We want to draw your attention to the healing ministry of our Lord Jesus, in particular to those in our congregations suffering from the disease of alcoholism/chemical dependency and their families. We want you to know that we are a resource for you. For we clergy can make a difference, lessening the effects of this killer disease, one of the most serious in our culture. This writer, like all members of our Committee, is in recovery -- almost 30 years now. Before then, I had 31 years as an active alcoholic. We believe from our experience, we have much to offer you.
Over the last 27 months, 4 persons who grew up in my former parish have died from this disease. Alcoholism, likely, appears on none of their death certificates. The first, 42, died as a result of many years of alcohol use combined with Tylenol. The second drowned or maybe committed suicide in her early forties after prolonged drinking. The third, 52, had actually stopped drinking. But it was too late. His body was past recovering. The fourth, 48, hanged himself after three decades of alcohol and substance abuse. My daughter is in a nursing school in St. Louis. She tells me that her hospital is filled with alcoholics, mostly undiagnosed, but the staff can tell what has brought these patients to them. An alarming number of us die too soon, never realizing the real problem.
What can you or I do? First, let me state what generally is NOT recommended. That is probably our natural reactions when we sense that a parishioner or a family member presents us with an alcohol/chemical dependency problem. AA recommends a newcomer attend 90 meetings in the first 90 days of sobriety. This is in addition to frequent meetings with a "sponsor" -- someone with sufficient experience with the disease to be able to guide the newcomer. The early stage of recovery needs to be very intense (as usually was the drinking!) No clergy person has that kind of time to give to one suffering person. Our job is to refer the person or family to the proper caregiver. Referrals that "take" are an extremely helpful ministry.
What else? Once a year, arrange a Sunday to highlight alcohol/chemical dependency and the resources to bring healing to it...by a special sermon -- the Episcopal Recovery Ministries Committee could help you prepare or find a guest speaker...and/of an adult class devoted to the subject...and/or newsletter articles...and/or a special youth group meeting.
Offer your church as a meeting place for 12-step groups. Advertise these meetings in your newsletter to keep the subject before your people.
If you are aware of 12-step people in your congregation, ask if they would be willing to assist you. Frankly, many clergy are reluctant to become involved with members about these things. A layperson may have less reason to be hesitant.
Devote a portion of your tract rack to pamphlets on the subject. The AA office (Central Service) and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse have a wide variety of inexpensive and helpful material.
One of the most important services you may offer as a pastor is to discuss the denominational policy on serving alcohol at parish functions not only with your parish leaders but your congregation as well, paying particular attention to making certain that attractive non-alcoholic alternatives are available. A healthy atmosphere in your church will set a positive context for the important ministry to this disease.
Blessings! Let us together seek to bring the Lord's healing to our people beset with these problems, for there is plenty of help around and within us.