Wednesday, January 16, 2008

This Round's On Me

Paul's an elder at our church. For those not familiar with the PCUSA style of government, the similarities between it and the U.S. version of a representative democracy aren't entirely coincidental. Elders are a little bit like senators, and the session committees are where a lot of the work of running a church is handled (Building and Grounds, Mission and Outreach, Finance, Evangelism, Youth and Family, etc.).

Anyway, there was a session meeting tonight and one item for discussion was a change in church policy so that - with prior pastor, business administrator, and clerk of session authorization - wine would be permitted in the church for a specific event. Examples given were for wedding parties and receptions and the occasional formal dinner hosted in the new fellowship hall.

I am very uncomfortable with this, and still trying to put my thoughts in order. What better place to hash them out?

Why am I so opposed, when I am not a teetotaller?

1) People bring alcohol to weddings anyway, of course. I'm sure lots of brides and grooms are swigging from flasks before walking down the aisle. Doing so illicitly feels different to me than doing so with church approbation. In my opinion, marriage is not something to be undertaken with the assistance of "liquid courage." If such is required, perhaps the timing for this marriage is not right? Others' opinions may vary, but should the church be in the business of endorsing that?

2) I am uncomfortable with the role alcohol plays in our society. "Partying" is used synonymously with getting loaded, and is apparently impossible without alcohol (or drugs). Binge drinking is glorified and commonly referenced, just listen in immediately following any college exam or during high school lunchroom discussions.

"I had a rough day; I need a drink," is such a common sentiment that it's unremarkable, except that, when you think about it, it's a little horrifying. Your day was so bad that you need an addictive and mind-altering substance? You need it? Perhaps this is cause for some concern?

A nice dinner isn't a nice dinner without wine, a party isn't a party without cocktails (or a keg, depending on your friends), a celebration just really isn't without the titillating promise of booze.

We don't even use wine with communion at our church. Why do we want to open ourselves up to these sorts of societal and moral, let alone legal concerns? What is gained? What is lost? I don't see the benefit. I can drink pretty much anywhere else; I don't need to do so at church.

I'm not sure I've made any sense of the muddle in my head about this yet, or put my finger on what's really making me uncomfortable. Perhaps your comments will help. So, let me have it!


Amanda said...

I find being the sober one vastly amusing. I wouldn't say that people need alcohol before the aisle, but it's a nice way to celebrate after the walk down the aisle. I'm sure that you could toast with soda.

Rob Monroe said...

I understand your concerns. You sould, by the way, be glad that it's being addressed in advance. When I was at the retreat center I was completely caught off guard by a renting group that stocked the fridge more full than I had ever see it with been and wine. Made me very uncomfortable, especially since children were staying in the building and there was no way to protect the fridge in the middle of the night.

I think your church is doing the right thing by discussing it. Might be that they need to be able to tell outside groups that there is an official policy - covers your behind in any incidence of legal action.

The truth is that your church is not looking at the new building as a ministry opportunity, but a money making opportunity. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a thing. From what I've seen of it, I would certainly have a party there. (My party would be dry, but that's just me.)

I don't drink often enough to say that I drink. I used to blame my kidneys, but now I've realized that it's just because I don't want to. When we have friends over we will typically get very small amounts of beer/wine, but that's it. We went to a games party last year and I was uncomfortable driving the six blocks to my house because of one guy's state. I was relieved to see that someone else was driving him home.

I don't believe that the church is endorsing a drunk partying lifestyle. They are acknowleding that if they want more business in the new, expensive building, opening up to wine at receptions will attract a bigger target audience.

It is interesting that the church does not use wine in communion, but is discussing this option. Our church serves both wine and juice. Our church, though, gives away bottles of wine every time we have a bingo/drawing prize gathering.

Chorus said...

I entirely appreciate and can understand your concerns about implementing this change in your church. But let me give you another perspective from our church, where alcoholic beverages make frequent appearances.

For many special events at the church, like parish dinners, we ask parishioners to bring the wine. For a large handful of folks, this means bringing wine that they make themselves, and it is a method by which they can share their gifts with fellow worshippers. We have one couple whose Christmas mulled wine is VERY popular! (Obviously, at all these events, alternative non-alcoholic beverages are provided as well, for those who prefer them.) The ladies of the church have an annual wine and cheese celebration, and it's a very popular event!

We have also created an annual celebration of St. Arnold, patron saint of Brewers, consisting of a topical Beer Tasting (our last was English and Scottish beer). This event features tiny tasting glasses of the featured beers, and plenty of food (also topical). The event has been very successful, and congregants have brought friends and family who have subsequently appeared on Sunday morning for the regular service.

I don't want you to construe what I'm saying as, "Booze brings folks to church," but we have found in our congregation that wine and beer has contributed to fellowship and community in a positive fashion.

Kristi said...

When I was around middle school age, the state of Indiana was trying to start up its on lottery. I remember, on one of the few occaisions that I went to church back then (United Methodist), seeing posters encouraging members to vote against the lottery. It is GAMBLING, after all. And we don't need that sort of behavior here, thankyouverymuch. I suppose the lotto is just the first step on the slippery slope leading to the utter sinfulness of Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Certainly the state has since degraded into the sort of hellhole that no god-fearing person would want to live in.

