Welcome, Namaste, Peace, Shalom

Welcome, Namaste, Peace, Shalom, Benedicite. May the peace of the Lord always be with you.

Annapurna (Goddess of the Harvests) range, Nepal. Machapuchare, Fishtail Mountain, sacred to Shiva and never climbed.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Bishop recommends the AA model for the Church

Well,  here is Bishop Alan Wilson, Area Bishop of Buckingham (Church of England) saying:

"The Church in its own bubble has become, at best the guardian of the value system of the nation’s grandparents, and at worst a den of religious anoraks defined by defensiveness, esoteric logic and discrimination."
"the Church of the future may be less a civil service or conventional business, and more a movement like Alcoholics Anonymous, the ultimate locally delivered life-changing non profit. The job of the hierarchy will be to enable this, not to represent it or control it.

To represent the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and be good news to those within its care, the Church needs, not a re-brand or a bailout, but a reboot.

Where does Christianity connect with Life as it is lived?

What lines of code would come up on the screen during such a reboot?"


Unfortunately I don't think the hierarchy can enable this change, because this would mean dismantling the hierarchy.  

I doubt if the AA traditions could work within the Church structures.  The AA model can never be another 'Fresh Expression' of the established church.

I think people who want a church modelled on the traditions of AA will just have to get together amongst themselves and get on with it and leave the Church to get on with their stuff.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Tradition 8 Forever Non-Professional

Short Form:  “Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers”.

Long Form: “Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional.  We define professionalism as the occupation of counselling alcoholics for fees or hire.  But we may employ alcoholics where they are going to perform those services for which we might otherwise have to engage non-alcoholics.  Such special services may be recompensed.  But our usual A.A. Twelve Step work is never to be paid for.”


Twelve Step work includes both meeting with people who want to know how AA can help them, helping on the phone services and service work in meetings.  However, for example AA will employ people with necessary skills to run the offices, do the accounts etc.

“The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” (12 x 12 for short) states; “Alcoholics Anonymous will never have a professional class.  We have gained some understanding of the ancient words ‘Freely ye have received, freely give.’  We have discovered that at the point of professionalism, money and spirituality do not mix.”

Maggie Ross refers to the ‘seven devils of ordination’ – “seven devils of women's ordination*—which, of course, the women have absorbed from the men—that is, Power, Pretension, Presumption, Pomposity, Privilege, Preferment and Patronage”.

Most of the mainstream Churches have elite classes of people.  Whether they are called priests, leaders or pastors, these people have special authority, powers and privileges and usually a salary.  They are given special deference, to the extent that in some centuries and in some countries, they have been effectively above the law.  This is called clericalism.  Despite protestations to the contrary they are in reality considered superior both hierarchically and spiritually to the lay people.  Lay people being anyone who is not ordained, or with a title such as pastor. 

This is now acknowledged to be a major reason that the child sexual abuse scandal was able to be perpetrated and then covered up for so long.  At least, acknowledged by most people except the senior clerics of the Roman Catholic Church who still do not seem to have got the point.  It is easy to point the finger at the Roman Catholic Church but I believe that clericalism is the elephant in the room for all churches with a professional class. 

Clericalism and the abuses of power it leads to is in my opinion one of the main reasons why active committed church membership continues to decline.

There is a lot of hand wringing about the dangers and risks of clericalism, but it always stops short of proposing that the solution might be to abolish clerics.

Many churches are having a bit of a crisis in that they cannot afford the numbers of clergy they have had in the past and are looking to solve the problems this creates.  In one Methodist circuit there have been lots of discussions recently about clustering congregations, sharing clergy reducing the number of communion services, and so on and closing some churches. 

However, many of the affected churches are financially self-sufficient and Methodism has a strong tradition of unpaid lay preachers.  The problem is in funding the paid clergy not the individual churches.  No-one seems to notice the elephant in the room that is that if voluntary unpaid lay people were authorised to perform all the functions that clergy perform the problem would disappear for most of the circuit.  The situation with Anglican Readers is somewhat similar.

