Book Review: How the Church Can Help Alcoholics

How the Church Can Help Alcoholics by Father Gene Geromel, Jr., Claretian Publications, 1980

I couldn’t find this book on Amazon.

Properly, it’s more a pamphlet than a book, a brief English and Spanish discussion of alcoholism and how the church can minister to alcoholics.  Much of  the pamphlet discusses identifying alcoholics and ways to address alcoholism rather than avoiding it or ignoring it or misdiagnosing it.  There is far less practical direction for church workers as they address alcoholics in their congregations.

An important thing to realize is that there are alcoholics in likely any and every congregation.  The statistic cited in this pamphlet is that one of every twelve drinking Americans is an alcoholic.  It doesn’t take a lot of complicated math to realize that even in a small congregation there is likely one or more alcoholics.  The Church needs to recognize this, and individual pastors and priests need to be aware of it as well.

This wasn’t something I learned about in Seminary, but it didn’t take long to learn about it on the job.  And don’t by any means presume that just because your congregation is mostly older folks that there aren’t any alcoholics.  A young alcoholic who never deals with their addiction will eventually become an old alcoholic.  Barring an accident, suicide, or general health failure linked to their alcoholism.  The first alcoholic I dealt with up close and personal in ministry was in his 70’s.

The pamphlet stresses the importance of confession and absolution, and rightly so.  It stresses the need to preach the value and worth of every person, including an alcoholic or the spouse or family member of an alcoholic, and rightly so.  The pamphlet also stresses the importance of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon as resources for coming to grips with alcoholism.

The importance of pastoral care is pertinent to alcoholism as it is to every other facet of life.  Law and Gospel are both important.  Care for those around the alcoholic is critical.  None of this is easy and very little of it can be scripted.  But what you also find is that there are frequently recovered alcoholics in your congregation as well.  When the reality of alcoholism can be addressed as a community of faith, it gives those who are in recovery a means of sharing their story, and that process is often helpful not just to them but those around them.  If there’s one place alcoholism shouldn’t be ignored, it’s in the Church.

A short read, and as indicated, pretty general in nature but a good reminder of the reality of alcoholism in Christian congregations and the responsibility of God’s people to address it head on with the Law and Gospel of God and the forgiveness of sins found  not in recovery but only in Jesus Christ.

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