(Note: The name of the priest mentioned in this personal reflection is not the individual's real name.)
Nervously I sat in the nave, waiting for something they were calling a "12-Step Eucharist" to begin. This was not my home parish, but it was a real Episcopal church with the dark wood and stained glass and old-fashioned red door to prove it.
I scanned the room a bit furtively, taking in the group of maybe 30 people as we gathered. I was a mid-forties female suburban corporate executive with less than six months under my belt, and being open about my alcoholism, even among others in recovery, was still scary. But here, in God's house? It was what I knew my healing required, and it was terrifying.
I engaged in some chitchat that quickly turned into deep sharing with the attendees seated around me—a motley assortment of prodigals who, like me, were making their way back to God.
I gazed at the altar. The flyer had said that Communion would be served. This was a Eucharist, right, so Communion would be served? Somehow the idea of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, surrounded by these people I'd never met before, but who knew something profound about who I was, what I was, what I had become... I felt so vulnerable.
The service got started. There were well-known lines from the Big Book to listen to and recite, woven among the more familiar components of the Episcopal Eucharist. I began to relax. These two worlds that were both so life-giving to me—Alcoholics Anonymous and The Episcopal Church—were harmoniously merging in a way that was incredibly powerful. I was not the only one feeling this. The energy in the room was palpable.
And then a middle-aged man dressed in clerical vestments approached the lectern to deliver the sermon. Now I worried anew. I wondered whether this priest had any idea what I had been through to get here. I wondered whether this man of the cloth knew how ashamed I was before God. I wondered if he could help me find God again.
He opened his mouth to speak. “My name is Brent, and I’m an alcoholic.”
Tears began flowing down my cheeks. He was one of us.
A 20-something, heavily tattooed man sitting next to me, an urban artist in recovery from heroin addiction as I had learned in my conversation with him before the Mass started, reached for my hand. I looked at him and smiled through my tears. He understood what I was experiencing.
“We are people who normally would not mix. But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Fourth Edition, page 17)
“…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
I was completely safe here. No part needed to hide. I experienced fully who I am—a recovering alcoholic Christian and a Christian recovering alcoholic—in a way never before possible for me in an AA meeting room or in the Church.
I was deeply known by God and by the other beautiful human beings gathered here. At one time, in one place. And I was invited to meet them all at the Lord's Table.
The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Given for us.
The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Shed for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Sins. Indeed. And it was grape juice. Yes, shed for us.
This was the first sip of the sacrament I had taken since, half a year earlier in the wee hours of a Monday morning, I had gotten on my knees in my bedroom closet and cried out to God that I was sick and that I needed God's strength to heal. That I needed salvation—the cup of salvation.
This is what I received that day—among my people, in my Church. Welcome, understanding, safety, wholeness, community, salvation. Thanks be to God.