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Through the Red Door Blog

In the early days of the Church, when the front door of the parish was painted red it was said to signify sanctuary – that the ground beyond these doors was holy, and anyone who entered through them was safe from harm.

In the lives of many recovering people, it is through these same red doors that sanctuary is found on a daily basis. Initially that sanctuary may not have started in the rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, but in the basements and back rooms of churches where 12-step meetings are held.

This blog was created for recovering people to share the experiences they found walking through those doors of safety, refuge and peace.

To submit a entry to the blog, please click here for the details or contact us at info@episcopalrecovery.org.

  • 07/01/2014 11:57 AM | Anonymous member

    Unfortuantely I was unable to attend the Gathering in Buffalo due to conducting a funeral for one of our beloved parishioners.  I understand it was a tremendous success - thanks are due to The Rev. Stephen Lane and the Diocese of Buffalo Recovery Team for their outstanding work.

    In spite of not being able to attend the conference, on Sunday, June 29 I delivered a sermon in which I somehow tied together the Hebrew Scripture text to the topic of faith and to addiction and recovery.  I post it here for your consideration( it has been amended a bit for this public forum):

    Genesis 22:1-14                                                                                      June 29, 2014
    Psalm 13                                                                          Third Sunday after Pentecost
    Romans 6:12-23                                                                                                Year A
    Matthew 10:40-42                                                                                   Kevin M. Cross

    Loving God, teach us through your words the path of discipleship and help us have faith in you and trust in your faithfulness to us.

    The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of the more well-known passages in Hebrew Scripture.  It is also one of the most terrifying texts in the whole of our Scripture.  What makes it so memorable for me is the almost unfathomable obedience that Abraham shows to God.  This is an obedience that overcame the powerful, positive bonds of familial love and relationship.  I imagine you must wonder, as I do, how could a man even think about sacrificing his son - for any cause.  And even more so how could a just and loving God ask one of his beloved to make such a terrible choice or ask him to commit such a violent act.  The fact that God asks Abraham to commit an act that he, himself, allowed to be carried out with his own son, does not, in the least, make this any easier to accept.   I have to be honest with you and say that I find this reading to be heavy and burdensome.  What kind of God calls for a father to sacrifice his only son?   However, the answer to that question is not any less shocking than that question alone.  The answer is simple it is the kind of God who is willing to give up everything for the salvation of the world – of us.

    What can this text teach us today?  I think if we can get beyond the shock value, we might see that first and foremost this text is about faith.  It is about the faith of Abraham and the strength of his conviction in the faithfulness of God.  It becomes a story of great love that almost leads to heartbreak.  Almost.  However, by the end of the story it becomes a text that proclaims that God will indeed provide for the faithful and uphold his promise.  As text tells us, after the angel of the Lord told Abraham to put down his knife, he saw a ram that the Lord provided to be sacrificed in place of his son.  So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."  (Say slowly) The Lord will provide

                Unshakeable faith in the promise that the Lord will provide, is as surely a sign of discipleship as any I can imagine.  It is the kind of faith that is imbued with the belief that God will ultimately lead us down right pathways.  Surely this story stretches the limits of such faith to an unfathomable level but it drives home the point that faith in God will always in the end lead to redemption and goodness. 

    Faith is a gift but for many it is a struggle to acquire and maintain.  I cannot imagine possessing the amount of faith Abraham was capable of living out in his life.  However, I do know that without any faith I would be lost.  The world cannot provide what God can provide.  This text is a key touchstone in Scripture for all of us who struggle with faith.

    As I began to meditate on faith, I found myself drawn to thinking about the convergence of different contexts in which I witnessed the power of faith this past week. I am sure you are aware that we have currently many parishioners who are ill with very serious medical conditions.  Three of our beloved have began Hospice care in the last two weeks.  One of these beloved passed on this past week.  These friends share in common living through times that surely must test their faith.  Yet each person seems to have become increasingly faith filled in the face of great struggle.  At a time when one might think it would be difficult to hold on to faith, they have become more firmly convicted in their beliefs that God is good and God will provide.  Our friend passed on, firm in his belief that our God is a God of love.

    This past week I was to attend the annual conference of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, an organization that I have led as President for the past two years.  I would like to talk to you today about what I have learned about faith from my work with addiction and recovery. 

