On occassion, we will publish letters to the Editor addressing recent stories or events. These letters do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Episcopal Cafẻ.
by Scott Petersen
As Episcopalians, I believe we need to own that we are a church that welcomes alcohol. To deny that reality is to deny a part of our ethos. Alcohol, and its use, points to part of the fabric of our common life. I say welcome alcohol, but welcome all of it: the good, the bad, and the transformational.
Alcoholics Anonymous is hosting their International Convention this summer July 2nd-July 5th. To welcome people in recovery from around the country, All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, in nearby proximity to the GA Dome, will be hosting a special Eucharist and meal ahead of the “Big Meeting” on Saturday night. At 5PM on Saturday July 4th, we’ll have a 12 Step Eucharist for all who find themselves on the road for AA’s International Convention. All who come will find a faith-community open to recovery just as much as it is to alcohol.
AA turns 80 this year. Atlanta is expecting 50K to 70K alcoholics in recovery. This year, the GA Dome in Atlanta will be the site for the “Big Meeting” both Friday night and Saturday night at 8pm. To welcome all who come, the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta is trying to get the word out about this special worship and welcome. (Please share this article and links both within the church and to all you might know in recovery.)
I chuckle some that I’m sharing that as a church we need to own our particular identity around alcohol. This is amazing to me personally because, while I am a clergyperson and a member of our church, I have been sober in AA for 19 years. You might think I’d be against alcohol. I’m not. AA has been instrumental in my formation as a person of faith and as a priest. Of all the churches that God could have led me to, I found home in, was received by, and ordained a priest in the one known for “whiskeypalians” and where I have often heard “wherever there are 4 Episcopalians there is a Fifth.” Trust me, I am and have always been amazed and humored by the irony of living one day at a time as priest in the Episcopal Church.
Such contrast often makes for good comedy… except, when it doesn’t.
On the flipside, as both a priest of the Episcopal Church and person in recovery it has been painful to watch some of the news as it rolled by this past year. Like watching a slow train wreck we witnessed a Diocese embroiled by the turmoil a single alcoholic can bring about. There has been hand wringing and reactivity. In reaction to all the negative press which followed it has also been interesting to read the second guessing about proposed cocktail parties and events with alcohol planned for General Convention in Salt Lake City.
I don’t believe reactivity, hand wringing or second guessing is the way to go forward. Blame will hardly do the trick either. The correct path our church should follow when it comes to alcohol is a both/and rather than a neither/nor. As church we need to own that alcohol is “ok” in our church. As church, we need to recognize, support, and be clear that for those struggling with it, that its “no” at times, is a loving response. As church we need not lose sight of the tremendous gifts shared to the church by those in recovery. We are strengthened by those who have found alcohol a problem and are now living into recovery one day at a time.
In Atlanta on the 4th, we are not going to change our stripes. We are not going to deny that there are Episcopalians who like Sherry or Scotch. Our approach this summer is simply to welcome. We hope to welcome Episcopalians and all others from many places who have come to Atlanta to be a part of AA’s 80th year. We’re glad they’re coming. We look forward to meeting you.
AA recognized early the folly of being or even trying to be a temperance movement. It has always been about helping the next alcoholic down the road and helping that one live in a world where alcohol is readily available. This approach to alcohol and its impact is key and should remain our model. It is both/and. As church we need to welcome the fact that for those of legal age, drinking alcohol is not a hindrance to a mature, robust faith. As church, we need to not shy away from but embrace that there are those for whom the successful consumption of alcohol is a problem. Borrowing from AA’s big book, “For them, to drink is to die.”
Welcome alcohol but welcome all of it: the good, the bad, and the transformational. Our faith, after all, is about transformation. Let the reactivity, hand wringing and second guessing go. As church we can learn from AA in this moment. “Let go and let God.” Welcome alcohol as a part of who we are. At the same time recognize and provide means to help our fellows who might suffer from it. Recognize, more importantly, that maybe, the fellow Episcopalian whom you admire for their Christian walk, may have learned at least a part of their walk in other “anonymous” places.
If that is you and you are coming to Atlanta this summer for the AA Convention, be it with one day of sobriety or 40+ years, we hope we see you Saturday night at All Saints Episcopal Church. Join us for worship and a meal. Join us and as the Big Book points out,, “We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny.” See you in Atlanta for AA’s Convention and at All Saints July 4th!
For more information, directions, and contact info about the worship and dinner please see:
To learn more or to consider coming to Atlanta for AA’s International Convention please see:
The Rev. Scott Petersen is a “friend of Bill” and priest at All Saints Warner Robins in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. This article supports both persons in recovery and the ministry of All Saints’ Atlanta in partnership with All Saints Warner Robins and The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. He is glad to be living further into this special ministry partnership. It should be known that while he greatly appreciates the partnership and its development, the views expressed here are solely his own.