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.

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? 


  1. I find the institutional church increasingly difficult and irrelevant. I love our priest, who is such a good and holy man, and our church is beautiful and the people kind and friendly - I have no criticism to make of them, it's just me; I prefer things simple, and find it terribly hard to interact with institutions or to socialise.
    Interesting post, friend!

    1. There are lots of good people in churches of all denominations and I am grateful for all I have received from them.

      I feel many of them, including the clergy are just as much victims of the institution as those who feel excluded or whose gifts are unwanted and unrecognised.

      Thanks for reading and for your comment.


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