    I came to work in the field of recovery honestly - as the result of growing up with a family which was severely impacted by this disease.   Let me stop for one moment and dwell on that word disease. Let face it addiction is a stigmatized illness.  Too often it is viewed and judged by society and even the church as a moral issue or as a sign of personal weakness or depravity.  As much as society has and continues to view alcoholism and addiction as issues of morality - that kind of thinking is dead wrong.  Addiction is a disease.  Just as we do not blame people with diabetes or heart disease or cancer for their conditions, we should not blame those suffering from addiction.  Addiction is a disease with genetic, biological, psycho-social and spiritual components.  It is, like many of those other health conditions, a disease without a cure.  The one distinction that addiction has as a disease is that in my view it is the most deadly.  You may be surprised to hear me say that.  You may ask: What about cancer? Isn’t that more deadly?”  Let me explain why I say that addiction is more deadly to our health.  It is because, addiction directly attacks the core of who we are, it attacks our essence, our very soul itself.  A disease like cancer initially attacks the body.  It may eventually attack our spirit, but addiction attacks the spirit immediately and directly.  If we could personify this disease we could say that it acts with only one goal in mind and that it to take you over completely!  Addiction attacks the relationships we have with others: friends, family God and even with our selves.  Eventually the only relationship that comes to matter is that of the addiction. The all-consuming relationship with the substance or behavior replaces everything.  Any concept of having a spiritual life, of having a soul is eradicated.  On the journey of addiction, the idea that there could be a Higher Power, a God to whom everything belongs and is part of, becomes inconceivable.    

    If there remains any concept of a God, it is not uncommon that it is of a harsh, unforgiving God.  Often this doesn’t seem to bear any relation to the image of God one grew up with or held during a healthier period of life.   And, this image doesn’t seem to have much to do with prior concepts God.  Instead this new image is a projection of the shame and guilt that one feels about their behavior or state of life and certainly it is a reflection of the shame that society places on the addict.  In the end, given the breakdown that has occurred with relationships (self, others and God), any concept of God ceases to exist except perhaps for the focus of blame.  If addiction does not start out as the consequence of a spiritual disease it quickly becomes one

    This is the reason I strongly believe that restoring a healthy spiritual life is critical to the recovery from the disease.  Bill W. knew this when he put together the AA program.  Fr. Sam Shoemaker, an Episcopal priest worked with Bill W. to put his ideas about recovery in a spiritual framework which has become the basis of all 12 Step Programs.  12 Step spirituality is built on the premise that we all have a spiritual life regardless of specific beliefs or religions.  The spirit is who we really are.  It is our essence, our core, our soul.  It is who God created us to be.  Based on our faith we know three key concepts about spirituality:

    A healthy spiritual life is necessarily relational.  

    Relationships with other, friends, family and God are essential to spiritual life. 

    A healthy spiritual life is essential to a healthy life.

    How does one restore a healthy spiritual life?  I think that faith comes prior to having any specific belief system.  Faith is an experience of God, a higher power that calls for a response of trust and self-surrender.  It is up to those of us who are blessed with a healthy sense of a spiritual life to re-present God, Christ to those who struggle with faith.  In Step Twelve of the program it states that “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  Therein is the beauty of AA.  It is all about community and responsibility for self and for service to others.  What better way is there to repay God than with what is truly God’s?

    If we believe that God will provide then we have no option other than to give thanks – part of giving thanks is growing our relationship with God and helping others to do the same.  God is present in every moment of our lives – the good and the not so good.  God will not be shut out because God is in everything.  Even in the face of addiction, God will find a way in.  One of my favorite quotes is by Edwina Gateley, a friend and real modern day saint.  She once said about God that “I am the God of the backdoor. I exist outside the boxes, barriers and walls you put up to separate based on differences.  I look for the holes and cracks to slip through… Our task is not to seek God but to recognize God’s presence is already here The world has already been saved.  Your primary task is relationship with God.”  Let us give thanks for our loving God who has promised “The Lord will provide.”  

  • 03/27/2013 3:43 PM | Anonymous member
    The attached article recently ran in the Wall Street Journal.  This is not a new trend It seems to be increasing in practice.  What are your thoughts?

  • 01/12/2013 3:44 PM | Anonymous member
    Living into the Mystery of turning my will and my life over to a Higher Power

    A new person in Recovery asked me recently: " How do I turn my will and my life over to a Higher Power that I cannot see?  that I do not know?  that I do not trust?  This action step is just too much for me.   Why is it one of the suggested steps?  Maybe it works for yon and a lot of the others, but it will not work for me.  Why do you all say it's important to do this when my problem is with alcohol?  I am not coming to you with a religious problems.  Not even with philosophical questions about life and the meaning of it.  I have a problem with alcohol.  That, I can admit.  That I can see.  What does that have to do with a 'power greater than myself?'"

    These questions were thoughtfully posed.  She really did want to know.  She was not arguing with me.  She was confused, as most of us are when we first arrive in Recovery with an alcohol problem showing up in our lives.  In our homes and work.  In our social life and relationships.  In our memories that we wish we did not have.  In our memories that we do not have that others tell us about (which happen during what are commonly called "black outs".) 

