This week we asked our bloggers to consider their experience of alcohol and church. Here are their reflections.
Beer is not my favorite beverage.
Generally I do not reveal such divisive information on such a broad platform. However, I want to share a story and you’ll need that gem of information in order to appreciate it. My husband, on the other hand, enjoys craft beer (he has been known to grab a make-your-own six pack in order to try as many different flavors as he can). My first call was in an area where alcohol consumption by Christians can be a bit of a hot-button issue.
When we first moved into the manse, we had the hardest time getting the recycling truck to pick up our recycling. We kept leaving it in the alley with the trash — not knowing we had to set it out in front for the recycling truck. Several weeks and phone calls later, we had the recycling set out the night before it was due to be picked up. We had piles of boxes from moving and a bin full of plastic, cans and glass. During the night, the wind picked up. Upon waking, I found our recycle bin on the neighbor’s lawn. All our items had blown away in the night, except about 20 beer bottles; those were glass, heavy enough not to wander away. After only a month as the new pastor in town, I stood outside in my pajamas as people drove down our busy street to go to work, picking up beer bottles off the lawn. It looked like a frat party had taken place. All I could think was: “Oh no! A month in and I am going to be known as the drinking pastor and I don’t even like beer!”
In that context, I was very cautious about consuming alcohol. I knew that some in the congregation were “dry” and others were not. I rarely would order an alcoholic beverage in public and was strategic about when I bought wine from the grocery store. It never failed; I would always run into someone when I had clanking bottles in my cart.
These days I am in a different context where people speak openly about appreciating wine, beer and even scotch. I have been to gatherings in members’ homes where alcohol was served, and I have been gifted wine from the people I serve. I do not find myself looking around if I order wine with dinner or buy a bottle at the local store.
However, regardless of context, I am conscious of my role as a leader in the church. I am keenly aware that people struggle with alcoholism and try to maintain a safe space for folks who struggle. I have witnessed alcoholism tear people and relationships apart. I know people look to me as an example and I am called to be responsible in my choices.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t times I want to share a bottle of wine with friends. The difference for me is that my friends aren’t part of my congregation. I am not the pastor when I am with friends (who, in my case, are often fellow pastors). Friends, pastors or not, are not immune from their own struggles and I try to be mindful when we gather together. I never want to be a stumbling block for another person, and I respect the healthy decisions people make about their own alcohol consumption.
Yet, I am human and there have certainly been times when I drank too much. I want to own that because these comments are about grace and finding our place in the world when it comes to how we consume alcohol. My choices will not be the same as another pastor’s choices — this is less about being right and more about the variety of healthy ways we can be in relationship together. We are, after all, a part of the connectional church. I hope we are all committed to standing together with our siblings who struggle with alcohol consumption and to be sure our own alcohol consumption is responsible and reasonable.
REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.