An Invitation to an Alcohol-Free Lent
This is a guest post from Barry McMurtrey, a member of the Christ Church vestry. It was sent round to the members of Christ Church, and we thought it was more than worth posting here.
Friends, Lent is upon us again and many of us at Christ Church will take on some form of spiritual discipline to mark the Lenten journey, whether increased time for worship, prayer, and meditation, or increased acts of service, or increased acts of fasting and self-denial of those things, even those good things in life, which can compete for the attention we could offer our spiritual life. Perhaps your Lenten journey will include all the above.
Personally, it has been almost a decade since I have spent all 40 days as a Lenten fast from alcohol. With God's grace and help, I intend to keep that fast again this year, but this time under particular circumstances and with a particular intention. If you are not aware, the Episcopal Church found itself in the middle of a truly profound tragedy this past December when the newly consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, the Rt. Rev'd Heather Cook, killed a cyclist while driving under the influence of 3 times the legal level of alcohol. The Bishop was texting at the time, and she made the felonious choice to flee the scene of the crime temporarily before returning to face authorities. The man killed by the Bishop's vehicle, Thomas Palermo, was a 41 year old husband and father of 2 small children. Bishop Cook has been inhibited from all priestly functions by the Maryland Diocese and by the National Church, and she faces a very serious indictment. Besides the obvious prayers and support needed by the Palermo family, Bishop Cook requires our prayers, too, for the dark night of the soul she no doubt journeys through.
But, my fast is not about Bishop Cook or Mr. Palermo. There was plenty of evidence that Heather Cook had a serious problem with addiction from a previous DUI. As she approached elevation to the episcopacy, this was excused away ("forgiven" was the terminology used) by the screening process for the episcopal election and never revealed to the Maryland Convention when clergy and laity voted for the bishop. This tragic killing says many complex things about the Episcopal Church. It certainly questions how responsible our church structures are at a time when our beleaguered, shrinking denomination can ill afford more bad news. Here we have one more obstacle preventing us from sharing the boundless joys of the Episcopal Church and the Good News of Jesus Christ to a community, nation, and world so desperately in need of both.
When reflecting on this quandary our church faces, for me a good deal of the conviviality and joy gets taken out of socializing with alcohol. As one who has dealt with serious issues of alcohol abuse myself, I hear the tragedy in Maryland as a clarion call again to step back and put the issue in its place. This will not solve the problems facing Bishop Cook, or the Diocese of Maryland, and it will do nothing for the Palermo family. But, it is a small, personal chance to concentrate on what keeps me from spreading the Good News of Our Lord and hastening the coming of His Kingdom .... and to consecrate that reflection to God's use. You're welcome to join me on this Lenten path.
Barry Mc Murtrey