiction

Specialty coffee served at “FREE Café” employs women in recovery

FREE Spiritual Community also has a coffee shop, FREE Café, which opened in the summer of 2022. It employs women in addiction recovery and is available to rent.

“Ryan and I had a vision from the very beginning to have a coffee shop inside of the walls of FREE,” Tami said. “We know that the coffee [served at FREE Café] is central to hospitality and recovery.”

The coffee shop also serves an exclusive, specialty coffee brand, Wagon Coffee, which Tami launched in 2020. All proceeds from the coffee shop go back into supporting FREE’s mission: to break the silence of addiction, Tami said.

“We want you to feel at home here – to have meetings, to work, to study, to meet with friends, colleagues, sponsors, and sponsees and to talk about things that matter most to you in a sober setting,” she said.

Looking for extra recovery support?

Addiction recovery is a lifelong process. Many people in all stages of recovery agree that sobriety must be maintained with consistent mindfulness and a support network. If you don’t prefer a faith-based addiction recovery program, there are plenty of alternatives to help you have success in your personal journey.

If you or someone you know struggles with drug or alcohol use, call 720-702-9994 to speak to a recovery specialist and find support.

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About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Demarco Moore currently writes blogs about drug addiction treatment and recovery to help save lives at treatment provider Landmark Recovery. Before that, he cut his teeth as a sports writer at the Manchester Times, where his coverage and stories won Tennessee Press Association awards in 2016 and 2017.

He’s always had a knack for storytelling. Moore’s written content for junior golf tournaments and helped to amplify the “People Not Profits” message of credit unions. When he’s not writing, Moore loves to travel, laugh and put his mental health into the hands of the Tennessee Titans during football season.