The Church Downstairs


The little church downstairs has a good problem: it needs more chairs. Every day of the week, sometimes twice a day, its growing congregation gathers in our church hall basement to share stories and a common identity. Sometimes they cry. Often they laugh. Usually, there’s applause. They mix it all up with a good pot of coffee, and somehow healing happens.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been meeting downstairs for as long as I can remember. I started thinking of those meetings as the “church downstairs” shortly after a parishioner told me how she came to join our parish after first going to church “downstairs” for several months. One Sunday morning, she decided to try going to the Mass upstairs and ended up reconnecting with her Catholic roots. She’s been attending both ever since. Her story gave me a powerful image of the spirituality of the AA meetings rising through the floorboards and enriching the vitality of the whole parish community. And sitting in on some sessions helped me understand how much we can learn from AA and the way its members practice their “religion.”

First there is a genuine and low-key sense of welcoming. This isn’t a matter of some grinning bobble-head standing at the door to shake every new hand. In fact, AA is at its most hospitable after the meeting is over. No one is bolting for the door when the last word has been pronounced. Instead, people stay...

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About the Author

Fr. Nonomen (a pseudonym) is the pastor of a suburban parish. He has been a priest for more than twenty years.