Theology on Tap? ‘Sober Spirituality’ explores church drinking culture

by | Apr 12, 2023 | Religion

Photo by Veeka Skaya/Pixabay/Creative Commons(RNS) — When the Rev. Erin Jean Warde first became sober, she was totally comfortable with the “private sober life.” But, she jokes, God didn’t exactly respect her boundaries.
After being invited to preach at a clergy vow renewal service in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, where she served as rector, Warde felt the Spirit prompting her when she learned of multiple clergy struggling with their relationships to alcohol.
“I got into that pulpit, and literally for the first time in my life outside of a sobriety community that I was privately in, I talked to the diocese about my choice to quit drinking,” Warde told Religion News Service over a recent video call. “That really started this pronounced shift in my ministry.”
On April 18, Brazos Press will publish Warde’s debut book on a topic she never planned to talk about publicly. “Sober Spirituality: The Joy of a Mindful Relationship with Alcohol” is a hope-filled invitation to reconsider the narratives that society, individuals and even religious communities can tell us about alcohol.
Erin Jean Warde. Photo by Katie Wolfe & Gab Owermohle
A one-time Baptist saved at a Hell House (a haunted house-style attraction hosted by churches to frighten people of hell), Warde found a more expansive faith in the Episcopal Church. But she also stumbled into a culture where many social events revolved around alcohol — “theology on tap” gatherings, men’s groups meeting at breweries, even the open bars at Episcopal conferences.
Now a spiritual director, recovery coach and speaker living in Austin, Texas, Warde works to de-stigmatize not drinking, remind everyone she encounters that they are inherently beloved and, for those who choose sobriety, invite them on a journey that isn’t one-and-done but is a “long obedience in the same direction.”
RNS spoke to Warde about the drinking culture she found in the church, common myths about alcohol and where she’s encountered resurrection in sobriety. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How was your exit from fundamentalism similar to the crisis you experienced when you stopped drinking alcohol?
I joke that …

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