Key commission recommendations for the Episcopal Church on substance abuse

By Amy Sowder
Posted Apr 21, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] The Commission on Impairment and Leadership created a list of 13 detailed recommendations for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and others to consider when tackling the pressing issues of alcohol and substance abuse prevention and intervention within the church.

(Details about the commission’s report and information about efforts to implement some of the recommendations are available in an Episcopal News Service story here.)

These are some of the key points among the recommendations, edited for brevity.

  • We recommend that the presiding bishop and president of the House of Deputies commission a task force or other group to develop a more complete process of screening people applying for ordination about their history and experience with alcohol and substance abuse. Bishops and commissions on ministry would benefit from education and training in how best to evaluate applicants with a history of addiction who are now living in recovery. In a related action, the Task Force on the Episcopacy has filed Resolution A148, which calls for amending the church’s canons on ministry to further define the substance of background checks required for bishop election nominees. The amendment requires that nominees be evaluated for substance, chemical and alcohol use and abuse.
  • We recommend that the Executive Council and the General Convention take necessary steps to develop and implement a required alcohol and substance abuse training program for all persons in the process of formation for ordination and for those already ordained. As in other professions, clergy should be required to repeat this training at designated intervals in order to maintain their license.
  • We recommend that the Church Pension Group (CPG), in its function as recorder of ordinations, establish a central personnel database to track clergy employment, discipline, issues with impairment and other related background information for all clergy in the church that can be accessed during search and transition processes. The Standing Commission on Governance, Structure, Constitution and Canons has filed Resolution A120 calling for the Archives of the Episcopal Church to create a secure database registry to track clergy discipline data to provide statistical information. In its current proposed form, such a database would not track specific incidents by name.
  • We recommend that the College for Bishops develop a substantive training component on addiction and substance abuse to be incorporated into the “Living Our Vows” program for new bishops that would include several components. We recommend that the House of Bishops incorporate into its meetings an ongoing process to address the same areas.
  • We recommend that the bishop with oversight of the Office for Pastoral Development, drawing on the research from this commission, establish a standardized process for conducting episcopal elections, based on best practices so that it can be tailored to meet the particular characteristics of a given diocese and that doing so can ensure that the key components to effective screening and discernment will not be lost in the process. The Task Force on the Episcopacy has filed Resolution A142 and Resolution A145 calling for dioceses to develop processes for bishop elections that are consistent with the task force’s recommendations.
  • We recommend that the presiding bishop, drawing on the research of this commission, establish a team to serve as a resource on alcoholism and other forms of addiction to provide a rapid response to issues of questionable impairment, to provide clergy or other concerned individuals with confidential advice, and to assist with monitoring, recovery and re-entry into ministry.
  • We recommend that CREDO develop a program component to help participants explore their relationship to alcohol, drugs and other addictive substances and behaviors.
  • We recommend that the Pastoral Development Committee of the House of Bishops, working with a knowledgeable and skilled advisor, as well as the Executive Council, evaluate the policies and practices of meetings, as well as the meetings of its commissions, committees and boards, to recommend changes that may contribute to a healthy environment with regard to alcohol and addiction.
  • We recommend that the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies appoint a working group to conduct a review of the canons of the church and to identify canonical impediments to the effective pastoral response, intervention and treatment of addiction and substance abuse. This working group should report its findings and recommendations to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons, for review and action.

— Amy Sowder is a special correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn. She can be reached at The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, ENS interim managing editor, contributed to this report.