A clergy who is an abnormal drinker and ends up killing someone while DUI is Big News. A clergy who is in an ongoing spiritual program of recovery is, thankfully, not Big News. By the grace of God and the fellowship of recovery, I am a clergy with 19 years of sobriety one day at a time. More than that, God, for reasons known only to Godself, has chosen to bear witness to those I would help of God’s power, love and way of life through my experience, strength and hope. The manner in which God chose to use me is not one I would recommend to anyone in recovery unless there is a very clear (and verified through independent prayer for discernment) prompting of the Holy Spirit.
I was a Spiritual Director on a Walk To Emmaus (think Cursillo with Methodist flavor) with 5 years of sobriety when I received a prompting of the Holy Spirit to reveal my disease to the pilgrims on the Walk. There were several women from my church (it was a women’s walk) who were spiritually mature and powerful in prayer and discernment. I told them what I thought God was asking me to do and would they please, please, pray about it. They did and came back with the answer I didn’t want to hear: “We think this is what God wants you to do.” So I did in a chapel meditation of the scripture popularly known as “The Prodigal Son.” During the time set aside on the weekend for spiritual direction. I had a line of 7 women wanting to talk about alcohol related problems. Well, the proverbial cat was out of the bag now, I thought. There’s a reason why “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation” of recovery and I had broken mine -- so that 7 women could get some help for themselves or loved ones.
I returned to my “normal” ministry for a year until I was asked to be a Spiritual Director on an Epiphany Weekend. Epiphany is the 3 day spiritual “retreat” in prisons with Juvenile Offenders. These young men and women are felony-level offenders. They were hardened car jackers, gang bangers, and even murderers. What did I, a middle-class white clergy have to say to them that would get past the shell of toughness they had developed to survive on the streets? Despite obvious socio-economic differences, I was still a drunk -- addicted like most of them. Into the simple faith prescribed by the official talk outline was infused my own adventures before, what happened, and what it is like now. That afternoon there were several requests for “one on one” sessions with a spiritual director. Their issues were heart-rending and ranging from “How can I stop Daddy from drinking?” to “How can I stay clean after I’ve served my sentence?” To paraphrase St. Paul, it was not I, but God working through me to break through the hard shell.
But God was not done putting me through the wringer yet. I was in my 7th year of sobriety and Easter was fast approaching. Another prompting of the Holy Spirit kept poking at me as I was working on my Easter Sermon -- “Tell the people.” Hang on, this could get to the District Superintendent and in turn to the Bishop! “Tell the people.” So I gather 5 of that church's Healing Ministers and ask, once again, for them to take a week and pray for discernment. Naturally, they came back with the dreaded words, “We think this is God’s will.” The Lectionary reading was Mary Magdalene’s encountering our Resurrected Lord. Why would God choose a woman (unreliable witness in that culture) from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ (Magdala) to be The Apostle to the Apostles? Because that’s what God always does. God uses people we probably wouldn’t invite to our next potluck in order to touch and heal a person’s hurts and hopes. God even chooses (for reasons known to God alone) to use this recovering alcoholic of a pastor.
The custodian of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship which rented space from my church was the first to seek an appointment. He was slipping in and out of sobriety. Then a young wife and member of my congregation came in. In tears she said she was ready to end her marriage because of her husband’s drinking. Then an older lady came in and poured out her worry over her son’s drinking. And so on it went. God’s power, love and way of life was manifested in the weakness of my disease. It’s not Big News, and that’s all right.