St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tacoma, WA (Diocese of Olympia) seeks to support recovery in two ways that may be of interest and encouragement to other congregations. Of course we make our facility available to several 12 step meetings, including AA and Al-Anon. The first is to designate one Sunday every September as Alcoholism Awareness Sunday. On that Sunday, the sermon focuses on alcoholism and substance abuse and on recovery for the person and their household. In place of the regular sermon, we may have a speaker from AA or Al-Anon, a speaker from our diocesan Commission on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, or I as rector may speak specifically about the “disease” of alcoholism and how our Christian faith offers hope for recovery. Simply dedicating one Sunday to alcoholism and substance abuse is a powerful and welcome message to our congregation that this issue can and needs to be talked about. Many members each year express their appreciation that this simple observance offers an opening to talk about this challenge they carry in their household and/or family history which is generally taboo for discussion.
Second, after much discussion, St. Andrew’s now offers a chalice of consecrated juice as well as consecrated wine at our Sunday Eucharists. I confess that as rector, I resisted this because it seemed logistically awkward and because just receiving the bread was “full” communion. However, we were offering gluten-free communion wafers as an alternative to the consecrated bread, and some parishioners did feel that excluding them from the cup denied our acknowledgement and commitment to recovery. After consultation with our bishop, we instituted a trial period and now have been offering an alternative chalice for the past year.
The logistics have gone very smoothly, and the alternative chalice has been appreciated by more folks than I expected – those refraining from alcohol as part of their recovery, those who choose to refrain from alcohol because of other medications, and several children who do not like the taste of the wine.
We purchase small, 6 oz. bottles of grape juice – individual serving size – which do not need refrigeration before opening. One bottle is sufficient for both 8 am and 10 am services, with any remainder discarded. So there is no issue of refrigeration.
The chalice used is distinct from our other chalices – ours is ceramic rather than silver plate. The filled chalice is placed on the Altar at the Offertory. I make the following announcement every Sunday: “When the wine is offered, if you would prefer a chalice of non-alcohol-bearing, consecrated juice, indicate by placing your hands together, palms down, and that will be offered.” (We use the same signal to indicate a preference for non-gluten bread when that is offered.) Then when the Eucharistic Minister bearing a chalice of wine sees that sign, they pass that person at the communion rail and another Eucharistic Minister, bearing the chalice of consecrated juice, steps up to serve. (At 8 am, the one Eucharistic Minister may return to the Altar to exchange chalices if an assistant is not available.) Over-all, this part of our liturgical service has flowed very well.
These two practices have been much appreciated in our congregation and have inspired visitors beyond our parish. Regular members find this a gracious expression of our welcome to all God’s people.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Martin Yabroff