Alcohol and Substance Abuse: A Clergy Handbook


228 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8192-1372-1




Reviewed by A.J. Pell

A.J. Pell is editor of the Canadian Evangelical Review and an instructor
of Liturgy, Anglican Studies Program, Regent College, Vancouver.


Stephen Apthorp is an authority on his subject. An American Episcopalian (Anglican) priest, he has a doctorate in the problems and treatment of chemical abuse and treatment and is pastor of a congregation in Massachusetts. Thus, this book is not another instance of an outside expert trying to tell clergy what to do.

The subtitle, A Clergy Handbook, is indeed accurate. Apthorp combines up-to-date information about the causes, symptoms and results of drug and alcohol abuse with Christian theological reflection on the problem. In particular he deals openly with many of the myths and wistful daydreams of clergy in key chapters entitled “Prohibition or Prevention?” and “Alcoholism — Sin or Sickness?” The dilemma of clergy, who are not trained therapists and yet are often the first (and perhaps only) person a troubled individual or family may seek out, is addressed with basic advice on assessing the problem and making referrals to appropriate sources of treatment.

Yet this book is seriously flawed. First, although this edition of the book is published in Canada, all but one of the many agencies and publications catalogued in the volume are American, and thus of almost no help to a pastor in Canada. Surely the Canadian edition of a book could be realistic about its intended readership and provide lists of the multitude of Canadian resources! Second, Apthorp’s advice on establishing a parish program for “chemical health” ignores the fact that the vast majority of North American congregations have fewer than 100 members. Yet he proposes an outline suitable only for a multi-staff church of over 1000 members. The average pastor reading this book may learn from the educational parts of it but will find much of the practical assistance distinctly unhelpful.


Apthorp, Stephen P., “Alcohol and Substance Abuse: A Clergy Handbook,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 10, 2023,