United Methodists Called to 'Alcohol Free Lent' for 2011

February 17, 2011

Congregations urged to set up 'Spirit Fund' to raise money equivalent to cost of 'spirits' not consumed during Lent.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The General Board of Church & Society has issued a call for United Methodists to have an "Alcohol Free Lent."
The call is inspired by Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, whose members responded to their own "Alcohol Free Lent" challenge several years ago. The congregation created a "Spirit Fund" to which members could contribute the equivalent cost of "spirits" that they did not drink during Lent.
"We were inspired by the faithful story of Myers Park UMC in challenging members to give up alcohol for Lent and by the results of that challenge," said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of GBCS's work area on Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care. "Not only was money raised to aid those battling alcoholism, it gave rise to reflection among church members about the role and prevalence of alcohol in their own lives."
Dr. James Howell, senior pastor, issued the challenge to the Myers Park congregation. "How do we unwittingly harm our children?" he asked. "It could just be by the way we consume alcohol, and not just that we drink, or how much we drink, but all the fond meanings we attach to drinking."
Howell, a member of GBCS's board of directors, said he issued the challenge in a sermon on Leviticus 6: Instead of a cocktail before dinner, drink water and put $6 into a Spirit Fund jar; instead of a glass or two of wine at night, put $7 in the fund; instead of a cooler of beer while watching basketball, have soft drinks and contribute $24 to the contents of the jar.
"The next year, we broadened the challenge to the entire city of Charlotte," Howell said. "The local newspaper gave us some coverage. We contacted pastors and lay leaders of as many congregations as we could, to ask them to join us. If nothing else, a robust conversation was sparked on the role alcohol plays in the life of our city."
The call to an "Alcohol Free Lent" is mindful of the legacy of this important work, according to Abrams. She said the call enhances, rather than conflicts with, contemporary alcohol-prevention advocacy work.
Abrams called the challenge provocative. "The call to remain Alcohol Free during Lent is meant to inspire an international discussion among United Methodists," she said. "It is to encourage them to grapple with the 'elephant in the room': alcohol use among our members."
Frank conversations are unlikely to happen without some sort of bold action, according to Abrams. "We hope that the conversation raises awareness and sheds light on the efforts of the alcohol industry to permeate society and influence our choices about alcohol usage," she said. "This is particularly worth discussing as it relates to the industry's efforts to encourage underage drinking."
Abrams encourages congregations and individuals to establish a Spirit Fund in conjunction with the Lenten challenge. Proceeds could benefit a local recovery/addiction prevention project or one of the worthy national projects listed in the Alcohol Free Lent section of GBCS's website.
To become involved, register your church's participation at Alcohol Free Lent (www.umc-gbcs.org/alcoholfreelent).

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. The board's primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations.