After Heather Cook Affair, Episcopalians Adopt New Alcohol Policy

Heather Cook, Episcopal bishop, with her attorneys after appearing in court. Cook is charged with driving under the influence and fatally striking a bicyclist, Thomas Palermo, on Roland Avenue. (Baltimore Sun)
Heather Cook, Episcopal bishop, with her attorneys after appearing in court. Cook is charged with driving under the influence and fatally striking a bicyclist, Thomas Palermo, on Roland Avenue. (Baltimore Sun)

“I am Mark and I am an alcoholic,” the Bishop of Ohio, the Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, said on 1 July 2015 when he rose to introduce three resolutions brought to the House of Bishops by the Legislative Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

Formed in response to the arrest of the former suffragan bishop of Maryland, Heather Cook, who is currently awaiting trial for killing a Baltimore cyclist whom she struck while driving her car in an intoxicated state, the committee was tasked with offering practical recommendations on addressing drug and alcohol abuse within the church, as well as initiating a process of discussion of the “hidden problem” of addiction that affected many Episcopalians.

The Episcopal Church “must act decisively on matters of alcohol and drug abuse,” Bishop Hollingsworth said, thanking the presiding bishop for chartering the committee, whose members he said represented the experience and wisdom of“hundreds of years of sobriety and recovery.”

In discussion of the resolutions in the House of Deputies the previous day, the Episcopal New Services quoted Easton Deputy, the Rev Kevin Cross as saying the church’s image in popular culture was not healthy. “We have lived too much into the jokes of ‘where there are four Episcopalians, there is a fifth’ and ‘we are whiskey-palians’: we must redefine the norm,”

The first resolution, D014, recommended that those undergoing the ordination process, from nominees to ordinands, be educated on substance abuse as well as be screened for addictions. The resolution passed without discussion or dissent.

The second resolution A159 presented to the House by Bishop Hollingsworth urged the church to repent of its role in fostering a culture of drinking. Bishop Hollingsworth noted the church’s policy on alcohol and substance abuse had been last reviewed in 1985. The resolution adopted without substantive debate called upon the church to “confront and repent” of its “complicity in a culture of alcohol, denial, and enabling; Speak to cultural norms that promote addiction; Promote spiritual practices as a means of prevention and healing; and Advocate for public funding and health insurance coverage for prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, and collaborate with qualified community resources offering these services, and to respond with pastoral care and accountability.”

The committee’s third resolution set forward a new alcohol policy for the church to replace the 1985 statement. The Bishop of Montana, the Rt. Rev. Franklin Brookhart, rose and thanked the committee for its work, but expressed disquiet over the language governing wine and nonalcoholic beverages used during the Eucharist. There were “ecumenical questions” raised by changing the “eternal elements instituted by Christ” in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, he said.

The Rt. Rev. Stephen Lane, Bishop of Maine, said his diocese had wrestled with the issue of receiving communion in one kind and with non-alcoholic alternatives.

“There is fermented non-alcoholic wine” available, he said, that “some congregations provide as a safe substitute for wine”.

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SOURCE: Anglican Ink
George Conger

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