The Sweet Pleasures of Reopening Our Spiritual Communities

Orrin Onken
3 min readJul 6, 2021
Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash

Over the Fourth of July weekend, 2021, the club where I attend twelve-step meetings held its first large gathering since the COVID shutdown.

The parking lot was full. There were hot dogs. People sat on lawn chairs in the sun and renewed old acquaintances. Dogs frolicked. Gossip was exchanged. Old rivalries were renewed.

For nearly three decades, my spiritual community has been where people recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction gather. The buildings that house their meetings are my church. When among my people, I renew my commitment to honesty, humility, and not taking myself too seriously, commitments I find easy to forget when tested by the stresses of the work-a-day world. My spiritual community brings me back to my roots and reminds me what is important.

As a member of this community I do more than tend to my soul. I contribute to potlucks, join softball teams, plan road trips, and hang out with the old men solving all the world’s problems. It is a place where kindness, integrity and sobriety are goals — goals not always achieved, but goals nonetheless — a place where people play and laugh together without the lubricant of alcohol. I need a place like that.

I don’t do spirituality well on my own. I know of people who find spiritual renewal in nature, or in silent meditation, or study of ancient texts. I envy those people. What they do seems romantic to me, but I can’t pull it off. For me — and millions of others who attend churches and synagogues and mosques — spiritual renewal comes from humans gathering together.

Twelve-step groups — those that have some sort of “Anonymous” appended to their name — are not mainstream churches. They are like me: not religious enough for the truly religious, and not atheist enough for atheists. People swear, smoke, drink gallons of coffee, park Harleys by the front door, and talk about God. If someone claims authority or expertise and presumes to instruct me from on high about what I should believe, I am permitted to tell that person to climb off the pedestal and suck it. I will have failed in my efforts to be kind, but my standing in the community will not be diminished. We have norms that can be offensive to church goers and secularists alike. But they work for me.

Orrin Onken

I am a retired elder law attorney who lives near Portland, Oregon. I write legal mysteries for Salish Ponds Press and articles about being old.