We’ve all heard the jokes. “How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change the bulb and one to stir the martinis.” “When two or three are gathered together, there is always a fifth.”
But, we also know that these are no longer very funny. We have all heard tragic stories resulting from the inappropriate use of alcohol. Perhaps one of these stories has personally touched your life. Lives are lost, families grieve and promising careers are ended. Everyone loses. What is our role as a Church? We could ask ourselves if we carry any culpability when a tragedy occurs involving one of our own. We didn’t decide to drink too much and get in that car. We may not have even been in the same vicinity. But what of our culture? Do those old jokes ring true for The Episcopal Church?
Last summer, the deputation to General Convention from our diocese made a decision: we would not provide any alcohol in our hospitality suite. We left the decision to have a drink up to each individual who was free to purchase their own. We know that there were other dioceses who made the same decision.
Did you know that EDOMI has had an alcohol policy in place for years? Does your Vestry use these guidelines when choosing to allow others to rent your parish hall or host a church dinner? I bring this up because one of the resolutions passed at General Convention addressed this issue and offers guidelines for congregations. Here’s the text of Resolution A158:
A158: Task Force to Review and Revise Policy on substance abuse, addiction and recovery
Resolved, That the 78th General Convention acknowledge The Episcopal Church’s long-standing tolerance for the use of alcohol which, in some cases, has contributed to its misuse, and has undermined a climate of wholeness and holiness for all; that our Church culture too often avoids hard conversations about alcohol use, and the role of forgiveness and compassion in healing and recovery; and that The Episcopal Church now commits to create a new normal in our relationship with alcohol. We aspire to be a place in which conversations about alcohol, substance misuse, or addiction are not simply about treatment but about renewal, justice, wholeness, and healing. We affirm that Recovery Ministries of The Episcopal Church has long been and continues to be a valuable resource for this work; and be it further
Resolved, that the 78th Convention adopt the following policy on alcohol and other substance misuse and encourage dioceses, congregations, seminaries, schools, young adult ministries, and affiliated institutions to update their policies on the use of alcohol and other substances with the potential for misuse. These policies should consider the following:
- The Church must provide a safe and welcoming environment for all people, including people in recovery.
- All applicable federal, state and local laws should be obeyed, including those governing the serving of alcoholic beverages to minors.
- Some dioceses and congregations may decide not to serve alcohol at events or gatherings. Others may decide to permit a limited use of alcoholic beverages at church-sponsored events. Both can be appropriate if approached mindfully.
- When alcohol is served, it must be monitored and those showing signs of intoxication must not be served. Whenever alcohol is served, the rector, vicar, or priest-in-charge must appoint an adult to oversee its serving. That adult must not drink alcoholic beverages during the time of his or her execution of his or her responsibilities. If hard liquor is served, a certified server is required.
- Serving alcoholic beverages at congregational events where minors are present is strongly discouraged. If minors are present, alcohol must be served at a separate station that is monitored at all times to prevent underage drinking.
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages must be clearly labeled as such. Food prepared with alcohol does not need to be labeled provided the alcohol is completely evaporated by the cooking process; however, it is recommended that even in this case the use of alcohol in cooking be noted on a label.
- Whenever alcohol is served, appealing non-alcoholic alternatives must always be offered with equal prominence and accessibility.
- The serving of alcoholic beverages at church events should not be publicized as an attraction of the event, e.g. “wine and cheese reception,” “cocktail party,” and “beer and wine tasting.”
- Ministries inside or outside of congregations will make certain that alcohol consumption is not the focus of the ministry and that drinking alcohol is not an exclusively normative activity.
- Food must be served when alcohol is present.
- The groups or organizations sponsoring the activity or event at which alcoholic beverages are served must have permission from the clergy or the vestry. Such groups or organizations must also assume responsibility for those persons who might become intoxicated and must provide alternative transportation for anyone whose capacity to drive may be impaired. Consulting with liability insurance carriers is advised.
- Recognizing the effects of alcohol as a mood-altering drug, alcoholic beverages shall not be served when the business of the Church is being conducted.
- Clergy shall consecrate an appropriate amount of wine when celebrating the Eucharist and perform ablutions in a way that does not foster or model misuse.
- We encourage clergy to acknowledge the efficacy of receiving the sacrament in one kind and consider providing non-alcoholic wine. And be it further
Resolved, that, mindful of the emerging legalization of other addictive substances and the increasing rise of addiction, the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church provide for the ready availability, implementation, and continuing development of this policy church-wide, in consultation and coordination with Recovery Ministries of The Episcopal Church.
The policy of The Episcopal Diocese of Michigan is similar:
The Use of Alcohol at Church Functions
The Episcopal Church has never taken a stance endorsing the prohibition of the use of beverages containing alcohol. To the contrary, the Church has recognized that Scripture sanctions alcoholic beverages as a gift from God, and that the Lord himself dignified the use and serving of alcoholic beverages in his first miracle at Cana and in the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Responsible use of the “wine that makes glad the heart” is, in fact, one of the elements of the freedom of those who are in Christ.
However, the Church also recognizes that where there is potential for good, there is often a potential for evil; nowhere is this more evident than in the use of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholism is an illness which has reached epidemic proportions; for that reason, it is imperative that the members of the Church use the same prudence regarding alcohol use that they would use in handling any other dangerous drug. Although the social use of alcohol may be permitted for those who use it responsibly, the Church has a responsibility to those whom, for one reason or another, choose to abstain from alcoholic beverages.
Therefore, the following guidelines are given for the serving and use of alcoholic beverages at Church functions or on Church property within the Diocese of Michigan:
- Any beverage containing alcohol must always be clearly labeled as such; this also applies to any food (i.e., fruit compotes or desserts) where the alcohol has not been volatilized (cooked away.)
- When alcohol is served in any form, non-alcoholic alternatives must be offered. Non-alcoholic beverages must be served with the same attractiveness and accessibility as those containing alcohol, so that people who choose to abstain need not feel any embarrassment, discomfort or inconvenience in exercising their preference.
- Alcoholic beverages or foods containing alcohol must never be promoted in such a way as to imply that partaking of them is any sort of social requirement.
- Sale of alcoholic beverages without a license is in violation of the law of the State of Michigan.
- All applicable federal, state, and local laws and ordinances must be observed, including those governing the serving of alcoholic beverages to minors.
- Any occasion at which alcoholic beverages are to be offered should not be openly advertised as such: for example “Beer and Shrimp Supper.” The group sponsoring the event should be either a parish organization or a group of members of the parish.
- Although these guidelines recognize the positive social value of alcoholic beverages (Christians must take care never to encourage drunkenness); care must be taken to insure that responsible persons are in control of serving the alcoholic beverages. The sponsors of an activity or event bear primary responsibility for the manner in which alcohol is used at that activity or event. Such responsibility includes provision for safe transportation for anyone whose driving ability is impaired.
- It is the duty of the priest in charge of the congregation, or in his or her absence, the Senior Warden and the Vestry or Bishop’s Committee, to assume responsibility for the dissemination and observance of these guidelines.
- Individual parishes may choose to adopt alcohol policies that are more restrictive than those set forth in these guidelines.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to love one another which means caring for all those who enter our buildings and those to whom we minister. This means providing a safe place within our walls and our culture for everyone. Share these guidelines with your Vestry. Take them to heart in your own lives and practices so that none of us need to face the consequences or experience the guilt of bad choices.
Let us pray –
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
~ The Rev. Deacon Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee