Journalist and recovering alcoholic Lauren Windle shares her experiences of being around drinking at Christian events.


Source: Wil Stewart / Unsplash

I don’t drink alcohol. Not because I don’t like the taste, or because I’m pregnant or on antibiotics or just like to drive. But because I’m an alcoholic in recovery. I’ve now been clean and sober for more than nine years and have been Christian for the same amount of time.

There are many challenges to being in recovery, particularly as our society is very booze-centred, with all celebrating and commiserating done with glass in hand. Being surrounded by alcohol is just a fact of life. If I, as a recovering alcoholic, didn’t want to be in its presence I would have to forgo virtually all social events, restaurants, bars, pubs and parties. It’s not impossible but it would make other elements of my life very difficult, like seeing my friends.

I was surprised when I first started attending Christian festivals to see how much alcohol was being drunk.

When in recovery, it doesn’t matter how far down the line you are, alcohol just doesn’t feel safe. Much like an ex-boyfriend you have mutual friends with; you had some good times, you had some (very) bad times, you knew the relationship had gone sour, so you cut it off. You still have to see them every now and again, you can make that work (you’re an adult after all) but it doesn’t mean you love having it hanging around, and you will never spend one on one time with it again.

This is me paving the way to make my proposition: I think we should stop serving alcohol at Christian festivals. Let me explain.

Being around alcohol is tough, some days far more than others. To introduce a whole new metaphor, let’s say it’s like getting punched in the stomach. Sometimes you’re strong and fit and ready so you take the punch with no problems. Other days it knocks you for six. There are some days you suspect you wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact, so you stay home and avoid it altogether. That’s all fine, it’s what we have to deal with, but it would be amazing not to have to tense up to take that punch at a Christian festival.

I was surprised when I first started attending these events to see how much of the mixing and mingling outside of teaching sessions was done at the bar or with alcohol. I was also surprised that on occasion people would get drunk. I learned to prepare myself for a hefty gut punch that seemed inevitable at Christian festivals.

But then I went to Shift, a small Christian conference that gathers on a farm in Cheltenham. Shift has an alcohol-free policy. That doesn’t mean that they just don’t sell it, they actively ask attendees to respect the policy and to leave alcohol at home. It’s possible some people still do smuggle in some booze, it’s not like they conduct an airport security check on each person’s bag. But to the best of my knowledge, no one there drinks. And it is magical. 

To be on the inside and everyone’s equal and not missing out on any element of the event, made me so happy I wanted to cry.

To be able to go to a bar and order whatever I want, knowing it’s all totally alcohol-free, is the biggest blessing for me. To be able to dance with friends, who throw themselves onto the dancefloor with the same vigour and gusto as a drunken uncle at a wedding, felt incredible. To be on the inside and everyone’s equal and not missing out on any element of the event, made me so happy I wanted to cry. To be able to relax and loosen my muscles, knowing I’m not taking a punch today. It’s like nothing on Earth.

Jesus did not need alcohol; to preach, to work, to socialise or to party. We don’t either. We can spend so long trying to make Christianity look like the world with our church breweries and glasses of wine after the service, that we’re missing the point. We don’t need it. We’ve got something a million times better than getting tipsy. And that’s Jesus. Let’s be people who laugh so loud, dance so boldly and sing at the top of lungs with such abandon that people we will be gobsmacked when they hear no alcohol is involved.