    But why the focus on finding a Higher Power?  Why the focus on letting go and giving up everything to that Higher Power?


    I shared with her that when I first came into Recovery, I asked the same questions.  I, too, thought that the problem was all about alcohol.  And the importance I had placed on it.  Maybe the fact that I could not control it. Maybe the fact that it had caused problems in my life that I could never have foreseen or imagined.  I had faith.  My faith was actually very strong and the fact that I had still had problems with alcohol was confounding to me. 

    I lived with a lot of shame about that.  I drank with a lot of shame about that.  I even asked for help through that cloud of not accepting myself.


    After some time, I told her, I realized that I had been surrendering to a liquid in a bottle.  I had truly "lived into the mystery" of not knowing what would happen when I drank.   In every sense of the words, I had turned my will and my life over to that liquid.  Even though it had let me down over and over.  Even though it had brought inconceivable problems into my life.  Even though I had prayed time and again that I would not drink too much or hurt my family again or end up in problems at work or in my relationships, I turned my life and my will over to a higher power,  a liquid in a bottle.  It caused untold problems.  It hurt everyone I loved.  Deeply.  And yet, I still "lived into the mystery" of letting go and hoping that maybe I could control it this time.


    Now, I choose to turn my life and my will over to a power greater than myself which helps me to stay sober each day.  That power assists me with strength, healing, and hope for new relationships which are healthy.  My Higher Power has brought reconciliation to many of those I damaged so deeply when I gave myself up to that liquid. 


    Now, I "live into the mystery" of surrendering to a power greater than myself who heals and redeems and reconciles and makes new everything that I truly let go of.  And that, indeed, is a mystery I like living into.  Each day I choose this mystery anew rather than returning to the other mystery. 


    To further explore what it means to "live into the mystery", I am looking forward to attending the annual conference sponsored by Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church which will be held April 4-5, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.  I am certain that the theme of the two day conference, "Carrying the Blessing",  will assist me in my spiritual growth in Recovery.  The workshops will assist me in being able to discover and express even more fully how I live into the mystery of Recovery.  To focus on carrying the blessings of Recovery to others.  To help others put down that liquid for a Higher Power that will give them growth and healing.  And the blessings of sobriety.  To learn from others how they let go, and live into the mystery.


    To learn more about The Gathering,  just go to   http://www.episcopalrecovery.org/Default.aspx?pageId=974472&eventId=608845&EventViewMode=EventDetai  

    and then, just make reservations.  Make plans! Carry the Blessing in new ways as a result of attending this conference.  And bring someone with you who is new in Recovery. Who is still wondering about their Higher Power.  About living into the mystery. 

  • 01/12/2013 2:26 PM | Anonymous member
    I am an ordinary person
    touched by the love of God
    in my deepest pain

    so grateful
    for this process and community
    that we call the Twelve Step Program
    grateful for the hope of it
    grateful for the dignity of it
    grateful for the Rule of Life that it offers me

    grateful for accountability
    grateful to the sober
    grateful to be molded
    by the hands of a very loving God
    who touched me
     and called me
    out of my deepest pain 
    to hope.

    and so, 
    I worship.
    I thank God.
    emptied by the efforts of the Steps
    cleansed by God's affection
    healed by God's kindness
    I receive Holy Communion
    with gratitude


  • 12/23/2012 12:52 PM | Anonymous member
    I have  been wanting to add to the Recovery blog for some time. My story is too long to give today, but during this Holiday Season of 2012-2013, I am encouraged in my soul. First, I am staying sober. Second I cancelled a planned trip to the Benectine Monastery I am affiliated with by way of being a comitted obate.
    Both are the right thing for me. Sobriety is a gift which lets me live more normally than not.  My private retreat at Conception Abbey was cancelled by me because my 92 year old just got sick. Only with God's grace am I able to do the right thing. May Jesus renew us this season.  (Anonymous)
  • 11/14/2012 12:04 PM | Anonymous member
    A basic question that is frequently asked is how do we establish a responsible policy on alcohol use at diocesan/parish events.  Some dioceses have formal policies others do not.  We would like to provide the template for a policy that could be easily adopted by dioceses and parishes.  A new wrinkle that will need some thought is the consequences of the new stance on marijuana use in Colorado and Washington.   

    In addition a corollary question has to do with ideas for fun beverages that can be served as alternatives when alcohol is served.  So, thinking that you all must have some wonderful recipes to share.  If you have a recipe you would like to share, please send it along.

    Please share your experiences, thoughts, policies and recipes here!  In the near future, we hope to integrate this all into a new R.M resource.


