This piece was first published on my previous blog, “The Liturgical Theologian,” on July 12, 2017 and can be found here.

Perhaps it’s just me and my upbringing in northern Virginia, but I can distinctly remember thinking the local our Catholic parish was weird because when I received communion there is was always and only a wafer. No wine. Anyone else with me? A few confessions are in order here: first, by “my upbringing” I simply refer to the fact that I was part of a fairly low Episcopal Church and had no personal real commitment to Anglican worship, polity, or anything during my youth. Second, I definitely received communion at a local Catholic parish despite being a baptized Episcopalian. Third, I only attended Saturday evening mass at St. James because I played on a successful, travel soccer team and we often had games on Sunday mornings. Arrest me, I know (alas, perhaps another post for another time).

Seriously though, I often thought to myself growing up—and can unfortunately remember numerous conversations attempting to proselytize others—that the Catholics were both weird and wrong for withholding wine from the Faithful. And the current articles/essays/blog pieces going around about the Vatican saying “no” to Gluten-free bread creates the potential for a seemingly interesting “one kind” situation for those with Gluten intolerance. You can read Sarah Pulliam Bailey here and Emma Winters hereon the issue for further information (hint: they both dispel the idea that low Gluten wafers are bad for those with an intolerance).

Fast forward twenty years: I am now an Anglican priest, PhD student in liturgical theology, and I haven’t had communion in both kinds in over 16 months. Why? Because I’m an alcoholic.

Before we go off the deep end here, please read my words clearly: I am not suggesting that all alcoholics in recovery must abstain from partaking the blood of Christ every Sunday. That is way above my pay grade and none of my business. I am also similarly aware that the Vatican has approved the use of mustum (grape juice with less than 1% alcohol content) for use during Holy Eucharist.

That said, being one who partakes of only the bread for 16 months has caused me to reflect on my childhood naiveté and more recent experiences.

You would assume that I would be the first person to insist upon having wine at Eucharist. And no, not because I’m an alcoholic, despite that being the obvious logic! You would make that assumption because my doctoral research is devoted to liturgical theology and what happens in worship, particularly sacramental worship. As I priest I regularly administer the bread and wine, the Body and Blood, to the faithful. Wouldn’t I—nay, shouldn’t I—partake as well?

Here’s what I’ve learned…

  1. I am not receiving a lesser Sacrament or being robbed of a sacramental experience. My involvement in the Eucharist is the same as it always has been: active, prayerful, grateful, expectant. I’m not missing out on anything by virtue of having only one element instead of two. There is no noticeable shift in my own awareness and no less grace conferred, either.
  2. The Eucharist, for me, has become more about the giving of thanks rather than the reception or partaking of elements. I have much to be thankful for in my life: an incredibly supportive and loving wife, three amazing children, a business, a PhD program, my sobriety…the list goes on and on. I have the opportunity to give thanks to my Heavenly Father during the Eucharist for this and for so much more. The point of the Eucharist, first and foremost, is for the church to gather for the source and summit of her worship by giving thanks, directing the praise of creation back to Creator, and self-offering before the Lord. Have we lost sight of this in our post-Reformation debates upon substance, change, and consecration?
  3. The significance of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is not a matter of elemental change or discovering the moment of consecration. My awareness of Christ’s presence, or at least my openness to his activity and agency in worship has changed. Christ is present in the Eucharist, with his people, in the act of thanksgiving, in the offering of praise and prayer, and in the breaking of bread. Jesus is not somehow absent to me and more fully present to another because I no longer drink from the chalice or intinct my bread. The Eucharist is a whole service, not just one part of something larger. In the prayers of God’s people, in the reading of Scripture, in the sermon, and in Communion, Christ is present. My job is to encounter him there and not to locate him solely in bread or wine.

The focus on Eucharist in one kind or in two shifts radically the meaning of the Eucharist from what it should be. I’m not arguing for an anything goes mentality when it comes to sacramental worship, far from it! I’m advocating for a deeper, more robust, thicker sacramental experience and encounter. I’m learning on a Sunday by Sunday basis, and one day at a time, that Jesus beckons me—and all of us—to his table not simply for bread and wine or Body and Blood but for participation in the wedding feast, joining the Eschatological banquet table in a foretaste, participating in the self-giving, overflowing love of the Trinity.

My appreciation for the Eucharist—and I daresay my understanding—has grown significantly in the last 16 months. It feels as though things have been put into sharper perspective by virtue of opting out of the wine and that primary issues have once again become primary (and therefore secondary issues have returned to being secondary). I’m sure that I’ll have more to say on the subject as I am further changed by the liturgy and my lengthening time in recovery, but at this point I can say that it is “right to give him thanks and praise.”

