Every Saturday at 8:30am, 40-50 recovering alcoholics and few neighborhood friends and family borrow the basement of St. John’s United Church of Christ for an hour to read a chapter from the Alcoholic’s Anonymous Big Book.
Men, women, as young as 18 and as old as 70, predominantly white and low to middle class reflect much of what Mokena has become—a sliver above blue collar. They fill half a dozen warped folding tables with orange-backed seats, sip coffee, and chat quietly. Many have personal copies of the Big Book. For new members, you can borrow one from the table at the front.
Aside from the cross above the door, one would never know this was part of a church. The ceiling has that uncomfortable 80’s Stucco look, and the general look and smell reminds one of a DMV office. There is a community event calendar thumbtacked by the coffee. Saturday mornings: Our Primary Purpose. Tuesday nights: the ten girls in troop 219 earn another badge. When the weather is bad the preschool next-door will have recess here.
Meetings begin with anniversaries—Jan is celebrating a birthday, Rick has been sober 9 months. Rick receives a coin from one of the four leaders seated at the front table. Then introductions, exactly how one would imagine: I’m Mercedes and I’m an alcoholic. These are quick—all of five minutes. People don’t share stories. Jim does not retell how he once drank mouthwash before hitting rock bottom. Sal never beat his wife as far as everyone in the room knows. Denise always picks up the kids from school on time. Instead, most of the hour is spent reading the week’s chapter. Questions as they go.
The sense of community is ironic, as anonymity struggles to exist in a town of twenty thousand. Drop kids off next-door during the week, comeback on Saturday because of drinking problem. St. John’s is literally in the middle of a neighborhood, and at 9:30, these sober individuals will seep back into town, going about their Saturday: mowing lawns, coaching little league, getting haircuts—anything to prolong sobriety until the next chapter.