Meanwhile the clergy are constantly complaining about how hard they have to work, and how all the administration sucks up their time, how unreasonably demanding and ungrateful their parishioners are, and how this isn't what they thought they would be doing when they got ordained. On and on go their complaints.

It isn’t clear to me why a theology degree or similar is necessary for most of the administrative and liturgical functions clergy perform when most of these functions are already adequately performed by lay people without theology degrees.  Including preaching and teaching and conducting services. 

There are no professional AA’s or Al-Anons.  No training programmes except the meetings and the literature.  Anyone can do a ’12 Step’ – that is talk with someone who needs the programme and tell them all about it, encourage them into the rooms.  Anyone can be a sponsor (similar to a spiritual director).  People choose their own sponsors.  They are recommended to come to meetings listen to the shares and choose someone whose sobriety and personality appeals.  People change sponsors if they want to.  The decision is theirs.  No-one has to have a sponsor.  Anyone who volunteers and is selected by the group can undertake any service position.

I am really not sure what is so complicated about the Christian faith that it needs specially educated people, who can talk a special theological language that most people cannot understand, to perform functions which can be performed perfectly competently by people without this training.  Particularly when the non-ordained, the laity, are constantly told about how it is the responsibility of every Christian to spread the word, make disciples and so on.

Just as an example - some ordained people are also employed as academic theologians.  I have never understood why they need to be ordained in order to function as professional theologians, or what function they perform as an ordained person.  My problem is not with Christians being professional theologians.  My question is why they need to be ordained to do it.

The other part of this tradition is that AA service work should always be unpaid.  No-one is allowed to make a profit out of AA.  (Even the AA commercial ventures are strictly limited, we will look at this in traditions six and seven.)  I wonder how many people would volunteer for the priesthood if there were no prospect of a salary, housing or a career.  No status, no rewards, just service.

Maggie Ross Jan 4th 2010 “The diocese of Exeter has suggested that the villages choose people to be ordained. But ordination is not the answer: who in their right mind would want to be ordained into the present system to become one of the self-absorbed, self-certifying elite, separated from the rest of us, not to mention their own humanity? Why not train and license local lay people to preside at the Eucharist and do pastoral care?”

At an AA meeting you will often find someone relatively new to AA acting as secretary to the meeting.  The secretary organises speakers and conducts the meeting.  Often these people probably wouldn’t be allowed to do anything very much in a church.  It is interesting to see how people develop in confidence and skill in running the meeting as they go on.  The readers and speakers are ordinary members who will often have never done any public speaking before.  I remember very few sermons.  I remember most of the main shares I have heard.  They are very personal and come from the heart and the soul.

But they would often never even have the chance in a church.  They wouldn’t ever be asked to volunteer or speak/preach and the church environment would not give them the confidence to volunteer.  They would be crushed under the experience of being patronised and covered in saccharine niceness designed to keep them firmly in their place.

Maggie Ross May 27th 2012 “all the debates about who can celebrate the Eucharist are absurd as anyone can be in that presence if they open themselves, but a lot of the ordained most certainly are not open!”

The meeting members try to make it as easy as possible for a new secretary to do the job and to support them and the people who are willing to give the main shares.  People’s lives are at stake here.  The objective is to share the experience, strength and hope of recovery through the programme and allow the Higher Power (Holy Spirit or God in Christian terms) to work, and the miracles to happen.  And miracles do happen and you hear testimony to this at most meetings.

Often unlike church where carping, criticism and obstruction are often to be expected.  You need a very thick skin to volunteer for anything in a church including ordained or licensed ministry. 

I cannot find anything in Jesus’ teaching that suggests he was advocating the establishment of the institutional church as it has developed.  It seems largely modelled on ancient Jewish synagogue and priestly structures and the long outmoded Roman Empire.
It seems odd to me that God allows anyone with the physical capacity to become a parent.  He seems completely undiscriminating and un-judgemental.  However unsuitable the individuals seem, or turn out to be in practice.  There are no assessments, training, exams or qualifications required.  They can have as many children as they are capable of.

Who are we to be more discriminating than God? 

Monday, 9 April 2012

‘Our leaders are but trusted servants they do not govern.’