    Fr. Kevin  
  • 06/05/2012 10:14 AM | Anonymous member
    Summaries of the presentations from the 2012 Gathering are posted on our lead page.  Please share your thoughts, feedback and questions.
  • 03/14/2012 11:20 PM | Anonymous member

    Preaching, Waffles and Recovery

    March 2012

    During Lent at my home parish, we host a well known Lenten Preaching Series featuring inspiring and diverse speakers from many different faith paths. We also, for the past 89 years, have hosted what we fondly refer to as The Waffle Shop.

    The Waffle Shop is a unique, mostly volunteer, full service restaurant located in the basement of Calvary Church. It’s a place where we feed people’s hunger for good southern food - before, during and after we attempt to feed their spirits in the sanctuary with preaching. The haute southern cuisine is highlighted with items like tomato aspic, waffles and chicken hash and the most famous - fish pudding – something you have to experience to understand. For me it’s a time of seeking and celebration and often renewal that I don’t participate in during other times of the year.

    I work in downtown Memphis and on the days that I can slip out of my office and walk over to the service and eat lunch the stresses of my everyday life tend to slip away and I am transported to the place of sanctuary that often eludes me during a work day.

    Another thing that takes place every weekday during lent is a recovery meeting at noon in the same basement. The meeting has been going on for many years and although I am not a member of that group I often wonder what it feels like for them during lent. Are they excited like me to get to eat the annual treats or does it feel like they are being pushed aside for the pomp and pageantry and crowds that often accompany visits by nationally known speakers and preachers?

    I’m not sure that I have an answer to that question, but I do know that when I went to The Waffle Shop for the first time this year, I found it curious that on the back entrance of the church was a sign posted that read, “The entrance to AA is now on Adams Street due to Waffle Shop”. If you’re not familiar with Memphis or Calvary, the Adams Street entrance is a side door. It’s actually a beautiful red side door that is normally locked during other times of the year but it has a more direct access to the AA room. The relocation to the side door entrance is simply logistics and has been that way for many years during lent, I’m sure, but still I found it curious.

    Many of the men and women who come to that meeting are our neighbors. They could be parishioners or members of the downtown homeless population, or from treatment centers, or even just out of the jail two blocks away. They are often times hurting and seeking refuge, the people that Jesus may have called the “least of these.” During other times of the year the church is quiet at noon and relatively empty, but for these 40 or so days we invade their space. We fill it with downtown business people and the ladies who lunch and clattering dishes and smells of baked spaghetti and rye bread.

    I do trust that God smiles on both of us, on the recovery meeting and on The Waffle Shop and preaching series, but today, I want to say thank you to the men and women of that meeting who welcome us into their space, their basement. I want to remember that for me, the spirituality and the love and the acceptance I feel upstairs in the Nave and over in The Waffle Shop would not be possible without the meetings through the side doors that helped open my heart spiritually.

  • 03/01/2012 8:20 AM | Anonymous member
    This article was written by Member Donna Gaines who graciously gave us permission to post this article with originally appeared in The Anglican: A Journal of Anglican Identity

    Volume 37, Number 1, pp 12-16

    Winter 2008

    A clean and sober Anglican Priest once said, “Every addict fights the devil every day to keep his soul.” While we are no strangers to hell, we are also living proof of God’s graceundefinedundeserved, unearned, and uncalled. For anyone in Twelve-Step recovery, living clean, sober, or abstinent one day at a time is a miracle. Addiction is a spiritual, mental, physical and emotional disease. It has no cure. Having survived hopeless misery, isolation and desperation, people in recovery have witnessed God’s mercy first-hand. Regardless of how we understand God, we come to believe that no human power could have relieved our suffering, but that God could and would if he were sought.

    Mine had been a lifetime of alienation, self-loathing, fear and cross-addiction. My spiritual journey has taken me from an unhappy suburban childhood, through a troubled, delinquent youth on the streets of Rockaway Beach, Queens--speed addiction, glue-sniffing, food, sex, work and alcohol binges---to a place of completeness and joy. Faith is non-linear, process-oriented and mysterious. So is recovery. For a long time, I figured it was serendipity. Eventually, I understood it as grace.

    My name is Donna and I am a sociologist. In the beginning, Twelve Step recovery promised me a life beyond my wildest dreams. At first, I imagined the cash and prizes; fame, fortune, True Love, a big house, and new toys. But I already had some of those things when I bottomed out and I was still miserable. It seems God had a very different plan for me. I became an Episcopalian.  The more diligently I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understood him, the closer I moved towards the Anglican Communion.

