Bradley Hill is the senior pastor of a thriving Virginia church, serves on the board of several community organizations and is called upon regularly by government officials to speak. Oh, and he’s a 12-count felon in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction who was once homeless.
Years ago, Hill, who has a master’s degree, was happily married and a respected pastor of a church of 1,500 in Virginia Beach. Eventually, he succumbed to the addictions that plagued him off and on since college. He lost his job and later his home. His wife passed away from health conditions during this time also.
While he was living in a car seven years ago, an old friend offered to let him move in to his home in Winchester, Virginia. The friend agreed to let Hill stay, as long as he stopped using drugs, got a job and attended 12-step meetings.
“Before, I had periods where I stayed clean, but I never had peace,” Hill says. “I finally gave up, asked God to take over and told him I was willing to follow.”
Determined to change, Hill began searching for a job, which was a challenge due to his criminal history. Finally, he landed a position at a call center and began attending a local church as he worked through a 12-step program.
“I thought my life as a pastor and teacher was over,” he shares. “What church would want to hire a former drug addict and felon?”
Over time, he and the pastor became friends, and the pastor invited Hill to help him reach those in the community who were homeless or struggling with addiction.
“We started a little fellowship in the back of a bar for people like me,” he says.
What began as a handful of people meeting weekly four years ago at a bar has grown into Grace Downtown of Winchester, a congregation of more than 400 people that gathers in an independent facility. “It’s neat to see how God took a handful of people and transformed them,” Hill says.
About half of the congregation is in recovery and the other half are people wanting to help those in recovery, Hill explains. In addition to drugs and alcohol, members of the congregation are in recovery for cutting, obsessive overeating, PTSD and a range of other conditions.
Other local churches send people struggling with addiction to Grace Downtown of Winchester because it’s the only church in Virginia focused specifically on recovery, Hill says. Additionally, local civic groups, colleges and recovery centers have sought him out to share his story and teach classes. He also visits jails.
“The first three steps in 12-step programs deal with having a belief in someone greater than yourself, and that’s where we come in,” Hill explains. “I introduce God to folks who have been hurt by church and religion, and those who have never stepped foot in a church. Those first three steps make us deal with relying on someone greater.”
As he shares with others, Hill continues to work on his own recovery.
“I do believe I’ve been set free from my addiction, but I’m still actively involved in recovery,” he says. “The desire for drugs and alcohol doesn’t just go away.”
He still attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings, has a sponsor and connects regularly with those in his recovery network.
“I started this journey with limited expectations, and I’m humbled at the fact that God used me,” Hill says. “I could not have made this up or how it worked out.”