By Fred Koenig
Last year I joined a friend at a meeting in the basement of an Odd Fellows Lodge. Forty people were crowded into a room that is made for about 20. People took turns speaking. If you were close to the person speaking, you could understand what he or she was saying. If you weren’t, you just waited patiently until they were done, and then tried to listen to the next one. There were no microphones, no power points and no programs.
These people were working through a process where they humble themselves before God, confess their shortcomings, and ask, or beg, God to help them transform their lives so they can become better people. Many of them have experienced that transformation; some can reference the specific instance that it happened. When they come together, they share their deeply personal stories of how things have changed, or how they have failed. Some attend the meeting every week. Some attend it every day. The group has an estimated two million members world-wide.
Everyone has heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. From television and movies, we know people begin with, “Hello, my name is (blank), and I’m an alcoholic.” And we’ve heard of the 12 steps. But what some people outside of the anonymous groups don’t realize is that the entire program, the basis of which is responsible for the success that most of the people who have escaped the grasp of addiction have realized, is based entirely on the transformative power of prayer.
There’s not a lot of theology discussed at these meetings. At the one I had a privilege of visiting, there was sharing and confession. The leader shared a short story at the beginning, and then turned it over to the group. When it was almost time to go, the leader let one more person speak, then everyone closed the meeting with a prayer.
The shear dependency on God expressed by people in utter desperation is deeply moving. Many have seen their friends break the grasp of addiction, only to relapse back into it. Some have seen their friends die from it.
The power of AA is that although it’s based on prayer, those prayers aren’t just wish list for miracles, like letters to Santa. The 12 step process is really a loop of three things – confession, faith and repentance. It’s religion in its most basic, and most powerful, form.
Many of our United Methodist Churches in the Missouri Conference host one of these groups. Some of our churches host them about every day of the week. The benefit this provides to society is immeasurable.
The spiritual connectedness that many people experience through AA can run deeper than what some experience from a lifetime of Sunday mornings in church. Someone who has broken from the grasp of addiction through the power of prayer has the potential of being a force of transformation if they are invited to take their faith to the next step and become part of a church. May our churches be blessed in finding ways to help people see the church as something more than a place for their meetings.