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A priest and recovering alcoholic tells his story of spiritual awakening

15 March 2013


Sir, - "Peter's" story in Anna Drew's excellent article (Features, 15 February) mirrors my experience to a large extent. Eighteen months after being granted the gift of sobriety through the wise advice of a psychiatrist and the fellowship and programme of Alcoholics Anonymous, I began seriously to question the sincerity of my calling as a priest. Was I, in "Peter's" words, "a square peg in a round hole"? Was the priesthood, like my addiction to alcohol, merely a bolt hole from reality?

The depth of fellowship that I experienced in AA meetings seemed to contrast markedly with what I perceived at that time as a certain shallowness in parish life. Owing, however, to the guidance of a wise spiritual director (whose brother was a recovering alcoholic), coupled with the support of a close AA friend (known as my "sponsor"), I was brought to understand that what I experienced in the AA meetings could, if I was willing, be translated into the life of the Church.

There was, I discovered, no conflict between my life as a member of AA and my vocation within the Church. It was simply a matter of working the 12th step of the programme of recovery: "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practise these principles in all our affairs."

I cannot claim to work these steps perfectly, except the first part of the first step: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

As the book Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, "We are not saints." But I can vouch for the fact that, though my life has not always been a bed of roses during my 26 years of sobriety (one day at a time), my priestly ministry has been enriched beyond my wildest dreams.

My fears, whether of parish gossip or police traffic cars, have dissipated. Although I am now retired, I have been offered locum work as an NHS chaplain, and a teacher of Latin - opportunities unthinkable a quarter of a century ago.

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