Alcohol and the church

Dear friends,

If you spend a little bit of time in an Anglican (or Lutheran) church, chances are it won’t be long before you’re offered some alcohol—and not just at the communion rail. Many Anglican churches have historically been what we might call well lubricated. It was only when I became a priest (and moved to England) that I needed to learn the difference between port and claret and to understand that sherry is properly served before dinner, not after. I know of one town with two Anglican churches. The chief dividing line between the two? At one, they prefer to drink very fine wines. At the other, they only drink expensive cocktails. I thought this was a joke when I first heard it, until I attended a dinner party in that town and saw the members of the congregation divide along those very lines.

Jokes abound about Anglicans and their love of drink but I have been thinking about this lately because I’m aware that we frequently have alcohol at college events. We did at our annual general meeting, at a recent book launch, and when we toasted the successful immigration process of one our community members. We will again, no doubt, at our upcoming Advent party.

I don’t judge people for drinking and I don’t propose eliminating alcohol from college events. Indeed, I know of one person for whom a key moment in his conversion to Christianity was when some Christian friends invited him out to a bar with them. “You mean you can drink and still be Christian?” he said in bewilderment. But you don’t need to think too hard to know that in addition to lubricating church events, alcohol has also caused significant damage. Some members of our congregations are in recovery from alcoholism or other forms of addiction. Being presented with alcohol so frequently can be, to put it mildly, off-putting. A former bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States is serving a jail sentence after killing a cyclist while driving under the influence.

One helpful rule of thumb was provided by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church some years ago (and unfortunately not always observed): when alcohol is served at a church event, there should be equally attractive non-alcoholic drinks available as well. When you have wine, you shouldn’t just direct those who want something else to the sink for some water. Have juice, iced tea, sparkling cider, or whatever. And if you’re spending lots of money buying good alcoholic drinks, buy good non-alcoholic drinks as well.

Like much of life, alcohol can be a messy, difficult subject. How you deal with alcohol consumption, in your own life and in the life of your congregation, will be an issue you will confront in ministry. So it’s worth beginning to think about it now and not before it’s too late.

Faithfully yours,
Jesse Zink

This reflection was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a community news digest named for our patron, St. Luke, and published weekly during the term on Monday.

Leave a comment