Records Relating to The Episcopal Church’s Ministry to Those Afflicted by Alcoholism and Addiction


As a sacramental church that recognizes the elements of bread and wine in its central worship service, the Episcopal Church has historically maintained a guarded approach to wholesale solutions to alcohol abuse and addiction.  Addiction has been recognized as primarily an individual affliction, a moral weakness and disease that threatens social relationships in family and community.  Education, spiritual restoration, physical healing, and psychological treatment have been the preferred approaches over temperance and social control mechanisms.  The Archives of the Episcopal Church maintains several twentieth century collections that speak to the Church’s attempt to tackle alcohol addiction as a disease with its roots in a falling away from faith in oneself and in God.

The Episcopal Church, unlike other Protestant denominations, supported temperance, but did so without a full embrace.  The General Convention passed a resolution against intemperance in 1916 without much discussion in either House.  The Church Temperance Society (New York) brought some Episcopalians together in the pre-Prohibition era, but the group was defined more by its opposition, which included prominent Church leaders such as Bishop Henry Potter and Clifford Morehouse (see, for example, Ernest Gordon’s The Anglican Way: Episcopal Clergymen and Alcohol).  The use of narcotic drugs and the Common Cup raised greater concern in the Conventions of the 1920s.  In 1940 alcoholism was characterized as a “personality deficienc[y]” and specifically named as a canonical impediment to a successful marriage.

Beginning in 1952, the Episcopal Church looked to education, prevention, and rehabilitation as initiatives for its members and clergy.  In that year, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church established the first Committee to Study Problems of Alcoholism, “as they relate to this Church and to the Church's duty to society."  The Committee, which was active until 1961, initiated a theological study of alcoholism, held seminars on the treatment of alcoholism, issued detailed reports to Convention, and worked with the Women's Auxiliary to undertake what became a broadly distributed study of social drinking.  During this period, the National (Executive) Council, established an Advisory Committee on Alcoholism, offered scholarships for the Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, published the newsletter "Alcohol," and assisted in the publication and distribution of Alcohol, Alcoholism, and Social Drinking: An Official Publication of The Joint Commission on Alcoholism, and the pamphlet Alcoholism and Social Drinking.

In 1958, the General Convention tried to institutionalize a response by requesting a Division of Alcohol Education within the Christian Social Relations Department.  Departmental reports after that date speak of work with Native Americans for the most part.  By 1964 the topic was subsumed under the more general challenges of spiritual healing and health.  The Committee’s last report was a National Council publication, Resources of the Christian Faith in Dealing with Alcohol Problems: A Manual for Clergy, which  was issued in 1962.  It summarized the complexity of any solution: “To say that alcoholism is a physical or psychological or spiritual disorder is to over-simplify.  Alcoholism does not seem to be any one of these, but all three wrapped up into one complex illness.”

The Episcopal Church is not a centralized institution.  By the 1970s, the Church’s response to alcoholism and other addictions fell to unofficial and affiliated bodies. Some of the most successful and well-known efforts were conducted by individuals and networks of Episcopalians that organized specifically to address alcoholism and addiction, notably the North Conway Institute, Recovery Ministries, and the  Recovered Alcoholic Clergy Association.  The Archives holds several primary source collections on the Episcopal Church's involvement in these issues.

Statements on Alcoholism by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church:

1979-B122.  Request Dioceses to Establish Committees on Alcoholism
1982-D084.  Study Drug Dependencies and Minister to Those Affected
1982-B049.  Commend National Episcopal Coalition on Alcohol
1985-A083.  Adopt Church Policy on Alcohol and Drug Abuse
1988-C035.  Commend Employee Assistance Programs to Church Institutions
1991-D172.  Make the Problem of Alcohol and Drug Addiction a Program Priority
1991-A100.  Give Spiritual Direction and Care for Those Addicted
2003-A123.  Dioceses to Establish Committees on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency
2009-A079.  Request Education in Addiction Issues for Ordained Ministry

Personal Papers of the Reverend Samuel Moor Shoemaker, 1913–1963

Shoemaker is considered by some to be a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  He served as rector of Calvary Church, New York City, (1924-1952), where he emphasized an evangelical catholicism, extending the work of the church through small group meetings and individual counseling, stressing the importance of personal religious experience and commitment, and encouraging individual Christians to bear witness to their faith.  Episcopal Church clergy had circulated ideas and approaches to a spiritual pathway for healing individuals who turned to alcohol so relieve the daily stress of industrial urban life.  Shoemaker was aware, for example, of the work of the Rev.  Elwood Worcester and the Emmanuel Movement (, and similar parish-based efforts at addressing disease through spiritual reclamation.  Shoemaker opened Calvary House in 1928, providing space for meetings of the Oxford Group, a religious movement of the early 20th century focused on spiritual self-improvement, which soon directed its focus on ministry to the addicted.  Bill Wilson attended these meetings at Calvary Church and credits Shoemaker as heavily influencing the Twelve Steps for Recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous (see

The Shoemaker Papers include personal and professional correspondence, writings, sermon files, and records of speaking engagements. Records document diocesan affairs, personal activities, individual decisions in matters of ecclesiastical affairs, and private family papers. A sizable portion of his correspondence is directly related to his involvement with the Oxford Group. Calvary Church provided meeting space for the Oxford Group.