    Most people who surrender to Twelve Step recovery midlife don’t convert to Christianity, and even fewer become Episcopalians. Given my background, Buddhism’s Eightfold Path and Four Noble Truths would have seemed the more logical choice. But eleven years later, here I am living a completely different life. For an urban bohemian, a former yeshiva girl, a tattooed, gun-toting woman of letters with a rock & roll heart, that’s a life beyond my wildest dreams. I had no plan, I just followed my instincts and they brought me here. Only afterwards did I realize that an Episcopal Priest, Father Sam Shoemaker, former Rector of Calvary Parish Church in New York City was the critical link between my two spiritual communities.

    Alcoholics Anonymous, a world-wide self help movement with over two million members was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1935 by a stockbroker named Bill Wilson and a physician, Dr. Bob Smith. Since then, the seminal Twelve Step program of recovery has been adapted to address an exhaustive list of compulsive behaviors and addictionsundefinedeverything from cocaine to cluttering, codependency and over-eating. The intellectual and cultural history of Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is a complex web of affiliations, interdisciplinary, it integrates knowledge from medical science, psychology, philosophy and theology.

    Bill Wilson had credited another physician, Dr. William “Silky” Silkworth, with defining alcoholism as a disease, not a moral failing. Step One requires admitting complete powerlessness over this substanceundefinedas with any allergy. Recovery offered a daily reprieve, not a cure. Medical science had no answers or solutions for this disease. Wilson attributed Step Two, the belief that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, to William James and Carl Jung.  This was not a religious conceptundefinedit was grounded in philosophy, psychology and psychiatry. 

    In 1902, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, James famously suggested “The only cure for dipsomania is religiomania.” Jung echoed this in 1961, in a series of now-famous correspondences with Wilson regarding a hopeless drunk named Rowland H.  Jung speculated the craving for alcohol was a “low level” expression of the spiritual thirst for wholeness---one that could only be satisfied by union with God.  Spiritus contra spiritum, Jung noted, the Latin term for alcohol is "spiritus." The highest religious experience and the most depraving poison were inextricably bound up in the human psyche.

    Bill Wilson attributed the remaining Steps to Father Shoemaker and the Oxford Group. Shoemaker became the Rector of Calvary Parish Church in New York City in 1924. There, he ran the Calvary House, headquarters for both the Calvary Mission and the Oxford Group, an evangelical movement that aggressively promoted universal spiritual principles. Today, the room that once hosted the Oxford Group at Calvary hosts Twelve Step meetings.

    In  Courage to Change,  A.A. historians  Bill Pittman and Dick B. trace the Christian roots of A.A. specifically to Shoemaker, who was not himself an alcoholic. Prior to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, both Wilson and Dr. Smith had sought rehabilitation at Calvary Mission. In 1955, at AA’s 2nd International Convention in St. Lewis, Wilson formally introduced Shoemaker. Although others had a hand in the sauce, Wilson publicly acknowledged Shoemaker’s contribution,  “It is through Sam Shoemaker that most of AA’s Spiritual Principles have come.”  By 1963, in a personal letter to Shoemaker, Wilson specifically conferred co-founder status. 

    Wilson also claimed A.A.’s practice of self-examination, the acknowledgement of character defects, the act of making restitution for harm done, and the ideal of service came from “the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America.”  Even Wilson’s now-famous “hot flash” white light hospital room conversion--- the episode that ended his drinking career forever---was attributed to Wilson’s foundational experiences with the Oxford Group and Father Shoemaker at Calvary Mission.

    At the time of publication of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1939, A.A. was not affiliated with the Oxford Group. Still, the groundbreaking ‘big book’ of the Twelve Step recovery movement encouraged members to make good use of religious teachings. In Appendix V, “The Religious View on A.A.,” the anonymous authors included praise from a Roman Catholic priest and from the Episcopal magazine, The Living Church. Ever careful not to alienate skittish newcomers in recovery from bad (dysfunction) religion---those unfortunate souls stained by punitive socialization experiences, refugees from warped God concepts---the founders specifically excluded any mention of the bible, the Oxford Group or Jesus Christ from Alcoholics Anonymous

    By design and intention, the A.A. concept of a Higher Power affords members maximum autonomy and creativity in conceptualizing the Divine. This inner process of self-discovery is highly individualistic, encouraging experimentation and whole-hearted seeking, suggesting “Take what you need and leave the rest.” According to an Episcopal priest, the Reverend Dr. J. Christopher King, “A Higher Power is our best working definition of God at any given time.” This is a flexible construct, suggesting gradual reliance upon a power greater than ourselves---a God of our own understanding.  Developing a relationship with a Higher Power is an innovative enterprise. No dogma, no rules, no pressure, only gentle suggestions.

