Pennsylvania clergy confront addiction, recovery at ‘Wellness Day’

By Linda Arguedas
Posted May 26, 2015
The Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen preaches. Photo: Linda Arguedas

The Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen preaches during a Wellness Day May 21 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in State College. Photo: Linda Arguedas

[Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania] “If you are a member of the Episcopal Church, you are co-dependent. The Episcopal Church is co-dependent and we have to get better,” the Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen, former bishop of Maine, told a gathering of more than 120 clergy from the dioceses of Central Pennsylvania, Bethlehem and Northwestern Pennsylvania attending a Wellness Day May 21 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in State College.

“If there is one above all interventions to move a system toward joy, creativity and health, it is learning how to respond to each other. We shape one another’s reality by the way we respond to each other,” said Knudsen, a counselor in the field of addiction recovery who was recently appointed as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Maryland. (An NPR interview with Knudsen is available here.)

Among the other presenters was the Rev. Stuart Hoke, adjunct professor of pastoral theology at the General Theological Seminary in New York and a well-known voice on addiction.

The Wellness Day began with morning prayer, followed by presentations on clergy and addiction and alcoholic systems. Each participant received a copy of Knudsen’s book, “So You Think You Don’t Know One?: Addiction and Recovery in Clergy and Congregations.” The day concluded with a Eucharist celebrated by Central Pennsylvania Bishop-elect Audrey Scanlan and a sermon from Knudsen.

The Wellness Day was sponsored by the Widows Corporation in partnership with the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. The Widows Corporation was founded in 1769 to care for the families of clergy in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Separated into three state societies after the Revolution, the Pennsylvania corporation has increasingly used the returns on its investments to help not only the widows and orphaned children of deceased clergy, but also the families of living clergy throughout Pennsylvania through its program of Wellness Funds, established in 2000 by now-retired Bishop Allen Bartlett of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. More than two million dollars in direct assistance to clergy families has been granted since then, and in recent years new initiatives for caring for clergy and clergy families have been funded as well.

“The Wellness Initiative in Central Pennsylvania, which we have been happy to support, is a model of care for clergy that we highly recommend to other dioceses,” said John Miller, executive director of the Widows Corporation. “This seminar on addictions, like others occurring throughout Pennsylvania, is one more effort to assist the bishops in providing necessary pastoral care and guidance to all of our clergy.”

Following up on the success of Wellness Day, clergy participants are encouraging Episcopalians to move into “the spirit of holy wonder” and respond to the lessons provided by Knudson and Hoke. “We invite those interested to join a diocesan task force on addiction and recovery. The work of the task force is to provide congregational resources and best practices for choosing avenues for health that help us live as a diocese in the spirit of gratitude in the midst of cultural anxiety,” said the Very Rev. Robyn Szoke Coolidge, dean of Central Pennsylvania’s Stevenson School for Ministry.

“This task force is to especially include those in recovery, to meet our challenge to be a recovering system that is a community fully aware of the challenges of addiction and the necessary steps to recover and become a community filled with positive regard,” she said.

— Linda Arguedas is assistant to the bishop for programs and communications in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.