Strength under Pressure

It takes a courageous person to admit his or her faults and struggles publicly, so we give a lot of credit to the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church’s Bishop of New Hampshire. The openly gay Robinson’s 2003 consecration set off a firestorm within his denomination: the worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the US Episcopal Church, is on the brink of schism because of anti-GLBT pressures with the US and from many European and African dioceses. That’s a lot of pressure on one human’s shoulders, so news that Robinson announced that he is entering rehab to deal with an alcohol addiction comes as no surprise.

From London’s Daily Telegraph:

“With the encouragement and support of my partner, daughters and colleagues, I checked myself in to deal with my increasing dependence on alcohol,” the bishop wrote in an open letter from the clinic to Christians in his diocese. …

“During my first week here, I have learned so much. The extraordinary experience of community here will inform my ministry for years to come. I eagerly look forward to continuing my recovery in your midst. Once again, God is proving His desire and ability to bring an Easter out of Good Friday. Please keep me in your prayers and know that you are in mine.”

The Diocese of New Hampshire backed the bishop’s decision to seek treatment. “The Episcopal Church, through its General Convention, has long recognised alcoholism as a treatable human disease, not a failure of character or will,” said Randolph K Dales, president of the diocese standing committee.

Being the “first” anything, particularly when one is reviled, causes an often inordinate amount of strain, says Maine Bishop Chilton Knudsen, who was the first woman to head an Episcopal church in Illinois. More than two decades ago, Knudsen admits, she cracked under the pressure and, realizing that alcohol had become a problem, checked herself into alcohol rehab.

From the UK’s Guardian:

“There is a particular kind of stress people are under when they are the first,” she said. “Being a clergy person is a stressful job – and any disease process latent in our bodies is going to be exacerbated” when an extra level of scrutiny is added on.

While Knudsen believes other high-pressure vocations – doctors, for instance – face similar problems, the Rev. Dale Wolery of the Clergy Recovery Network says religious denominations that accept social drinking wind up with more alcoholism among clerics.

The Episcopals are one of those denominations. (So too are Roman Catholiics; growing up, I witnessed a lot of hard-drinking priests and know quite a few who ended up in alcohol-treatment centers.) Both denominations regard alcoholism as a health issue that requires treatment rather than condemnation. When clergy members from enlightened-on-this-issue denominations realize they need help, they can ask for and receive it. Those who, like Robinson and Knudsen, come to that point and accept treatment — and share their plight with those to whom they minister — merit praise.

Knudsen, who says she still attends 12-step support meetings, gives Robinson credit for relying on caring people around him. As she told the Guardian, he “listened well to those of us who spoke with him.”

The New Hampshire bishop will need prayers as he deals with his struggle and recovery — and with the ongoing controversy surrounding his sadly controversial appointment. He certainly has mine, as well as my respect.

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