Thursday, December 11, 2008

A new take on church

I've started to attend Al-Anon meetings. Which, by saying that, I hope doesn’t betray the "anon" aspects of the meetings. I'll have to ask someone about that. You know me, I like to talk about things that help me.

Al-Anon is for people whose lives have been affected by someone else's addiction. At this point, I fall in that category. Close friends and professionals have been recommending that I go for several months now, and I finally started. Very eye opening.

What I've found at these meetings is total acceptance, understanding, love and fellowship. Instantly. I found affirmation for recent decisions I've had to make and encouragement for the doubts I still have.

The first meeting felt like the best Christian Science testimony meeting I'd ever been to. CS testimony meetings include prayer, readings, and sharing. Al-Anon meetings do as well. The difference is that at Al-Anon the people sharing aren't speaking from a place of "everything's all better now." They're speaking from the middle of the process, what they're learning as they go. So listeners get and give both inspiration and encouragement. Everyone in the room is just doing their best, day by day.

Apparently this is quite powerful. I've only been a couple of times, but some of these folks have been coming to Al-Anon for decades, and they keep coming even after the immediate cause (another person's addiction) has been resolved. Meaning, even after the person becomes sober and sticks with it, the Al-Anon folks still offer each other love and support. It feels to me like this is church to those people.

I've been thinking often about the early Christians, who met anonymously in little cells to wrestle through what it meant to follow Christ in their pagan world. They had to be anonymous, because if they weren't, they could wind up on a cross of their own. They had to have each others' backs. And, I'm sure their questions as the Christian life was forming up are very similar to those being asked at the meetings I've attended: What is letting go? How do we trust our higher power? What is perfection?

It's made me wonder what church would be like today if it were structured not around a particular dogma or creed, but around what the individual church goers need. Like, we could start a Church of the Single Parent, and everyone who came would support each other in that journey. When you're no longer single, you could go to the Church of the Newly Married. Or, the Church of the Jilted Lovers. Or, the Church of the Exhausted Mothers. Or, the Church of the Financially Strapped. You could talk about what's on your mind, your challenges and your victories, and everyone would understand.

I'm so grateful to know about the unique culture of sharing that is Al-Anon. There's something immeasurably powerful about finding a group of people who have walked where you need to walk, and who can offer companionship along that journey.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or submit a question.
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At 12/12/2008 07:57:00 AM, Anonymous DennisR said...

Some years ago my wife and I attended Families Anonymous. It is a 12 step group similar to Alanon. It is for family members of drug addicts. It was mostly parents dealing with children with drug and related problems.

It was like you said. It was the way church should be. I found support and help that I did not find in regular church. It also help me not to be so exclusive. Being an Evangelical/Pentecostal type helped by a Jewish person who was a member of the group broadened my view point to see God's kingdom as more inclusive.

My wife and I also eventually did some 12th step work where we visited the parents group whose children were in the hospital and spoke and related our experiences.

These groups are like a lifeline to a drowning man.

At 12/12/2008 02:37:00 PM, Blogger Laura Matthews said...

"A lifeline when you're drowning." Another great definition of church.

Thanks, Dennis....

At 12/13/2008 07:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for these wonderful thoughts and ideas.

I'm beginning my first 3 year term as a Reader in my branch Christian Science church.

Though one of the healthiest branch churches that I know, I can't shake the feeling that it's headed towards obscurity and irrelevance eventually if some radical realignment isn't implemented.

At first I thought meetings- letters- etc would get things moving. But now I'm resigned to something more powerful: quiet prayerful treatment for the situation.

As Reader I will be afforded more time to ponder the challenges of a branch CS church in these times ( I think The Mother Church is adapting nicely however in keeping abreast of the times. )

Your article has much living truth in it that resonates with me.

At 12/13/2008 07:45:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Churches to avoid:

Church of the Smiley but Aloof, Elitists; Church of those who like to go to church every Sunday, just because; Church of the Controlling, Cliqueists; Church of the Stagnant, Status Quo (or Church of the Starchy, Crispy Crunchers)

At 12/15/2008 11:37:00 PM, Blogger Kim said...

Love these new churches that are popping up! Church of the Exhausted Mother - definitely one I would like to visit, Church of the Smiley but Aloof - been there, not too inspiring.

But I have Church in many places - wherever there is a lifting up, rousing the dormant thought, a desire to elevate the race... I have found church in a hospital chapel and with community members looking for ways to heal racism, working with the spiritual leadership in a community to remove the shane of poverty by providing monthly community meals. Where I want to be is where there is the earnest call for healing and the eager help to respond. People who are interested not only in healing for themselves but those wanting to learn how to heal and help others. There are lots of people like this! And I am so happy to have met many. This is such a great post, Laura - I might just do a simialr post and link to yours!!

At 12/16/2008 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Karla Vallance said...

Al-Anon sounds powerful, love that. And yes, does sound a lot like a good Wednesday evening meeting at a Christian Science church -- when you feel the Spirit move. And I hear you about the desire to rally around others with a "niche" need -- of particular popularity right now might be The Church of the Unemployed (or Underemployed). I like that idea. But then I start to define myself by my problem. Part of what I love about a powerful prayer meeting is that I learn from experiences that others are going through, although it may not be exactly like what I'm going through. If you take the concept of diversity, it shouldn't (in a perfect world) just apply to race or gender or sexual orientation or income-stratification, but should apply to all fellow-travellers turning (or trying to turn) to Spirit to find the way. Part of the delight is in the difference(s). But of course the differences really are not so different. That's what diversity teaches -- that we are all the children of the one God, whether I'm dealing with my out-of-control teenager or with my challenges of old age or of how I get along better in the 7th-grade.
To me, the 'secret sauce' is not in the niche-ification, but in the unconditional love and acceptance, the Christian care of one another, the listening and the sharing. Which, to loop back to your beginning, it sounds like Al-Anon is doing -- and how a powerful church thrives.


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