This week we asked our bloggers to consider their experience of alcohol and church. Here are their reflections.
With her typical wry humor, the late Rachel Held Evans noted that, in terms of his consumption of wine, a majority of evangelicals would think that Jesus was a pretty lousy believer! But in all seriousness, the church has to dance carefully with its alcohol policies, both official and implied, in order to refrain from stepping on toes. A mentor once described his relationship to alcohol as like a dance partner. He could lead for a couple of songs, but then the roles reversed and soon he was spinning out of control.
The church I serve has a zero-tolerance policy for imbibing alcoholic beverages on our grounds. There’s a little sign barring alcohol hanging in the fellowship hall kitchen. To be clear, this teetotaling is driven by our insurance policy, not the proclivities of our membership. The December session meeting is held in someone’s home so that we can drink wine together. A ministry we call “Mom-fulness” (after the notion of mindfulness) rotates between the participants’ homes. Wine and chocolate are shared, and Rachel Held Evans is often read.
We also host a monthly gathering at a local bar as part of our men’s ministry. Initially, the idea was to offer this for young fathers, a growing contingent in our community. Quickly, we learned that it was more meaningful for us to engage with older men as well. I think of Robert Bly’s contention that it is the sacred duty of elders to bless their younger counterparts. At this monthly gathering, a couple of men drink only soft drinks. They have stories to share, and I have watched other men pause and stare meditatively into their beers.
In reference to the festival of Succot, the rabbis said there is no joy save in wine. “Joy” (simchah) is a part of many Jewish festivals, but especially reserved for this feast, perhaps because the harvest builds to the repentance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Joy is sanctified with reverence, a holy two-step.
This idea of “joy and reverence” (as well as the title of this brief post) is gleaned from the late Jean Vanier’s account of the experience in L’Arche, which are intentional communities of people living with various physical and intellectual disabilities found across the world. (I found this quote in a tribute to Vanier by my colleague Melissa Florer-Bixler.) Vanier said:
We eat wonderfully, we drink merrily – of course Coca-Cola, orange juice and, now again, wine and beer, moderately – we sing loudly and frequently out of tune, and we dance wildly and we play as much as possible. Feast days, birthdays are all occasions for parties and for fun. … The heart of L’Arche is to rejoice and to celebrate unity. We would like to be little signs of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love.
It seems to me there are good reasons to hang little signs prohibiting alcohol in certain places. But the larger question is what is written on our hearts.
ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the author of “Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems.” He and his wife, who is also a pastor, are rattled and blessed by parenting three young children.