September 23, 2010
Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church is holding a gathering in Memphis, Tenn. from Oct. 21-23, 2010. Shannon Tucker, the Gathering Chair for Recovery Ministries, shared what he hopes this time together will achieve.
John Shorb: You are holding the national Gathering of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. Why is recovery ministry vital to the church?
Shannon Tucker: For me, recovery ministry is the church. Addiction is a devastating disease, a destructive force that wants only to destroy. It is sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant, but at all times it is incredibly powerful. Addiction is lonely and desperate and drives people deep into self and away from the love of God. The church can and should be a place where we can come and begin to recover that love again. The love of God never went away; we were just blocked from seeing it by addiction. Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church seeks to help the addicted and those who love them connect with the Spirit and find lasting recovery. At The Gathering, we hope to connect people together to focus on how to manifest that healing power in the world.
What aspects of recovery ministry will you highlight?
The theme for this year is “A Renewed Call to Action” and moves us to focus on the ways we continue to be called to address addiction in the church. In 2009 at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, two resolutions were passed relating to that work, one encouraging every congregation to raise awareness of recovery issues and a second, more significant resolution, charging that every course of study for the ordained ministry of the Church include addiction and recovery education. Attendees at the conference will share and learn about ways parishes, diocese and even seminaries are working to fulfill those resolutions.
How will the three day long event be organized?
We will weave education, prayer, meditation and relationship building throughout the conference and have some wonderful spiritual guides this year in Sybil MacBeth, Rev. Dr. Joanna Seibert, and labyrinth facilitator Lynda Gayle Deacon. I really believe the way we have to begin our entire approach is through connecting individually and then communally with God, to try to feel where we are being led. We will share stories from our church’s local ministry, walk a labyrinth, celebrate a 12-Step Eucharist with Bishop Don Johnson, and will hear from the recently retired dean of General Theological Seminary, The Very Reverend Ward Ewing, about the work they are doing there. The second and third days are filled with workshops and time to fellowship and worship together.
Could you describe one of the workshops and why you see it as helpful?
We hope to build on ecumenical relationships this year so we’ve invited Pat Kendall, Pastor of Recovery and Support Ministries from Hope Presbyterian Church to share with us about the work they do at Hope as a recovery friendly church. Hope currently hosts over 20 different recovery organizations of just about every flavor of recovery there is. They have built a program that is almost completely independent and autonomous and have a phrase they like to use when describing their approach, “We don’t shoot our wounded.” It may sound radical, but we look forward to hearing from a church that is successfully embracing recovery. We also hope to give other churches some ideas to take back with them.
Tell me more about the workshop titled "Discerning Spirits: Distilled or Holy?"
This one is a little closer to home and springs from the work they are doing at General Theological Seminary around the addiction education that was mandated by one of the resolutions I mentioned earlier. We have a growing awareness that many of the clergy in the church are not equipped to deal with addiction and the pastoral role that they are many times called to fulfill in their parishes. The Reverend Dr. Stuart Hoke, Chaplin and adjunct professor at GTS, has been teaching a class working to equip his students with knowledge of addictive illness and resources for recovery. The class has become a popular one at the seminary and we hope that it will become a model for other seminaries across the country.
Could you give an example of an innovative congregational recovery ministry?
Sometimes I think the church can be a scary place for recovering people, especially those new to recovery. Often they have negative feelings about church or maybe a personal history with religion that feels less than accepting. In Memphis we have a local group called Recovery Repertory Theater that puts on a recovery centered musical play every year. Our local Episcopal recovery commission hosts the event at one of our churches and in the past we have connected that event with some kind of liturgy like an evening prayer or compline. We noticed over the past couple of years that many people came to the play but very few stayed for the service. This year we decided to throw a cast party after the play instead and it was amazingly successful. We had our literature out and information about our organization for people to take and read, but we didn’t plan anything specifically religious. Most of the people weren’t Episcopalian and almost all of them stayed for the party. It was incredibly gratifying and we hope the 150 or so people who were there walked away thinking that the Episcopal Church is a welcoming place for recovery. One of our priests in the Diocese calls ours a ministry of presence, one where people know that we are here when they need help. I very much like that idea.
What do you hope participants will learn during this time?
I hope participants will feel welcomed to Memphis. I want them to have fun and especially learn that we are recovering in the Episcopal Church, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but we are recovering. I want them to feel supported and know that there is a national church organization that wants to help further the work they are doing. I hope they are ready to meet new friends, share fresh ideas and renew their spirits to continue with this incredibly vital ministry.
For more information or to print a registration brochure, please visit the Episcopal Recovery website or contact Shannon Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Shorb is the Editor of Church Health Reader.