Records of the North Conway Institute, 1951–2001

The most comprehensive archive on this area of ministry is the Records of the North Conway Institute.  The North Conway Institute records provide evidence of two decades of an ecumenical effort to bring individuals and groups together to educate churches in treatment approaches and alter society's attitude toward alcoholism from the 1950s to the present.

The North Conway Institute was founded in 1951 and led by Episcopal priest, the Reverend David A. Works, who put all his energies into shaping a network of advocacy and creating policy concerning alcoholism.  Though largely led by Episcopalians, NCI had an ecumenical reach in raising awareness among clergy and educating church leaders on the existence of alcoholism as a problem in their midst.  NCI also worked as a catalyst to shape public policy, and was at the forefront in the 1950s and 1960 in discussing drunk driving.  NCI’s strength was in the ties it nurtured with local and national governmental bodies, other organizations devoted to issues of alcoholism, business and industry, and academia.

NCI was instrumental in forming The Ecumenical Council on Alcohol Programs (TECAP). This group created the first policy guide written by an interdisciplinary and ecumenical board which accepts the use of alcohol by church members. The Ecumenical Council on Alcohol Programs involved Protestants, Catholics, Jews and several secular agencies. According to Paul C. Conley and Andrew A. Sorensen, in their book, The Staggering Steeple: the Story of Alcoholism and the Churches: "NCI is largely responsible for bringing the combined approach of the AA tradition and the scientific-medical treatment method of alcoholism into the alcohol policies of the larger American church bodies."  With the retirement of Works in 2001, the North Conway Institute effectively closed, however a partnership with the Boston Foundation resulted in the creation of the NCI Fund, which issues grants to organizations that reflect NCI's mission on addiction education.”

The Records of the North Conway Institute (NCI) are an organizational archive that offers a fairly complete historical record of the agency from its founding in 1951 through its most active period of the 1970s and 1980s.  The NCI Collection provides a near complete overview of the activities and outreach of a groundbreaking interfaith program that promoted the issue of alcohol and substance abuse awareness within church and society in the second half of the twentieth century.  The networking and partnerships established by the Institute are especially well documented.  The records are organized into the following eleven series or categories of arrangement:

Administrative Records
NCI Sponsored Conferences
NCI Activities and Cooperative Projects
NCI Publications
Resource Material
David A. Works Personal Papers
Audio and Visual Materials

A fuller description of the collection, a history of the NCI, and electronic versions of several NCI publications are available from this page.  The archive was processed with a grant from the North Conway Institute.  Access to the NCI collection is open.

Records of Recovery Ministries, 1980-2009

Recovery Ministries (formerly the National Episcopal Coalition on Alcohol and other Drugs or NECAD) is a network of Episcopal laity and clergy focused on studying the effects of addiction on the Church, which began in 1980.  The organization has assisted in establishing diocesan commissions on addiction recovery, promoting Alcohol and Drug Awareness Sunday, and creating educational resources on the topic.  The records of the organization are unprocessed, but include administrative files and publications from 1980 to 2006, and annual meeting and board minutes and board minutes to 2008.  (See also

Records Relating to the Recovered Alcoholic Clergy Association (RACA), 1966-1981

RACA, or the Recovered Alcoholic Clergy Association, has been in existence for almost 50 years having been founded in 1968 by Rev. James T. Golder, rector of San Francisco's Church of the Advent, who had been a member of the Executive Council's Advisory Committee on Alcoholism.  The organization was committed to mutual self-help, fellowship, and pastoral concern for clergy with a drinking problem and their families. In the 1970s, RACA estimated one out of every 16 Episcopal priests had a problem with alcohol.  RACA forwarded the proposition that most pastoral problems in the church are related to the abuse of alcohol.  Records relating to the work of RACA are found in the archives of the Social Welfare Office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (1966-1981), which coordinated work with the agency. (See also

Other Information Resources on Alcoholism

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
Created by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, an office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their website, Prevline, reports to have "the world's largest resource for current information and materials concerning substance abuse".

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
This federal agency site includes access to full-text NIAAA publications and other databases, including ETOH, one of the most comprehensive online databases for abstracts and bibliographic references about alcohol abuse and alcoholism resources. Updated montly, ETOH contains research findings from the late 1960s to the present, as well as historical research literature.

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
NCADD is a voluntary health organization formed in 1944. This site contains resources for parents and youth and gives a historical perspective of alcoholism research and the NCADD's work.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive
Hosted at the University of Michigan, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has collected research data on the subject. SAMHSA is also a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.