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Could you go alcohol-free for Lent?



Creating a Lenten “spirit fund” by donating funds usually spent on alcohol is one approach to creating a Lenten challenge. A UMNS photo illustration by Kathleen Barry.
Creating a Lenten “spirit fund” by donating funds usually spent on alcohol is one approach to creating a Lenten challenge. A UMNS photo illustration by Kathleen Barry.
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3:00 P.M. ET February 21, 2012

A glass of wine with dinner, a beer while watching the big game, a sip of bourbon before going to bed — all pretty harmless activities if you watch television, go to movies, browse the Internet or talk to most folks.

You might be shocked to know that the world’s worst killer — more than AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis — is alcohol, according to LiveScience.com.

Here is another sobering fact: Alcohol is the top health risk factor for middle-income people. Riskier than obesity, inactivity and even tobacco.

So during Lent this year, from Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22 to April 8, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society is asking all United Methodists to give up alcohol, donate the funds they would have used to buy alcohol and start an international conversation about the harm done by this common vice.

“The world has changed drastically around us as it relates to alcohol use,” writes Jim Winkler, top executive for the denomination’s social action agency. “A lack of awareness to the implications and consequences of normalizing alcohol use is an ongoing concern and threat to public health that begs the question: ‘If a society integrates alcohol use into its regular activities without awareness to its impact on the health and well-being of individuals and communities, what are the consequences?’”

The Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of the agency’s work on alcohol, other addictions and health care, knows this is not an easy task.

“Everyone must grapple daily with the influence of alcohol on our lives, whether we drink or not. Frank conversation is unlikely to happen, however, without bold action such as this initiative that calls us to take a dramatic step, to make a personal or corporate statement about alcohol and its impact,” she said.

A few years ago, the Rev. James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., conceived the idea for a “Spirit Fund,” the amount of money that would have gone toward buying alcohol.

Myers Park members accepted the challenge, exceeding expectations also by raising $25,901 for a local recovery project.

The United Methodist Church has a strong commitment to alcohol avoidance in its law book, The Book of Discipline.

“We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol as a faithful witness to God's liberating and redeeming love for persons .… Since the use of illegal drugs, as well as illegal and problematic use of alcohol, is a major factor in crime, disease, death and family dysfunction, we support educational programs as well as other prevention strategies encouraging abstinence from illegal drug use and, with regard to those who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, judicious use with deliberate and intentional restraint, with Scripture as a guide” (¶162L, United Methodist Book of Discipline).

In 2011, the agency issued the challenge, and 50 churches in 22 states, the District of Columbia and nations overseas accepted, Abrams said. This year the challenge is being expanded to include churches, small groups and individuals.

“Don’t worry; this is not an attempt by United Methodists to renew the fight for Prohibition. This is a means to glorify God and prepare ourselves for the coming celebration of the Risen Christ,” Winkler said.

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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  • PastorUM 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    When I have new-member classes for persons coming from other denominations, I explain that the subject of alcoholic beverages is a difficult one for UMs.  The reason is that even though our official position is “We affirm our long-standing support of abstinence from alcohol...," the majority of UMs drink.  I tell them that if I were a Baptist, I could preach about abstinence; if I were an Episcopalian, I could preach about moderation.  But because of the enormous chasm between our written stand and our actual practice, I cannot talk about it at all without upsetting someone.  (I think...

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  • Sarah Smith 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    As a substance abuse prevention specialist, I applaud this initiative. I think what this initiative highlights is just to be aware of all the social pressures there are to drink, and challenge those. I was 23 when I got into this field, and I never realized how I contributed to this social pressure and even how I had been part of the problem by enabling others. Sometimes it takes steping back from things to get a different perspective of your world.  As people of faith, we should constantly be doing this, re-evaluating our actions, and choosing those actions that spread rightousness and...

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  • Hravn 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    No, God gave us the blue agave for a reason.  Instead, I am giving up being silent while the church pretends it has open hearts, doors and minds.  Here's to heresy and to hell with politics as usual.

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  • xodus2 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    Would someone please take a few minutes to explain to me how this article makes sense to their faith?

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  • Doug_FortWayne 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    Let's see.....the UMC's "long standing policy supports Abstinence from alcohol.......", and now we want to lift up giving up alcohol for Lent as something we should celebrate.   How about we as members of the UMC just honor our policies (be abstinent from alcohol).  It seems like this article is giving a "wink and nod" to something that should not be accepted according to our policy.   How about supporting local recovery projects from the savings from year round abstinence??

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  • James Ottjes 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    How many of you remember signing pledge to be alcohol and smoke free in the coming year?  That was one one the major points of the Methodist Church.  Where did we go wrong.

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  • Tomne 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    I salute this initiative. It is time our culture and our church own up to the problems alcohol brings. 
    How about a new miracle? Turn abstaining from alcohol into cash and cash into a bold program to tell the truth about how alcohol takes over lives and destroys them.

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