Today was first day of school for the students of Archway Academy, which is a high school that’s located on the campus of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and was “established in 2003 by concerned parents and adolescent addiction recovery experts who recognized the need for a school that was dedicated to supporting teens in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse or dependency.” Here’s a picture of the students with some of the faculty and staff in front of the church doors last fall:
It’s wonderful that the school has a home at the church, and I’m grateful for the adults who have been called to this amazing work with these students. As I heard them gather in an assembly this morning and gave thanks, silently, for a new beginning not only to the academic year but also to the life ahead of them, I couldn’t help but think of a man named Fred Myers. He was a member of my congregation in Minnesota and a community leader known for his work with AA and with non-profits that he founded to help recovering alcoholics both find and keep a job.
There was a full house at Fred’s funeral last fall, and at least half of those present were members of AA. It was a great privilege to preach at that funeral, and I got more than a few “amens” during my sermon when I talked about what the church can learn from AA. Near the end I quoted something about jazz and AA, which was perfect for the occasion. Fred loved jazz, and his funeral was filled with its sounds.
Here’s what I said about life in the ruins and grace in addiction:
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Edina, Minnesota
The Reverend Neil Alan Willard, M.Div.
September 16, 2013
FRED EARL MYERS, JR.
August 20, 1930 – September 7, 2013
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning . . .” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Those words come from the Book of Lamentations. They brought hope to God’s people in the midst of a situation that seemed hopeless. Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple on Mount Zion burned. With God’s house no longer standing, his people were taken far away into captivity. When the Jews returned from exile, they didn’t return to life as it was before the destruction of their homes and their lives. They encountered a landscape forever changed.
In the words of Lamentations:
The sacred stones lie scattered at the head of every street.
And yet they embraced life amid the ruins. They touched those sacred stones with emotions that can only be described by the Psalmist:
You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to have mercy on her;
indeed, the appointed time has come.
For your servants love her very rubble,
and are moved to pity even for her dust.
The nations shall fear your Name, O Lord,
and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion,
and his glory will appear.
He will look with favor on the prayer of the homeless;
he will not despise their plea.
Let this be written for a future generation,
so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord.
For the Lord looked down from his holy place on high;
from the heavens he beheld the earth;
That he might hear the groan of the captive
and set free those condemned to die.
That they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord,
and his praise in Jerusalem.
Fred Myers loved the Lord, whose name he declared in this church week after week. And he knew what it meant to be set free. Fred was very open about the fact that he had been sober since 1971.
It happened because a co-worker reached out to him and became his mentor. Reflecting on that mentor a couple of years ago in an interview, Fred said,
He came into my life and without him I would probably have been dead a long time ago.
Nearly everyone here today knows that Fred will be remembered most for the work he did after his retirement. To Barbara, his wife of 56 years, and their four daughters, thank you for sharing your husband and father with this community in those retirement years.
With a tenacious faith, Fred embraced those whose lives had been ruined by alcohol abuse and helped them to build new lives.
Fred was the founder of Rebuild Resources, a successful nonprofit in St. Paul, which he oversaw for two decades to help recovering addicts get job skills and find long-term employment in our community. More recently, he started another nonprofit, Sober Corps, to provide mentors for those in the first year of sobriety, equipping them with life skills to keep them out of prison.
As stated on the Sober Corps website:
The mentor relationship is not intended to replace a sponsor in a 12-step program, but partner with participants to provide additional support.
That was important to Fred, who belonged to the same AA chapter for more than 40 years. One of my most prized possessions here at St. Stephen’s is this copy of “The Big Book,” which has an inscription to me from Fred. He gave it to me after a sermon that I preached from this pulpit in which I quoted two young, Evangelical Episcopalians who wrote a little book called Grace in Addiction: What the Church Can Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous.
Here’s a passage from Grace in Addiction:
The chief concern of Twelve Step recovery is redemption, pure and simple. The sober alcoholic who has found joyful release from alcohol epitomizes the “wretch saved by grace,” and therefore, the hope of the church. If “redeeming love is [indeed their] theme” [as William Cowper penned in a famous hymn], Christians might begin to give the flourishing world of recovery more attention. It is almost as if God cut out a substantial portion of His heart in the late 1930s and hid it in church basements and community centers across the country and the world. There it continues to beat loudly and healthily, despite the buckets of bad coffee and parking lots full of cigarettes. The heart is detached from its home.
Here’s another quote from that little book:
The ironic and sad truth is that in AA one finds a much better example of Christian community than in most churches. This is a controversial statement, but there is much evidence to support it. AA presents an impressive model for church, not to mention evangelism: it started with two drunks in 1939 and today has almost as many members as the Anglican Communion. How has this happened? Especially when there is nobody saying “we have to grow”? There are no altar calls in AA. A small percentage of people are pushed there by the courts, but most attend because they want to be there. AA, in this sense, is truly phenomenal, having grown far beyond what any of the founders ever could have envisioned.
Of course, the same could be said of the growth of Christendom with regard to the twelve disciples from Galilee, that they never in their wildest dreams could have imagined the impact their ministry would have upon the world, even 2000 years later. But with AA, the growth is so fresh, unavoidable, and seemingly uncontrived. It is no wonder that author Kurt Vonnegut once claimed that America’s two greatest contributions to the world were “AA and jazz.”
I find that to be a supremely hopeful observation. That’s because even if signs of God’s reign seem to disappear from what we think of as “The Church,” they will make their way here through cracks in the stone, appearing in gatherings of AA or in small, concrete acts of love by the people who reach out to us when we feel most unloveable.
That’s the kind of love that Fred brought into this broken world — a love that embraces life in the ruins, a love that picks up those scattered stones and rebuilds. It reflected “the steadfast love of the Lord” that “never ceases.”
Those in AA know the words of Lamentations to be true, that the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. And now Fred, our brother in Christ, will awake in the eternal light of that new day, known as Easter.
May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.
1 BACK TO POST Lamentations 4:1.
2 BACK TO POST Psalm 102:13-21, BCP.
3 BACK TO POST Fred Myers, quoted in an interview with Brian Johnson, “Helping others stay sober in the construction industry,” Finance & Commerce, February 16, 2011.
5 BACK TO POST This little book, published in 2010, is 30 pages long. Here’s a newer version, published in 2012, that is 286 pages long: John Z., Grace in Addiction: The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everybody.
6 BACK TO POST John Z. and Tom B., Grace in Addiction: What the Church Can Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.mbird.com/2010/04/grace-in-addiction-what-church-can/).
7 BACK TO POST John Z. and Tom B., Grace in Addiction: What the Church Can Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.mbird.com/2010/05/from-grace-in-addiction-aa-as-church/).