Gwen opens the circle session at nine a.m. on a Monday morning with a reading from Alcoholics Anonymous’ Blue Book. The theme is powerlessness, and Gwen reads in a halting voice. Her audience is a group of women who’ve come to work here in an old parsonage just up the hill from a well-heeled Episcopal church.
During the testimony portion of a worship service at Central Park United Methodist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, “Karen” walked to the front and confessed for the first time that years earlier she had killed a woman while driving drunk, had served five years in prison, and had then begun drinking again. “I was a menace to society,” she said. When she finished, she waited anxiously for the congregation’s response. Immediately some moved forward to embrace her; then the service continued and Karen joined other volunteers in serving communion.