     Basically, a Higher Power can be anything or anyoneundefinedas long as it isn’t you. And you don’t even have to call it God. It can be a turtle, a tree, a Harley Davidson, Aphrodite, Joey Ramone, the planet Jupiter or the power of the collective---the fellowship itself.  A Higher Power can also be the ideal of social justice, liberty or universal love. The hope invested in a child, or in generations rising. Based on universal principles such as forgiveness, love and selfless service, right action, surrender, and personal responsibility, the program is compatible with almost any religious or spiritual tradition. The Twelve Step recovery movement is spiritual, but not religious.

    In 1955 Shoemaker also addressed the convention in St. Lewis. Though he had inspired the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, looking out on a congregation of thousands of sober A.A.’s and their families, he remarked, “As I lived and moved among these men and women for three days, I was moved as I have seldom been moved in my life.” He witnessed alcoholics deeply engaged in bloody,

    messy, daily life and death battles against the bottle---all shapes and sizes, rich and poor, young and old, of every color, of any faith. Strangers, pulling each other up from drowning, like true fishers of men and women.  In these anonymous alcoholics Shoemaker discerned the passion of the First Century. He saw

    people fully engaged, completely present and committed to loving God and neighbor in the most profoundly personal way.  Shoemaker hoped to bring some of that back into the institutional church, in effect, to reclaim the healing ministry of Jesus. As Wilson himself once remarked, “The church is not a museum, it’s a hospital.”

    In “What the Church Has to Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous,”  Shoemaker outlined five points. First, “Nobody gets anywhere until he recognizes a clearly defined need.”  Addiction can rob us of everything---family, job, home, and dignity. Bottoming out is what makes us willing. Willingness becomes the foundation of trust and faith. The choice is very clear---life and death.

    As Shoemaker observed, alcoholics are desperate to get well---not just a little bit better--- but all the way. As Shoemaker explained, “AA's each and all have a definite, desperate need. They have the need, and they are ready to tell somebody what it is if they see the least chance that it can be met.” He asked, “Is there anything as definite for you or me, who may happen not to be alcoholics? If there is, I am sure that it lies in the realm of our conscious withholding of the truth about ourselves from God and from one another, by pretending that we are already good Christians.” Shoemaker noted, “There were no good Christians in the first Church.” Everyone was a sinner in the beginning.

    We too, come to our church because we need. We may come feeling lonely, confused, empty or afraid. We may come longing for God, seeking affirmation, acceptance and meaning. We may come seeking connection and community; a sacred space to praise God joyfully. The body of Christ is the body social. Are we committed to standing together in life-altering fellowship or are we just showing up Sunday morning for small talk, coffee and cake? Are walking the walk or just talking the talk?  Are we passively waiting for transformation to happen to us or are we desperate for it? Are we taking full responsibility for our salvation or do we expect our clergy to do it for us?  In church, as in recovery, half measures avail us nothing.

    Secondly, Shoemaker wanted to remind the church that transformation occurs in the context of community---that people are redeemed in life-changing fellowship. Ongoing transformation is the essence of spiritual growth, and also the goal of recovery.  But without a compelling, overwhelming need to change, we humans usually won’t.  People in Twelve Step recovery actively work to strip away everything that separates us from ourselves, each other and God. We reflect on our shortcomings and humbly ask God to remove them so that we might better know and serve His will. We regularly depend upon each other and God for help. We speak our truth openly, on a daily basis, face to face. Fear and shame evaporate along with the mental obsession to drink, gamble, or drug.  We can see ourselves and each other being redeemed on a daily basisundefinedit’s not a promise, it’s a fact.

    Observing the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, Shoemaker noticed that even the newcomer had something valuable to offerundefinedhis or her own experience, strength and hope. The drunk with two days of continuous sobriety is a powerful example for the shattered soul walking through the door. In Step Twelve, we acknowledge that we have had a spiritual awakening as a result of working the Steps. This is an evangelical call to practice program principles in all human affairs, and to “carry the message” to others who may be sick and suffering. In The Wounded Healer, Henri  Nouwen urged us to make use of our brokenness in ministry, to use it creatively and purposefully. But, as Shoemaker lamented, “Today the last place we feel we can be candid is in the church.” He reminds us that in the First Century, transformation was expected.  Nobody did it alone.

    Thirdly, was the necessity for definite personal dealing with people. Shoemaker questions, have we ever been “drastically dealt with.”? How real are we willing to be with each other? Are we challenged by ourselves and each other to grow on a daily basis? Willing to bear our souls in “fearless moral inventory”?  Can we share what’s in our hearts openly, confiding  fears, sorrows and hopes? Can we say, “I

    feel I’m not good enough for God,” or “I’m afraid I’ll never be whole”? Being a “polite” or “nice” or even “helpful” parishioner is not the same as standing together in true fellowship---without fear of ridicule, gossip, judgment or shame. Sobriety depends upon unity, so does salvation.

