Another in the series, “Many Voices, One Faith,” shared by the Rev. Kent Millard.
REV. KENT MILLARD
United Methodist Forum
When I grew up, my family was totally unchurched because my father was a practicing alcoholic. We moved frequently because my dad would get drunk, get fired from his job and we would pack up and move again.
We wound up in a little town in western South Dakota where my mom ran a café and my dad drank up the profits. There was only a municipal bar in that little town and there was also only one employee; he was the bartender and also the sheriff. He would sell alcohol to someone until they got drunk and then arrest them for public intoxication and put them in the jail which was attached to the bar. It was the town’s fundraising system.
Unfortunately, my dad was caught in that system. He would get drunk, be put in jail and the next day my mother would send me to the jail with money to bail him out. He was always apologetic and promised it would never happen again, but within a few weeks the pattern repeated itself.
One night the bartender/sheriff took my intoxicated father to a barber shop where there were three men meeting in a group called Alcoholics Anonymous. They took my dad to a ranch 20 miles from town where he had to dry out and learn the steps of AA.
Dad was walking across the prairie memorizing the steps of AA. The first steps are “Come to believe I am powerless over alcohol but that there is a power that can save me from this addiction.” Dad said to himself, “I believe this. I am powerless over alcohol; I have stopped hundreds of times but I always go back.”
The second step is “Come to believe there is a power that can save me from this addiction.” Dad said to himself, “I wish that was true. I wish there was a power that could save me from this addiction.”
Then he felt it. He felt a powerful, bright presence around him so he fell to his knees, started crying and said, “God if you are real, save me because I can’t save myself.” Then he felt the bright presence enter into him and give him deep peace at the center of his soul. When he got up from the prairie he knew he would never drink again, and he never took another drink of alcohol for the rest of his life.
When Dad returned to town, he told us about his experience with God on the prairie and said, “Now we have to go to church to thank God.”
We started attending the little Methodist church in town and I came to believe that God must have done something for everyone there because they were always singing songs of thanksgiving and praise to God. I figured that people came to church to thank God for what God had already done in their lives, just as God had done something that changed our lives.
Eventually, our family went forward one Sunday to join the church. After we took the vows of membership, the pastor asked us to face the congregation and invited everyone to come forward and welcome us. All 25 people came forward and hugged us and welcomed us into the congregation. I was 11 years old and remember crying because it felt so good to be hugged and accepted.
I didn’t know much about God or Jesus but I loved Methodist church people because they welcomed an alcoholic and his family into Christ’s loving arms. They modeled a church with open hearts, open minds and open doors. I came to love the God who first loved us and fell in love with the Methodist church for demonstrating God’s love to us. This why I will always be a United Methodist.
~ The Rev. Kent Millard is president of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.