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UNITED CHURCH OBSERVER, Vol. 54(11):2+, May, 1991
like Alcoholics Anonymous provide the mainline
churches with an example of bringing together
people from all walks of life.
by Rev. Barry Morris
where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in
the midst of them - MATTHEW 18:20
can hardly affirm that the church monopolizes the Christian
faith, the Gospel, or any visible form of the good news.
the good news, evangelism, has many traces and is evident
the veil or disguise lifts and we are on hand to
see fresh forms for the breathing of the Spirit - whereby
occurs, healing beckons and partisanship with the poor emerges.
often, the good news of God's embracing activity is not
recognized and in a determined effort to be faithful, we
the familiar and pray that others will do likewise.
are other places than the church wherein the Spirit
blows, embraces, and directs.
Anonymous (or any of its equivalent 12-step groups
such as Narcotics
Anonymous or Adult
Children of Alcoholics) is one
place where the promise of the longed-for new meets up with
aches, pains and utter weariness of the old.
many, the trek to a first A.A. meeting is very long, the
last of many steps and dead-end turns in the road. Only
is literally smashed, or completely out of energy, may one
an A.A. group.
decision to attend and seriously take part, for a lifetime
of solid work, comes when all else has failed. It may have
recommended countless times by friends, family, work-mates,
recovering addicts, ministers or counselors.
of us are running on empty; few of us admit it publicly
and, just as openly, work on it for life. But when we do
is good news. We are home, among others who have arrived
arriving, with, the promise of renewal daily.
course, A.A. groups and traditions are not new, being over
50 years old. Profoundly spiritual, the 12-step programs
first cousins to the life, work and disciplines of the Christian
family, as well as some other major faith traditions.
a typical meeting, one can expect to hear and receive
confession, assurances of pardon, intercessions, celebrations
years, months or weeks of sobriety, tested experience from
old-timers and closure with Reinhold
Niebuhr's balanced and
steadfastly durable prayer: "God grant me the serenity
the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things
can and the wisdom to know the difference."
note, though, that the 12 step groups do not overtly
contend to replace or unroot the church and the Sunday service.
indeed, many clergy, lay leaders, ordinary lay members and
sympathetic Christians - some on sabbatical or out on the
exploring - Know first hand the benifits of A.A. groups.
many within the 12 step groups use the church for
meetings, sponsors, for their crucial fifth step (sharing
wrongs or violations with each other) and for general support,
advocacy or referral and follow through.
Christian family, however, is more likely aiming to be
dominant, and may feel threatened by these self-help groups.
the 12 step groups get very specific and thus very
practical, the churches tend to go on being very general
remotely relevant to addictions and daily struggles.
12 step groups quite naturally integrate people from
many walks, levels or classes of life, as well as visible
minorities, single or coupled people, we in the organized
circle tend to remain splintered, fragmented and expressive
we tend to engage in very abstract God-talk except in
intimate and honest prayer, the 12 step groups speak of
concretely: as power, as hope and as friend (despite the
they use the common-denominator term "Higher Power").
is much to learn from Alcoholics Anonymous, but there is
also much to learn in another related place where the Spirit
freshly, intensely and fiercely these days.
or first people, are recovering their culture through
songs, dancing, story-telling, crafts, legends and vital,
nourishing liturgies. There is a return-to-the-land theme
are land claim battles; together, cultural recovery and
claims can make for an inclusive justice for all, including
former colonizing whites or Europeans.
know now that time is precious. But how much will there
and will there be enough for what lies ahead of us?
to live, and live justly with dignity. May the 12 step and
aboriginal traditions help us, beholding the glory of the
humand fully alive and unveiled.