    Fourth, Shoemaker understood the necessity for a real change of heart, a true conversion.  An Anglican view of conversion is a gradual and lifelong spiritual awakening. According to Reverend Bill Tully, Rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, “Christians are in continuous conversion.”  So are alcoholics and addicts. Recovery is an ongoing process that transforms us on a daily basis. When I surrendered to Twelve Step recovery, I understood I would have to change everything. I also knew I wouldn’t have to do alone. I understood this change would happen in God’s time, not mine. And that I had to meet God half way.

    Finally, Father Shoemaker believed, “One of the greatest things the church should learn from A.A. is the need people have for exposure to living Christian experience.”  As Shoemaker noted, “In thousands of places, alcoholics (and others) can go and hear recovered alcoholics speak about their experiences and watch the process of new life and take place before their eyes. There you have it, the need and the answer to the need, right before your eyes.” But even if we were willing to follow Shoemaker’s advice, how would we actually do it? As he observed, the structure of churches---services, bible study groups, forums, workshops, even retreats---often lack the intimacy and continuity needed to for such sustained, raw exposure. But few societal institutions now exist where people can be consistently open, honest and true with each other. Cyberspace communities allow us to do it anonymously, safe behind a screen. In the family, at school, work or church, we may rarely get to express what we truly think, want, and need. Can we even talk to God in our own voice?  It’s our most intimate connection, but too often, we can’t remember the language.

    Shoemaker suggested parishioners organize into small, informal groups to share our ongoing personal experience of life in Christ---how do we live and breathe our faith in the sacred and mundane?  Many churches have recognized this need---to practice our faith as desperately, fearlessly, and honestly as a drunk drowning in a river of Gin. But Shoemaker wanted to see much more of it. "Would that the Church were like this----ordinary men and women with great need who have found a great Answer, and do not hesitate to make it known wherever they can--a trained army of enthusiastic, humble, human workers whose efforts make life a different thing for other people!"  This was Shoemaker’s hope and his prayer.

    On September 28, 2002, I was baptized in a triple immersion sacrament, by a sober Anglican Priest in Gardiner’s Bay, East Hampton, New York. I was surrounded by fourteen sober friends, some Christian, some not. This baptism outwardly expressed what I'd experienced inwardly some months prior; the unquestionable presence of Jesus Christ in my heart.   Experiencing God’s great love has repaired a damaged childhood, soothed the longing for a father I had never known---he died when I was a month old. Nothing else could have healed that gaping hole, the aching emptiness of an early rupture and abandonment.  Lord knows, I tried everything.

    But I still hated organized religion. I viewed it with skepticism, understood it as a repressive institution; patriarchal, sexist, homophobic, and racist. What I knew of the institutional church seemed antithetical to this awesome, loving, healing God of my understanding. So I considered myself a “Surfy Christian” and for two years I prayed in the ocean, while dancing, even on the New York City subway---anywhere but in a church. I made up my own prayers, bodysurfing to the rhythm of the waves, chanting repetitions of my own version of the Jesus Prayer, “I surrender myself, body spirit and soul to the Lord, in Jesus Christ, Amen.”

                One day, back in New York City, I really needed to talk to God and it was a cold outside so I ducked inside St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. Funky, elegant, huge yet homey, this landmark Park Avenue church with a membership of several thousand had probably seen better days. I didn’t even know what kind of church it was, but I loved the architecture and the music. I was overjoyed, tearing up at the sight of women officiating as Priests and Bishops. The multi-cultural face of the congregation looked like my America, like my vision of heaven--young and old, rich and poor, hipster and square, all definitions of family, rising up together as one.

    I started by just showing up at the Sunday evening “Come as you are” Eucharist.  I was greeted with a radical welcome, treated as a child of God, even though I wasn’t technically yet “one of them.”  Nobody cared what I was wearing or where I came from. They cherished the Jewish roots of Jesus---the faith of my fathers. “The communion table is open,” declared the officiant, Father Bill Tully, and I was encouraged to partake. “These gifts belong to God, not the church.” The innovator of the controversial open communion table, Tully views this as a form of “spiritual evangelism,” a way of drawing in and including all.

    All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘ I was a stranger and you welcomed me’. When I was sick and half crazy, lost in my addictions, the anonymous people I met in Twelve Step recovery promised, “We will love you until you love yourself,” and that promise was kept.  When I came to the Episcopal Church as a stranger, you also welcomed me. But it was the election of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire that finally convinced me to become an Episcopalian. It my proof that  God’s love was still alive in the church.  And so, two years after my baptism, I joined St. Bart’s and was confirmed. I currently serve in lay ministry.