“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”[1]

You May Also Enjoy: On Being an Alcoholic and Liturgical Muggles and Losing the Sacramental Imagination

[1] Taken from the 1979 BCP, Rite II.

This post was first published on April 20, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

First Sobriety Birthday

I have been engaged in a new liturgy recently. This liturgy has changed me profoundly.

I arrive a few minutes early to each gathering and sit in a room amongst like-minded people. We definitely do not look the same, each coming from different walks of life, but we are all committed to the same principles, traditions, and concepts.

The one presiding over the meeting will call the gathering to order, read some opening acclamations about the purpose of our time together, make some announcements, and then invite others to participate.

At this point someone new begins to speak. Normally this individual is going through something difficult or has a strong compulsion to share and ask for guidance or advice. There is no judgment here—on several occasions I have been the one who felt so compelled to speak and every time I found understanding and others who said, “Me too.”

Once the theme or trajectory of the meeting has been firmly established, those gathered also participate by offering up their own stories and experiences in order to help the one in need. After speaking, there is usually a chorus of, “Glad you’re here” or “keep coming back.” The welcoming atmosphere can be a bit overwhelming.

The meeting concludes with the Lord’s Prayer which binds us together and sends us out to continue practicing that which we know to be true. The meeting ordo is simple: Gathering—Reading—Exhortation—Prayer—Dismissal. It is not unlike the Anglican liturgy in which I have been participating for almost 30 years. Nor is it the same.

Every time I speak during the gathering, I begin with, Hi, my name is Porter Taylor and I’m an alcoholic.

For the last 14 months, I have been attending meetings regularly. On March 9, 2016, I admitted to my wife and family that I am an alcoholic, that I was and am powerless over alcohol, and that my life had become unmanageable. (Taken from 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Step 1.) That day, I began the life-long process of recovery from this disease.

As you can imagine, the process of recovery has not been easy. There have been difficult moments, days, and weeks – recovery is not for the faint of heart. But there has also been healing, joy, and triumph. The gift of rising strong. As the slogan says, the program works if you work it.

A lot of you might be thinking How can he be an alcoholic? If we are judging by the stereotype, you’re right. I rarely had more than two drinks, my children have never seen me even close to drunk, in 12 years my wife has only seen me drunk twice, I wasn’t in line at the liquor store when it opened, I never got the shakes, I wasn’t a “homeless bum” living under a bridge. I am a husband. I’m a father of three. I own a home, cars, and a business. I’m a PhD student. I’m a priest. From the outside looking in, I had it all together.But on the inside was 30 years of pain and emotions never dealt with. Inside was a hugely sensitive person who thought feeling wasn’t normal. So for 30 years I did what I thought was normal: I repressed everything. Angry? Go for a run. Scared? Make a joke. Sad? Pour myself into work. Worried? Play with the boys, go on a date with Rebecca. The key was: ignore. And then, eventually, the key became to drink.

For me, alcohol was always a means to an end—in fact, it was never really about the alcohol. It was about numbing pain, trying to forget, trying to bring suppressed feelings to the forefront of my mind; it was about “deserving” a drink because I was happy, tired from a long day, or needed to take the edge off. Or maybe I had accomplished something positive, or needed the “liquid courage” to be around people. In short, alcohol became whatever I wanted it to be and it morphed into something different each time. Alcohol could help me feel or not feel, whichever I deemed necessary at the time. And for a while, it worked.

But that’s the issue: It wasn’t about what I drank, or even how much, but why I drank. As Glennon says, I would send my representative into the public arena so I could remain hidden and safe in my cocoon, away from tempestuous and unpleasant emotions. And that’s part of the point: one does not have to wait for total devastation to hit before admitting struggle, addiction, or bondage.

And so I admitted that I am an alcoholic.

I don’t share any of this with you to brag or to promote myself or the Fellowship, but to share with my friends (and some strangers!) what has been going on in my life. I don’t want to send my representative out into the world anymore.

For anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed with life, befuddled by the complexity of emotion(s), or uncontrollably resentful for things that have happened in the past; for those who seek to alter their attitudes, actions, or surroundings through alcohol or other chemicals; for those who feel as though there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to satisfy or quench or numb or help; for those who are dependent upon a substance but don’t know how to admit it; for those who are in positions of spiritual leadership and are too ashamed to admit their need…

For anyone like this, I want to say to you, “I know. Me too.”

There is another way of living. As someone told me in my first meeting, you never have to feel this way again if you don’t want to. If you are tired of sending your representative into life, tired of running, lying, or hiding, reach out. If you’re ready to embrace the hard, hopeful work of recovery, you can.

It is with extreme gratitude, humility, and joy that I can say to you: My name is Porter Taylor and I am an alcoholic.