A.A. STUDY GROUPS:
Planning, Starting, Conducting One
© 2012 Anonymous. All rights reserved
[Since this article was first published, there have been numerous James Clubs, James Gangs, Big Book Bible Study Groups, Christian Recovery Studies, Christian recovery groups, large church classes, and many smaller study groups – all dealing with A.A. and 12-Step studies and A.A. History and the Christian Recovery Movement. You can find them in Canada, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Hawaii, the British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, and many other locations. See http://www.ChristianRecoveryCoalition.com]
Probably the most beneficial thing in the author’s learning of the recovery program (as embodied in the Big Book and the Twelve Steps) were the Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars. They did a line by line study of the first 103 pages. They made the unclear clear. They did it with humor, with purpose, and with brevity.
Many have wanted to do something similar with A.A.’s roots, as a complement to the Big Book study. This is being done in some areas. But there can be a much more precise approach, one that will complement the Big Book and enable spiritual growth within A.A. itself.
Some are intimidated by this. Even the Joe and Charlie Big Book Seminars have been subjected to the comments that they violate the Traditions and that they speak of non-Conference approved literature. But the Seminars have stood the test of time, with A.A.’s own archivist from New York often participating. Not so easy when the roots have been involved, but it is simply because AAs don’t know their own history and traditions.
Here are some pointers:
Every early A.A. meeting in Akron and many in New York, involved discussion of the Bible and Christian subject matter. They involved use of outside literature, particularly The Upper Room and My Utmost for His Highest. Dr. Bob’s Bible is still taken to the podium at the King School Group meeting in Akron (A.A. No. 1).
There is no Tradition that can, should, or does forbid discussion of A.A. history or the Bible or literature that early A.A.’s used. Box 459 has an excellent article on that point. The article can be obtained from General Services in New York or from the author.
Learn well the words of the Long Form of Tradition Three: “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.”
Learn well the precise words of Long Form Tradition Ten: “No A.A. group or member should ever, in such a way as to implicate A.A., express any opinion on outside controversial issues–particularly those of politics, alcohol reform, or sectarian religion. The Alcoholics Anonymous groups oppose no one. Concerning such matters they can express no views whatever.”
The foregoing facts have not stopped people from objecting or trying to ban the Bible, early A.A. literature, and discussion of the foregoing at this or that meeting. One group was removed from the meeting list because it studied Emmet Fox’s The Sermon on the Mount. That did not make the action correct. But AAs who want to learn, study, and grow in the roots which were part and parcel of their history should not be intimidated by erroneous comments, actions, or interpretations, however sincere, well-intentioned, or vociferous. Thus Roman Catholics have been holding retreats for AAs for decades. Bill Wilson often cited this as an example of why Bible study was permissible in A.A. The matters that the traditions discuss have to do with SECTARIAN or DENOMINATIONAL religious practices. A.A.’s Preamble so states.
The point of all this is that AAs today are searching for ways to remain within A.A. and, at the same time, learn more about the language A.A.’s Big Book, Twelve Steps, and Fellowship use. They want to remain in A.A. and practice Eleventh Step spiritual growth by learning about, studying, and discussing “helpful books.” The Big Book does not say, “There are many helpful books also” [p. 87]; but don’t you dare read or discuss them. The Big Book does not say, “Suggestions about these may be obtained from one’s priest, minister, or rabbi” [p. 87]; but don’t ever mention this in an A.A. meeting. The Big Book does not say, “Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they have to offer” [p. 87]; but be sure they are never seen, discussed, or quoted in an A.A. meeting.
AAs need to know at least this much about their own history. The Reverend Sam Shoemaker and Father Ed Dowling, S.J., spoke to all AAs convened at A.A.’s Twentieth Convention. Their remarks are contained in Conference Approved literature (A.A. Comes of Age). The Reverend Sam Shoemaker and The Right Reverend Monsignor John J. Dougherty spoke to all AAs at their next International Convention, which was at Long Beach. The Reverend Sam Shoemaker wrote many articles for the A.A. Grapevine. Remarks of The Reverend Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick are quoted at length in A.A.’s Conference Approved A.A. Comes of Age.
Whatever some may think, A.A. has no index of forbidden books. A.A. has never excluded priests or sisters or ministers from its meetings even when they were not drunks. A.A. has studied the Bible in its meetings for years. And whenever two or three AAs are gathered together for sobriety, they may, as they have done for years, discuss the Bible, discuss the books they have read, and compare these to Big Book and Step concepts. They may discuss any and every facet of the Eleventh Step and the Big Book comments about it. It may well be that they would catch flack if they were a group of Christian Scientists, Roman Catholics, Moslems, or atheists who exclude others, call themselves a Christian Science A.A. Group, and confine their approach to a Moslem or Roman Catholic view of A.A. But the author has heard there are atheist A.A. groups, gay and lesbian groups, young people’s groups, and so on. Apparently, these affiliations have not resulted in evictions, whether that would be justified or not. In short, A.A.’s inclusiveness, does not mean exclude thinking or free speech.
Finally, if in doubt, write to the New York office as people have done for years. Both Bill Wilson and A.A.’s just retired archivist have fielded many a question. The result was not a prohibition, but a sharing of A.A. experience.
Author Dick B. has written several books and many articles on A.A. study groups. Some of the books include By the Power of God, The James Club and the Original A.A. Program’s Absolutes Essentials, When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, Why Early A.A. Succeeded, The Good Book-Big Book Guidebook, and Real Twelve Step Fellowship History. These can be found described and can be ordered through http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml. Dick B. has also written many articles, which are listed on his main website articles page, and cover such subjects as James Club groups, Bible study groups, and How to Form a Study Group.
There are many of these basic history groups now going strong around the globe, and I list them from time to time. Here is a list of articles written to guide you.
More and more folks are writing and asking for instructions on forming, conducting, publicizing, and resourcing such groups. And while I try to answer all inquiries personally, I refer you to the following articles posted on my main website, my personal A.A. history blog site, and our aa-history.com site. I list them here by the titles you will find on the article navigation bars:
The Articles as Listed on http://www.dickb.com/articles.shtml
A.A. History Study Meetings
A.A. Study Groups
Guide for Recovery Groups
Starting Your Journey
Studying the Steps
Study Group Topics http://dickb.com/studygrouptopics.shtml
The James Club Group http://dickb.com/studymeetings.shtml
Christian Track Treatment http://www.dickb.com/christian-track.shtml
Guidebook for Christians http://dickb.com/guidebook-for-christians.shtml
New Study Groups http://dickb.com/new-study-groups.shtml
Five new titles have come out that will be of specific use (http://www.dickb.com/titles.shtml)
A New Way In –
Twelve Steps for You –
Real Twelve Step Fellowship History –
The Conversion of Bill W. –
Introduction to the Sources and Founding of Alcoholics Anonymous
More articles are also coming out each month on this study group topic, and those who are conducting groups are sending me their flyers which are available to readers on request.
International Christian Recovery Coalition
c/o Dick B.
P.O. Box 837
Ph/fax: (808) 874-4876