    When a Roman friend asked about my Episcopal Church I explained, “Well, were Anglican, Catholic and also Protestant. We don’t have a Pope, but we take Holy Communion and make group confession. We are taught that God loves really us, that we are pleasing to Him just as we are. We believe He came to live among us to know us better. We ordain women, and our clergy can marry. Same sex couples are welcome in our congregation. And even when we disagree passionately, we still try to love each other and walk on higher ground.”

    Today I surf a seamless highway, a continuous loop between the Episcopal Church and Twelve Step recovery. I learn in both traditions that wisdom can be distilled from the daily as well as texts and traditions. Both travel the Via Media, balancing between the old and new. Each embraces the newcomer--the ultimate prodigal child--as precious. And full reconciliation is sought through a sustaining, relational approach to God, self and neighbor. Both traditions believe God talks to us through other people. “God incarnated in us,” explains Tully, “We function by virtue of our relationship to each other. We are responsible for each of us.” This too, is a tenet of recovery. 

    Shoemaker’s critique was universal; he was not addressing fellow Episcopalians, he was speaking to a congregation of anonymous alcoholics at a conventionundefinedmen and women representing all faiths, sects, denominations, and traditions. His was a message that applies to all religious institutions. And, like the good book and the big book, it remains timeless. For the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Christianity came first---specifically through Father Shoemaker and the Episcopal Church. For me, it was the other way around. I came up from a church basement on a stairway to heaven. It’s been said that the longest journey we’ll ever take is 18 inches; that’s the distance from the head to the heart. On that journey we learn to speak in the language of the heart---that’s the language of recovery, and of the Gospel.

    *Dr. Donna Gaines  (www.donnagaines.com is the author of Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids, and A Misfit’s Manifesto: The Sociological Memoir of a Rock & Roll Heart. An elected  member of the Guild of Scholars of the Episcopal Church, Donna is a member of the Magnolia Institute, a recovery ministry at St. James of Jerusalem Episcopal Church in Long Beach, N.Y. where she also serves on the vestry. 

  • 09/14/2011 11:13 PM | Anonymous member

    A couple of year’s back I was completing a presentation for one of my classes in my Master’s program at seminary on the Connection of the Church and the 12-Step Program.  In the research, really concentrated on Fr. Samuel Shoemaker when I ran across a poem he wrot, I STAND BY THE DOOR .  I can really relate to “standing by the door” to help those who are struggling to find their way to God and recovery. So I stand by the door to help the addict/alcoholic and their families a way into the door.

    This is important for me, my calling. January 27, 1991 is my sober birthday and it was after surviving a near death experience in Desert Storm that I received, but not totally understanding, my calling. It was a long, cold, lonely night. There was a call for an emergency launch of our aircraft. A bomb threat was made on the base and the hanger. Get all aircraft and flight personal out of the hangers and into the air. After the last bird launched, I collapsed on the runway with searing pain in my chest. A long, cold, lonely night in Bitburg Germany, my first husband was with me – a strand relationship - and my children were safe back in Houston Texas. Up to this point in time, I wanted God to take me home for I did not want to live anymore – cold. I had my “spiritual awakening” that night and fought to live for I made a commitment to my daughter to come home from this war.

    When I came home, my life has and was going to change for God has given me a second chance to do His work and not my own self-destruction. I got a divorce from my first husband. God sent people into my life to help me through troubled times and to keep me inside HIS love and grace. There were few people standing by the door to help me on to my recovery and to realize the full depth of God’s love.

    My calling today is to help those persons and families during difficult times of getting and receiving help for their addiction. I am an addictions counselor and currently fulfilling the requirements of family counseling. I currently work in a prison in Wyoming to counsel those who suffer from drugs and/or alcohol but they are spiritually bankrupt also. To help those men to see their way along the wall to the door handle to God’s grace and love. It is not always easy or successful but if one makes it then it is well worth standing by the door.

    The other part of the calling is to make myself known in the parish and diocese of who I am and what my calling is about. I teach groups like Stephen Ministry what addiction looks like and how to address – it is beyond them. In the past I have had informational booths at council to help the clergy and laity identify addiction issues. I have also had booths at professional conferences to show the counselors and other professionals we are all about recovery. Then there are individual phone calls for help – “my son (daughter) needs help….” “my mother (father) needs help…” “my husband (wife) needs help…” I have sent letters to the church to advocate for recovery and help. I have helped on retreats and brought those from shelters to retreats for spiritual awakening.

    My life is ever evolving – progress not perfection – in recovery. My life is so fulfilling now than it has ever been before. By the grace of God I have recovery and only by the grace of God I am alive today to do his work.


    Sandi R


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