‘Our leaders are but trusted servants they do not govern.’

Tradition 2 of AA and Al-Anon.  The full tradition is ‘For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.  Our leaders are but trusted servants they do not govern.’

There are no ‘leadership’ positions in AA/Al-Anon.  There are service responsibilities necessary for the group and the wider organisation to function and fulfil its purpose.  In general each group has a secretary, treasurer, literature person and person or persons who organise the tea and coffee.  It is considered both a privilege and a duty to hold a service position.  It is a service to the group but it is also an opportunity for personal spiritual growth.  But the post holders have to stand down regularly, usually after a year at most.  Hanging onto office is firmly discouraged.  It is not healthy for the individual or the group.

Everyone is expected to take their turn to maintain the essential group services. Anyone can volunteer for a service position.  The only requirement is evidence of some capacity to maintain the commitment and, in the case of AA, some reasonable length of sobriety. 

St Benedict provides for the election of Abbots who then have to stand for re-election periodically.  Matters affecting the whole community are to be discussed by the whole community.  Care has to be taken that all can have their say, especially the newest and youngest, for, Benedict says, the Lord often speaks through these.

And just like the Rule of St Benedict the prescription for a healthy community life in the 12 step world is rooted and grounded in Scripture.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

He washes his disciples’ feet despite Peter’s protests

14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Leadership in the churches is usually equated with priesthood or they might be called pastors.  Many churches have moving services at Easter where a senior clergyman/priest washes the feet of members of the congregation – lay people.  In theory the church leadership is modelled on a servant leadership ideal.  Unfortunately it so often seems that the reality does not match the ideal or the symbolic actions.

The Christian universe seems full of books, conferences, blogs, etc, all about how to be an effective Church leader.  All of it seems to be premised on the assumption that the job of the leader or leadership is to tell people what to do and how to do it.  To give orders.  Lip service is paid to the importance of the faithful followers, usually laity, but the gracious words are not incarnated in institutional structures.  Sometimes it seems that every Christian should aspire to leadership, being a follower is very low status indeed.

AA does things somewhat differently.  This is one of its attractions for many alcoholics who have problems with authority and authority figures.  They are natural rebels.

There is no special authority, power or privilege attached to an AA service responsibility.  Any that might attach has to be given up as rapidly as it is acquired and the position devolves to another member.  Their function is to do the groups housekeeping, ensure the practical details are taken care of.  Setting up the room, putting out the literature, buying and making the coffee.  The only authority that attaches is the group consensus that the officials should be allowed to conduct the meeting in an orderly fashion. 

People who fill service positions are not spiritual leaders to the group.  They do not have followers or disciples.  Their authority is limited to the task they perform in that meeting.  They will share their experience strength and hope in recovery with the meeting on exactly the same terms as any other member.  No-one has to take their advice or obey their instructions (should they be so foolish as to try to give an instruction outside the limited remit of their service role).

They have influence to the extent that they are deemed by others to be worthy of it.

They may not even be the members with the longest sobriety.  Newcomers are encouraged to take up service roles as soon as possible.  Service helps recovery.  Oldtimers will step in where necessary but are usually happy to take a back seat.

It seems to work.  If it doesn’t work out, the group will have a group conscience and resolve the matter. 

Which brings us on to the first part of the tradition: 

“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.” 

A group conscience meeting is a short meeting usually held immediately before or after the real meeting.  It tackles any decisions the group have to make or issues that have to be discussed.  Groups are usually pretty keen to ensure the business is kept brief and to the point and does not interfere with the real business of the meeting - recovery.  Whoever turns up forms the conscience for that group at that meeting.

It is common for people who don’t wish to participate in the group conscience to remain outside until it is over.  One of the reasons it works is that AA business is just that, AA business.  AA does not involve itself in outside issues.  It keeps itself as free as possible from matters to do with property and finance.  It is rare for agendas to be prepared, minutes to be taken at group level.  If there is a hot issue that will be discussed for which the group conscience is called it will be stated when the group conscience is announced.

