Monday, April 09, 2007

Free From Bondage 2: Episcopal Actions on Alcoholism and Addiction

In my last post I wrote about addiction. As an Episcopal chaplain, I think it worthwhile to note what the General Convention has said about addiction, and about the response of the Episcopal Church to it.

Let’s begin with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. In the section of "Prayers and Thanksgivings," we find this prayer:

O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen. (BCP p. 831)


As a Book of Common Prayer must be (it is a Constitutional matter for the Episcopal Church), the 1979 Prayer Book was approved in two successive General Conventions (1976 and 1979), in exactly the same text.

It should be no surprise, then, that subsequent acts of General Convention on alcoholism and addiction would reflect the themes that recovery is release from bondage into freedom, and that the Church is called to provide pastoral support. The 68th General Convention in 1985 passed A083, the recent resolution with the broadest scope. The resolution said in part,

The Episcopal Church acknowledges the need for exercising a healing ministry and for offering guidance to problem drinkers or chemically dependent persons and to members of their families.

Alcoholism and other drug abuse are recognized as treatable human disorders which are manifested by a three-fold impairment of the body, mind and spirit. The Church concurs with health authorities that alcohol and other substance abuse is a major health concern of our society. It affects not only the alcoholic or abuser's health and self-concept, but also interpersonal relationships with family, co-workers, friends and counselors. It may affect any individual, regardless of financial situation, education, employment, race or creed.

The Church calls on all clergy and lay people to take to heart the seriousness of the illness of alcohol and drug abuse and its manifestations as a disrupter of family, economic and social life; and urges all churchpeople to do everything in their power to offer forth the love of Christ in his healing ministry to those afflicted persons and families.

The resolution also called for diocesan committees on alcoholism and drug dependency; to treat addicted employees with “pastoral love and concern,” and to include treatment in insurance programs; and establishing a policy for use of alcohol at church functions. This consolidated earlier resolutions dating to 1979, calling separately for diocesan committees, educational programs, and pastoral support (1979-B122; 1982-D015).

The 70th General Convention passed three resolutions, reaffirming the statement of the 68th General Convention, and also supporting the development of church school curricula on addiction by the National Episcopal Coalition on Alcohol and Drugs(1991-A100; 1991-D171; 1991-D172) . In addition, the 74th General Convention in 2003 called again for diocesan committees, educational efforts, and inclusion of treatment in health insurance plans for church employees (2003-A123).

In addition to actions of General Convention, there are actions of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. The Executive Council meets between General Conventions to carry out programs and policies approved by the General Convention. In 1983, the Executive Council designated “the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving Day as Alcohol Awareness Sunday throughout the Episcopal Church;…” (EXC111983.33)

The position, then, of the Episcopal Church as expressed in official acts is to acknowledge that addiction is a disease marked by bondage to the addictive substance. In response to that disease we are called to offer pastoral care and support, and especially to our own employees who suffer. Dioceses are called to have their own committees on the subject, and to offer educational efforts using both diocesan and national resources.

I have noted that it has been much more common in recent years to address addiction as a penal issue than as a health issue. We as Episcopalians should be bucking that trend, both in our Church and in our support for political and social actions. We might be (indeed, we almost certainly are) as tempted to protect our sense of "superiority" by seeing the behavior of others as "bad" rather than as "sick." The Episcopal Church, however, has called us to recognize that our brothers and sisters who struggle with alcoholism and addiction are indeed sick, bound in their illness both in body and in soul; and in recognizing that, to respond not to respond first with judgment but with compassion.

Postscript: After posting this morning, I found this news story. I think it fits my point to a "T." (Thanks to epiScope for this.)

2 comments:

jon said...

Any thoughts on ministering to alcoholics who feel threatened by wine at communion? I just ran across this article: "I Smell the Cup" by John Howard Spahr
http://religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1605

Marshall said...

It's an interesting article. I think since then some statistics have been collected about addicted clergy. Sadly, I think we're in the top five classes of professionals among alcoholics and addicts.

My seminary incorporated training in alcoholism and addiction after two members of the faculty were confronted and went to treatment. It included attending an open AA meeting, and Fr. Vernon Johnson's "I'll Quit Tomorrow" presentation.

The Prayer Book and the Canons specify fermented wine, as used by Christ. I have been in a setting where both were offered, and directions given. I've been in a setting where we purchased de-alcoholized wine (dreadful stuff, really). Generally, I am careful to include the word "wine" in my invitation. I think I've said something like, "This is the Lord's Table, and not our own, and so all baptized Christians are welcome to receive at this table as from the Lord's hand. It is customary to come forward, to receive the bread in your open palm, to receive wine from the common cup. If you would prefer for personal or health reasons not to receive the wine, it is appropriate to receive the bread only, or to take by intinction. If it is difficult for you to come forward, I would be happy to come to you." I've seen similar things printed in Sunday bulletins.

I think the Episcopal Church is well enough known for using wine that folks are rarely caught off guard; but it does happen. As far as I know, we are still told that no one has become an alcoholic or lost recovery from receiving at communion - except for clergy. However, I think the point is to provide proper information, and to provide proper support and welcome for the person who must do something a little different.