I understand that September 9 is International Buy Your Priest a Beer Day. I don't know where this pretend holiday came from, but I would like to invite those in the Episcopal Church to stop sharing it, promoting it, and participating in it. I'm not for prohibition, and I don't think drinking alcohol is a sin. I do have a sense of humor. But this is no longer funny. The Episcopal Church has created a culture of drinking that is contributing to clergy impairment and is harming the body of Christ. And we need to stop.
General Convention 2015 passed Resolution A159 that deals with the role of the church in the culture of alcohol and other drug abuse. Part of the resolution states that the church has a "moral and ethical responsibility to:
- Confront and repent of the Episcopal Church’s complicity in a culture of alcohol, denial, and enabling,
- Speak to cultural norms that promote addiction,
- Promote spiritual practices as a means of prevention and healing,
- Advocate for public funding and health insurance coverage for prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, and collaborate with qualified community resources offering these services, and to respond with pastoral care and accountability."
The picture posted above is of Tom Palermo's ghost bike, a bicycle memorial to the man killed in 2014 by then Bishop Suffragan of Maryland, Heather Cook, who was drunk and texting. Heather Cook is responsible for her actions, but what if those around her had offered her help instead of a culture where her alcohol use could go unchecked? Meetings, conferences, and conventions of the Episcopal Church are prime times for misuse of alcohol. Frequently these are places where impaired behavior is a result of excessive drinking. Not only do those drinking pose potential harm by getting behind the wheel of a car, but frequently they engage in sexual misconduct and abuse making these meetings and conferences dangerous for others in attendance.
Instead of buying your priest a beer today, ask your priest about his or her self care practices. Ask yourself why it's desirable to drink with your clergy person. Ask if the risk of harm is worth it. You wouldn't want your surgeon or pilot to be drinking on the job. We all need to ask ourselves why alcohol is one of our selling points in the Episcopal Church. Is Jesus not enough?
I went to Sewanee for my undergraduate work, and I learned to drink there. I was proud of it, and I loved that it was okay to drink in the Episcopal Church. I repent now of the ways that I was complicit in a culture of alcohol. I am sorry.
Six years ago I gave up drinking alcohol. I had seen too many lives devastated by it. Today I work at a recovery community organization with people who are healing from the ravages of addiction. I gave up drinking to stand in solidarity with them.
Not all of us who drink will become addicted or drink excessively. Not everyone needs to give up alcohol. But as a church, as part of the body of Christ, don't we owe it to our sisters and brothers in Christ who are in recovery or are at risk to be a place where we can all be safe?
Buy your priest a root beer or ginger beer. I'm all in for that. But please, whatever you do in your personal life, be part of creating a culture of health and wellness for the church. May our focus be not on alcoholic spirits but on the Holy Spirit.