There aren’t even any particular requirements for how often a group conscience is called.  Some groups have them every month or quarter, some just when an issue is raised that needs some discussion.

An AA group conscience meeting is not ‘chaired’ by an hierarchically appointed person whose function is to steer the discussion, take the decision or manipulate the group into a pre-determined decision.  The role of the AA/Al Anon ‘chairperson’ is simply to facilitate the orderly conduct of the meeting.  In some meetings the person who leads the group conscience meeting is not the person who then leads the meeting.  It is more like the Quaker business meeting method and format than a Church Council.

The twelve traditions are the basis for the organisation and orderly conduct of the groups, preserving the unity of the fellowships.  Additionally the twelve world concepts ensure that the management of the global and national structures maintain responsibility to the groups they serve. 

In the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions”  Bill Wilson says about experienced AAers, “The elder statesman is the one who sees the wisdom of the group’s decision, …..whose judgement fortified by considerable experience is sound, and who is willing to sit quietly on the sidelines patiently awaiting developments. 

They become the real and permanent leadership of AA.  Theirs is the quiet opinion, the sure knowledge and humble example that resolve a crisis.  They become the voice of the group conscience…..They do not drive by mandate; they lead by example.  This is the experience which has led us to the conclusion that our group conscience, well advised by its elders, will be in the long run wiser than any single leader”

Bill Wilson then describes a situation where he wanted to do something that he felt was a good thing, but which the group opposed.  He obeyed the group conscience and realised that this was indeed the better choice in the long run.  The group on that occasion had a better understanding of the AA method than he, its founder, did.

Of course, part of the reason it works is because of the other traditions, they fit together like a jigsaw – but that is a subject for another post.

Note:  For simplicity I have only referred to AA but the same principles and methods apply equally to Al-Anon.

So many of the problems of the Churches, some more others, seem rooted in a model of leadership which is based on power, authority, prescription, layers of hierarchy and bureaucracy.  How uninviting.  We seem to have reinvented ourselves as modern Pharisees or a remnant of the Roman Empire.  How sad.

Matthew 23: 1-12

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

So maybe a Christian Community could adopt Tradition 2 just as it stands without amendment.  After all, if a load of alcoholics can make it work, surely the Christian Church can?

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Only Requirement

"AA Tradition 3  The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. (Short Form)

(Long Form) Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation."

What about the mainstream Churches?

I think most members of Christian Churches would say that anyone can join them and most services including weddings, funerals and baptisms are public in that anyone can attend.  But beyond this things are hedged around with all sorts of restrictions and rules.  Some of them are never made explicit and create a sense of being in an Alice in Wonderland world to the unsuspecting entrant. 

Money certainly comes into it.  Those who pay the piper quite reasonably expect to call the tune.  

Priests/pastors/clergy understandably don’t want to upset these people. 

Conformity certainly comes into it.  
Many priests enforce their own opinions as to what happens and to whom and how it happens.  Especially regarding weddings and baptisms.  Sometimes quite contrary to the official rules of the CoE.  (If I seem to be singling out the CoE it is because this is the denomination I know most about.  Experience, anecdote and reading suggests it is equally true of the Roman Catholic Church).  The mainstream denominations do not really like those who do not conform, although tolerant of those whose ‘eccentricity’ is within accepted norms.

Most church groups in my experience have some expectation that people will sooner or later (sooner preferably!) conform to the dominant group belief and behaviour norms.  I remember after one service when the vicar had preached strongly about the need for welcome and inclusion, and one person said over coffee “Of course we welcome everyone, as long as they repent and give up their bad lifestyles.” 

Who can call themselves a Church?  As far as I know any group of people can call themselves a Church.  But a group of people wishing to identify and be accepted as an Anglican, RC, Methodist or Orthodox, Church would have a lot of hoops to jump through.  

The Quakers are interesting.  A group can establish itself as a Quaker Group without much reference to anyone, although the website does strongly recommend joining existing groups, but it is not formally part of the Quaker network until accepted, and there is a quite a process involved.  The article says some groups aren’t in a hurry! 