Sarcasm aside, my opinion then on the lottery issue hasn't really changed much in the last 15 or 20 years. From what I have observed of human nature, the more rules there are against something, the more tempting it is for people to indulge or overindulge in whatever it is: gambling, alcohol, smoking, drugs, overeating, whatever.

Making rules against something does not stop it from occurring. It just makes people attempt to cover it up. Also, in my opinion, not banning a substance is far from endorsing its use.

As other commenters have posted, there are very sound legal reasons to ban or limit alcohol on premises, and those reasons should not dismissed without a lot of debate. If rental revenue for the church is a priority, then allowing functions that serve alcohol would certainly open up more revenue possibilities.

Maybe if your church does change the rules on alcohol, they could set aside a certain amount of that rental revenue for educating church members about responsible drinking and for providing help for those fighting alcohol abuse.

Sarahlynn said...

Currently, this is where I'm standing:

I don't think that drinking is always wrong - this is not a straight value judgement - but I do think that there are appropriate times and places for it. Similarly but more trivially, I do not think that television and computers are intrinsically bad but I choose not to have either in my bedroom.

Amanda, I certainly enjoyed a few toasts after my own wedding! The alcohol wasn't part of the wedding ceremony - a religious ceremony at a church, in my case - but rather at a separate event later on that evening. I loved my wedding, I loved my reception, the same people were welcome at both - nothing was hidden, but they served different celebratory functions in my case.

Rob, the storage issue is one that I hadn't even considered; thank you. (For the record, the church will not be providing wine; it will be the responsibility of those bringing it in for a particular event.)

I do think that the church views our new facility as an opportunity for growth and increased opportunities for ministry and mission, rather than as a source of income. In fact, I've heard very quiet grumblings from staff about there being weddings scheduled almost every weekend all year - already! We're glad of the growth and interest, but that's a large burden for the staff.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, Chorus! May I ask about your denomination? If you'd prefer not to get too specific, since you're an anonymous blogger, are you RC or Protestant (or something else entirely)?

Kristi, I disagree with you on both lottery and other gambling, including their effects on Indiana and elsewhere, but that's a separate issue that I'm not interested in tackling tonight.

I also see serving no alcohol at church events as very different than telling teenagers not to have sex. There's universal prohibition, and there's defining your own space in a manner that makes you comfortable.

Certainly in my own home I have the responsibility to set the rules for what is allowed. Churches are similar, though more people are involved in the decision-making process.

Canada said...

Regarding alcohol for wedding parties, I know that it is completely illegal for a minister to marry anyone who has been seen consuming alcohol/drugs, or appears to be under the effects of either of these (somehow, I don't think they follow these rules in Vegas!). So maybe they mean more immediately following the ceremony?

As for during dinners or receptions, if your church has a newly renovated rental space as ours does, they are looking at the bottom line. By ALLOWING alcohol to be served, it puts the onus on the renters to provide whatever permits are required (here in Ontario, Canada, the hosts have to get a special events permit for the date of the party, which has to be displayed during the party, if alcohol is to be served). This may also protect the church from legal action should alcohol be found being served on site without a permit. It may also discourage those sneaking it in for the same reason.

Just my two cents :)

Chorus said...

Hello again!

Happy to share my denomination - I'm an Anglican/Episcopalian/Church of England, depending where you're from!

Lots of very interesting discussion here, and I enjoy your blog!

Canada said...

BTW, I'm Anglican, too.

Crimson Rambler said...

Just another Anglican voice...we're uncompromising on gambling, though, at least in this diocese. This gets tricky because some of our churches are Historic/Heritage buildings, for which the provincial government makes available restoration/preservation funds. These funds are very prominently tagged as the proceeds from (legal) gambling...which can somewhat mute the churches' protests against gambling as a source of government revenue, right?

Sarahlynn said...

Canada, the impaired judgement marriage thing is true here as well (though often over-looked in some venues it seems!). I think they're mostly talking about receptions afterwards. I hadn't thought of the permit angle; thank you.

Thank you, Chorus, and a big welcome to the Anglicans!

Crimson Rambler, that is tricky indeed. Also, almost inspirational: gambling proceeds actually going toward the use for which they were intended? Shocking! ;-)

Dana said...

Regarding alcohol for wedding parties, I know that it is completely illegal for a minister to marry anyone who has been seen consuming alcohol/drugs, or appears to be under the effects of either of these (somehow, I don't think they follow these rules in Vegas!). So maybe they mean more immediately following the ceremony?

I've never heard of that before, and I've performed weddings in both Maryland and Florida. Falling down drunk, no I wouldn't do, but just having a beer or something? That's going overboard. At the last wedding I performed, we all did shots of limoncello beforehand.

Sarahlynn said...

Dana, I haven't found the legal citations yet, but at a minimum, I know that it can be used as grounds for an annulment:

I imagine that laws vary from state to state.