“I rise to offer an amendment to resolution A158.” Thus I began my plea to ensure that the Episcopal Church did not effectively ban Theology on Tap, Pub Theology, The Biblical Brew Off and other beer-centric programs that are so near and dear to my heart.
Let me explain how I found myself standing on a podium defending beer-based ministry in front of 1000 people. It started back in late December when now former Bishop Heather Cook struck and killed a bicyclist while drunk. You can read more about the details and my thoughts here.
The result was a great deal of internal discussion. While there were many questions about complicity and failure in her election process, the more important issue centered around about the role that alcohol play in our common life as Episcopalians.
With General Convention on the horizon there was a bit of hyperbole and handwringing with some even calling for Convention to be alcohol free. But in time the online fervor started to die down. However a special legislative Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse was formed to ensure continued engagement.
This Committee produced two primary pieces of legislation. The first had to do with acknowledging and repenting of our complicity in creating a culture that enables substance abuse and can be hostile to those in recovery. The second focused on establishing policies and procedures meant to ensure that our parishes are safe and welcoming places for all people including those who are in recovery. This was a very thorough piece of legislation that covered a whole range of circumstances.
The trouble was that it singled out “Theology on Tap” by name as a program that could not use reference to alcohol, bars, etc., in promotional material or advertising. (Disclaimer: TOT is copyrighted and owned by the Roman Catholic Church.) While this requirement would bring our related programs in line with other church activities, it would also effectively kill them.
This was the crux of my argument to strike “TOT” from the resolution. Unlike a “wine and cheese party” which could easily be re-titled as a “garden party” or the like, there is no way to remove the association with alcohol from such beer/bar based programs. If the legislation remained unchanged it would have halted one of the most creative and effective means we have for reaching out to those who might otherwise feel alienated from the Church.
Thankfully the amendment passed overwhelmingly, in part thanks to the support of many people from the Committee on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse in moving the amendment. To ensure their support we added additional langue to the amendment in order to ensure that any such gathering have fellowship, conversation and evangelism as their primary purpose, as opposed to simply being drinking clubs.
I will share more about this collaboration and what I learned in a coming installment.