Episcopal Church adopts new alcohol policies in wake of Heather Cook affair

“I am Mark and I am an alcoholic,” the Bishop of Ohio, the Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, said on 1 July 2015 when he rose to introduce three resolutions brought to the House of Bishops by the Legislative Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

“I am Mark and I am an alcoholic,” the Bishop of Ohio, the Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, said on 1 July 2015 when he rose to introduce three resolutions brought to the House of Bishops by the Legislative Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

Formed in response to the arrest of the former suffragan bishop of Maryland, Heather Cook, who is currently awaiting trial for killing a Baltimore cyclist whom she struck while driving her car in an intoxicated state, the committee was tasked with offering practical recommendations on addressing drug and alcohol abuse within the church, as well as initiating a process of discussion of the “hidden problem” of addiction that affected many Episcopalians.

The Episcopal Church “must act decisively on matters of alcohol and drug abuse,” Bishop Hollingsworth (pictured) said, thanking the presiding bishop for chartering the committee, whose members he said represented the experience and wisdom of“hundreds of years of sobriety and recovery.”

In discussion of the resolutions in the House of Deputies the previous day, the Episcopal New Services quoted Easton Deputy, the Rev Kevin Cross as saying the church’s image in popular culture was not healthy. “We have lived too much into the jokes of ‘where there are four Episcopalians, there is a fifth’ and ‘we are whiskey-palians’: we must redefine the norm,”

The first resolution, D014, recommended that those undergoing the ordination process, from nominees to ordinands, be educated on substance abuse as well as be screened for addictions. The resolution passed without discussion or dissent.

The second resolution A159 presented to the House by Bishop Hollingsworth urged the church to repent of its role in fostering a culture of drinking. Bishop Hollingsworth noted the church’s policy on alcohol and substance abuse had been last reviewed in 1985. The resolution adopted without substantive debate called upon the church to “confront and repent” of its “complicity in a culture of alcohol, denial, and enabling; Speak to cultural norms that promote addiction; Promote spiritual practices as a means of prevention and healing; and Advocate for public funding and health insurance coverage for prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, and collaborate with qualified community resources offering these services, and to respond with pastoral care and accountability.”

The committee’s third resolution set forward a new alcohol policy for the church to replace the 1985 statement. The Bishop of Montana, the Rt. Rev. Franklin Brookhart, rose and thanked the committee for its work, but expressed disquiet over the language governing wine and nonalcoholic beverages used during the Eucharist. There were “ecumenical questions” raised by changing the “eternal elements instituted by Christ” in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, he said.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Lane, Bishop of Maine, said his diocese had wrestled with the issue of receiving communion in one kind and with non-alcoholic alternatives.

“There is fermented non-alcoholic wine” available, he said, that “some congregations provide as a safe substitute for wine”

The Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt. Rev Gregory O. Brewer supported the amendment, saying he was concerned by the multiplicity of local adaptations of Eucharistic discipline. He did not care for the “buffet approach” to Communion, as this led to “fragmentation” of the unity we seek at the Eucharist.

However, the suffragan Bishop of Dallas, the Rt Rev. Paul Lambert said he opposed the substitution of “wine” for “beverage”, noting that several church plants in his diocese met in “elementary schools which forbid wine” on the premises.

The matter was put to a vote and the Brookhart amendment failed. The Bishop of Arkansas, the Rt. Rev Larry Benfield offered a second amendment striking the phrase “non-alcoholic alternative” and replacing it with “non-alcoholic wine”, stating “we need to be very clear about what we are saying here.”

The Bishop of West Texas, the Rt Rev Gary Lillibridge concurred, noting one of his diocese’s church schools had asked to use “grape juice” at school communions. “We need to specify non-alcoholic wine.”

The amendment was put to a vote and passed. The Bishops of Missouri and the Convocation of American Churches in Europe rose to support the resolution, which was passed without opposition.

The church’s new policy on alcohol now reads:

1.    The Church must provide a safe and welcoming environment for all people, including people in recovery.

2.    All applicable federal, state and local laws should be obeyed, including those governing the serving of alcoholic beverages to minors.

3.    Some dioceses and congregations may decide not to serve alcohol at events or gatherings. Others may decide to permit a limited use of alcoholic beverages at church-sponsored events.  Both can be appropriate if approached mindfully.

4.    When alcohol is served, it must be monitored and those showing signs of intoxication must not be served.  Whenever alcohol is served, the rector, vicar, or priest-in-charge must appoint an adult to oversee its serving. That adult must not drink alcoholic beverages during the time of his or her execution of his or her responsibilities.  If hard liquor is served, a certified server is required.

5.    Serving alcoholic beverages at congregational events where minors are present is strongly discouraged. If minors are present, alcohol must be served at a separate station that is monitored at all times to prevent underage drinking.

6.    Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages must be clearly labeled as such.  Food prepared with alcohol does not need to be labeled provided the alcohol is completely evaporated by the cooking process; however, it is recommended that even in this case the use of alcohol in cooking be noted on a label.

7.    Whenever alcohol is served, appealing non-alcoholic alternatives must always be offered with equal prominence and accessibility.

8.    The serving of alcoholic beverages at church events should not be publicized as an attraction of the event, e.g. “wine and cheese reception,” “cocktail party,” and “beer and wine tasting.”

9.  Ministries inside or outside of congregations will make certain that alcohol consumption is not the focus of the ministry and that drinking alcohol is not an exclusively normative activity.

9.    Food must be served when alcohol is present.

10.    The groups or organizations sponsoring the activity or event at which alcoholic beverages are served must have permission from the clergy or the vestry.  Such groups or organizations must also assume responsibility for those persons who might become intoxicated and must provide alternative transportation for anyone whose capacity to drive may be impaired. Consulting with liability insurance carriers is advised.

11.    Recognizing the effects of alcohol as a mood-altering drug, alcoholic beverages shall not be served when the business of the Church is being conducted.

12.       Clergy shall consecrate an appropriate amount of wine when celebrating the Eucharist and perform ablutions in a way that does not foster or model misuse.

13.       We encourage clergy to acknowledge the efficacy of receiving the sacrament in one kind and consider providing non-alcoholic wine.

Latest Articles

Similar articles