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Posted July 29, 2004

Support Groups

Taken from Grace Under Pressure:
What Gives Life to American Priests



A number of priests also find support groups life-giving. Some are in Alcoholics Anonymous or related groups, while others are in groups of priests who simple come together for mutual support. Jim from the Midwest began early. “I have been out of the seminary for 22 years,” he said, “After ordination, I did not want to become an old fart priests and I didn’t want to become an alcoholic. And than God I didn’t I didn’t think I had that problem at the time and I wanted to do everything I could to avoid it, so one of the first things I did was join a priest support group and I’ve been in a priest support group for 20 years. It has been helpful for me. I have been part of three different groups and probably have been in the present group about ten years. We have dealt with some heavy things in our group. There have been tears. We have lost some guys in the group, but to me that has been a very important part of my priesthood, to keep me honest in my endeavors.”

Two Western priests had similar experiences. Tom said, “I’ve been in a support group for 13 years now and I love the wonderful way in which we are able to listen to each other and help each other get through crises because we’ve all had them at different times. Fortunately, it hasn’t been all at the same time so we can deal with one person and then move on.”

Bill said, “I have been a member of a priests’ support group for 12 years, to be able to bare my soul with someone else who will understand, and to hear, “Oh, yeah, I went through that.’ Or, ‘Why don’t you try this?’ Or, ‘We are going to love you.’ To have the intimacy of a group that you can just be yourself with and not be judged, to have the comfort of knowing they accept you and love you as a manifestation and a concrete reminder of the Lord’s love. That has been so important. I so often see these lonely guys who get angrier and angrier and turn everyone off and you realize they don’t have the support or they have locked out everyone from being intimate with them. And we all suffer because of it.”

One priest described his experience coming to terms with being the grandchild of an alcoholic. He used a support group to come to terms with the impact his grandfather’s alcoholism had had on his mother and what that, in turn, did to him. Ken, 44, a Southern pastor, passed on a lesson from his support group to help others: “I think what has given me life has been a twelve-step program. I am from a dysfunctional family which I guess is pretty common today. And that awareness of how I was many times playing things that had happened to me in my childhood is very painful. I use three images that have really helped my ministry called ‘Uncover, Recover, Discover.’ I have to uncover my history and then recover it. I have to be able to heal those parts of me, so that I can move forward to discover who I am now. And then once I am in the position to love myself, then I can move on to love my neighbor and love the Lord. But I can’t go backwards.”