When I think of the incredible diversity of God's creation, all those little brown birds for example, almost identical but not quite, I wonder why Jesus' command for spiritual unity should be interpreted as meaning conformity.   

Not to mention things like the Basilisk Lizard.  

Ember has a good rant on this over at Kindred of the Quiet Way  (about God's ways not being our ways, not Basilisk Lizards!)

So what would Tradition 3 look like in Christian Church terms?

Julian Meetings are not far off: 

“Julian Meetings vary and are free to do things in their own way. Our main guidelines are that a meeting is based on contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition and welcomes people of all denominations.  We teach no specific method of meditation. …Those who attend Julian Meetings usually take a full part in the life of their own church, but some have no formal church links.

In our experience, there are three situations in which people consider starting a new Julian Meeting. They are:

·        People who have previously belonged to a Julian Meeting or similar contemplative prayer group
·        People who know about Julian Meetings and wish to start one in their locality.
·        People who have heard about contemplative prayer groups and want to explore this area more deeply.
In addition, there are groups which are similar to Julian Meetings and are interested to know if they "qualify" as a Julian Meeting and what it means if they do.  We are happy to include them as long as they are Christian, and ecumenical and silence forms the main part of their meeting.”

Very similar to AA.  If you think you are a Julian Meeting then that’s fine.  It costs £6 a year to register as a Julian Meeting.   

AA groups are encouraged to register with the General Service Office in their country and be part of the wider fellowship.  There is no requirement to do this and no charge.  The GSO sends some free introductory literature. The cost is funded by established groups.  There is a helpful leaflet on how to start a group, available free online.  

Let’s have a go at Tradition 3.  Remembering Dr Bob’s last words in 1950.  “"But there are two or three things …on which it would be fitting to lay a little emphasis; one is the simplicity of our Program.  Let's not louse it all up with Freudian complexes and things that are interesting to the scientific mind, but have very little to do with our actual AA work. Our 12 Steps, when simmered down to the last, resolve themselves into the words love and service.  We understand what love is and we understand what service is.  So let's bear those two things in mind.”

Keep it Simple is one of AA’s slogans.

Let’s not louse up our Christian fellowship with things that are interesting to academic theologians, Church historians and the hierarchies of religious institutions with agendas based on money and power, but have little to do with our daily life following our Lord.

12 Step Church Tradition 3  The only requirement for 12 step Church membership is a desire to love and serve God through following the Way of Jesus Christ.  To know Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day. (Short Form) (with thanks to Richard of Chichester).

(Long Form) Our membership ought to include all who want to find God through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and live in accordance with His will for us.  Hence we may refuse none who wish to pray and worship in His name and follow Him. Nor ought 12 step Church membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three people gathered together for Christian prayer, worship and fellowship may call themselves a 12 step Church of Christ group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.

Finally where is the support for this in the Christian scriptures, in the words of Jesus in particular?

Jesus said “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  Matthew 18: 20 

In response to the question ‘what must we do to inherit eternal life’.    Jesus asks ‘what do you think the law says’.  The response – "He answered: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'    'You have answered correctly', Jesus replied. 'Do this and you will live'."

 In Luke 10: 25-37  we have the story of the Good Samaritan, the answer to the question ‘who is my neighbour?’ 

Many (most?) of Jesus’ teachings and actions demonstrate the unconditional inclusiveness of God’s love and kingdom.  Listing them here would produce a very long list of texts all about prostitutes, thieves, lepers, the religiously and socially unclean, sinners of all sorts.  Probably the sort of people you find in 12 step rooms.  Perhaps this is why the presence of God is felt so strongly in the rooms and why miracles of recovery are a common occurrence.

The disciples tried to keep the children away, Matthew 19:14 “but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Luke 9:49-50  New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
49 Master, said John, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.  50 Do not stop him, Jesus said, for whoever is not against you is for you.

Peter was given a vision of God’s inclusive love and as a result the disciples decided that Gentiles did not have to keep the Jewish dietary and circumcision laws. Acts 10, 11 & 15.

Jesus told Martha that ‘only one thing is needed’  Luke 10:42.  That is, like Mary, being close to Him and listening to His words.