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What If the Church Became More Like an AA Meeting?

By November 15, 2012 One Comment

What if the church became more like an AA meeting?

“Father, can I have a blessing?”

In scrubby jeans and an old fleece jacket I was doing yard work, storm cleanup raking leaves and picking up branches around the parsonage and churchyard. I certainly don’t usually go by “Father,” but with folks coming from a variety of religious backgrounds (or none at all) I don’t exert much energy worrying about a title, so when someone yells out Pastor or Reverend or Padre or even Father, I simply try to respond. This wasn’t the first time she made the request either. Julie—we’ll call her for the sake of anonymity—had once before “asked for a blessing.”

And I should interject: the first time a “blessing” was asked for I was perhaps a little fazed. Blessing? What exactly is being asked? What does she want? This was a different circumstance. I was out walking my dogs and a woman approached me, “You’re the priest at this church, right?”

“Aw, well, yes, kind of” I stammered. “I’m the pastor. We’re Protestant…”

“Oh, well, that doesn’t matter,” she replied saying she was Catholic and then went on and asked for a blessing.” She was an older woman whom I recognized lived around the block. Some stuff had happened to her recently and she was quite heavy hearted…

A blessing? Hmm? “I can pray with you?”

“Thank you,” she responded and bowed her head and we proceeded to pray.

Admittedly, still not sure if that’s what people are asking for exactly. But this incident has repeated itself a number of times. Sometimes I know the religious or spiritual context from which the person comes. Many are Roman Catholic, some Pentecostals, a few Jewish, a few no religious background at all, and some a mixture of them all. And almost all of them participate in one of the twelve step programs that happen in our church building—an Al Anon and two different Narcotic Anonymous groups.

All of which has lead me to believe that the church could learn a lot from such folks, could frankly be blessed by them. And maybe even learn to be a blessing, better. Church basements and Sunday school classrooms and fellowship halls all around the country hold meetings where people gather to find strength and hope, to confess and be honest, and walk more closely with their higher power/God of their understanding. Which in part sounds an awful lot like discipleship.

This certainly isn’t some new idea from me. I know of another local Reformed Church who had begun a Wednesday evening worship using the twelve steps as a liturgical guide. And a variety of books have been written on the subject, not to mention those about Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

But I’m especially struck by the request Julie (and many before her) made to me, “can I have a blessing,” and what that means for the church. I’m also coming down from a sort of “high”—the inappropriate pun intended—having recently co-facilitated a retreat on spiritual disciplines. A colleague concentrated on personal disciplines where I presented the more communal ones concentrating on confession, forgiveness, and guidance. We found much assistance in Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. In it he writes,

“Confession is a difficult Discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners.”

And then later he says,

“God has given us our brothers and sisters to stand in Christ’s stead and make God’s presence and forgiveness real to us.”

Great stuff!

But what particularly heartened me was that during the retreat a number of individuals shared both personally and with the group the reality of these statements and the power that they had experienced—and almost always it had not taken place in the church but rather was experienced via a twelve-step group.

Which says to me what are we in the church mission out on? (What I meant to type is “missing” out on, but spell check or Freudian slip, mission is what I mean.)

Does that mean everyone has to have a road to Damascus conversion and experience of God? Not at all. But I do think that everyone in church should be able to say, “Hi, my name is ‘so and so’ and I’m a sinner.” And after confessing this truth be able to live into and out the forgiveness God intends. And that the church be a community of blessing. Not of enablers or deniers but of blessing.

What if the church became more like an AA meeting?

One Comment

  • Thomas, I give you my most heartfelt Amen. I’ve had this question for many years. Indeed, why not more like AA—instead of Kiwanis, PTA or other congenial club? We can even go a step further and note the parallel between the way alcoholics conceptualize an “alcoholic” and the way (I redeemed) sinners conceptualize a “sinner.” The alcoholic points to the unemployed, physically abusive spouse/parent drunkard and says, “Well, I’m certainly not that,” and the sinner points to the murderer and robber and says, “Well, I’m certainly not that.” Alcoholism and sin both involve behaviors that are both harmful and compulsive. Anyway, thanks very much for this article. God bless you. Jack

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