I Never Felt Peer Pressure to Drink Until I Joined the Episcopal Church
The tragic death of Tom Palermo grips me. So sad...and there is no going back. The consequences for his wife and children, family, and friends will be felt and lived every day of their lives. I'm also gripped by complex and, at times, conflicting feelings about Bishop Heather Cook. The consequences for her will also be felt for the rest of her life -- she will probably go to jail for a number of years; she will be disciplined in some way by the Church as our process goes forward -- but more than this, she will live with the reality that she killed someone while drunk. The texting is beside the point. The drinking led to unsafe driving practices.
In news stories and comments that I have read, I'm hearing about the need for accountability, and indeed there is a need. In fact, some are posting audio of a sermon given by Heather Cook, in which she speaks of the need for people to be accountable in a society that often wants to give people "a pass." (Well, that is true if one is white, college-educated, and well-spoken.) But what about accountability for the Episcopal Church?
Perhaps the Angel in the Alley, the grace to be known in the darkness, will be a serious look at how the Episcopal Church relates to alcohol. And perhaps, Episcopalians and others who struggle with issues of alcohol dependence and alcoholism will seek help, and/or be offered help.
Sure, we in the Episcopal Church have official policies about having alcohol at Church gatherings. We say that "equally attractive non-alcoholic beverages" be at church events when alcohol is present. There is the official position, but what is the culture in our Church and in our churches?
I never felt peer pressure to drink until I joined the Episcopal Church. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. So many times at church events, when I am offered a glass of wine or a beer, and I decline...immediately the person follows up with, "it's ok, you can have a drink." I usually have to refuse the drink two or three times before the person will let it go. During an interview process for a position in a church, I was offered a drink by a vestry member during the social time before dinner. When I stated that I was "good" with the water I was drinking, this vestry member stated, "We like to drink with our priest." I didn't get that job.
There is culture in the Episcopal Church of drinking and being proud of it. Now, I'm not saying that drinking is inherently wrong or that no one should drink, but we need to be aware of the messages we are sending by how we act around alcohol and what we say about it. It is easy to drink too much in the Episcopal Church; the over-all culture encourages it. Many times at Diocesan conferences, Council/Convention, I have seen people, leaders in the Church, hungover the next morning.
The Episcopal Church's culture around drinking did not do Bishop Cook any favors. I pray that those who read this blog, which I acknowledge is just my personal point of view, ...I hope and pray that if you are struggling with alcohol you will consider getting help...and I hope and pray that the Episcopal Church will develop a culture that takes seriously the need to support those who choose not to drink, for whatever reason.