of series on Let's Be Friendly with our Friends
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., September 1957
river has a wellspring at its source. AA is like that,
too. In the beginning, there was a spring which poured
out of a clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. 'Way back in
1934 he began to teach us the principles and attitudes
that afterward came to full flower in AA's Twelve Steps
ever there was a living water for drunks, this was it.
We took the cup of grace that Sam held out and we drank,
not forgetting to pass it on to others. Our gratitude
goes up to him whose grace ever fills that cup, and out
to Sam who first offered it to us.
rivers must have tributaries, else they cannot travel
far nor grow great. The ever deepening stream of spirit
on which we AAs journey to better things now has its myriad
tributaries -- branches which feed unto the main current
of life of our whole Fellowship. The most numerous and
most vital of these streams of devotion and service have
always come to us from our friends in the clergy.
me illustrate: Few know that it was a minister who was
the primary figure in forming AA's original Board of Trustees,
who were to become the custodians of AA's services, worldwide.
I am thinking of Willard S. Richardson, a friend and associate
of the Rockefellers. In 1937 we called upon Mr. Richardson
to help us find a lot of money for AA work. Instead he
helped us to find ourselves. Largely because of his kindness
and understanding, his devotion and his hard work, AA's
first board of trustees was formed and the writing of
the Big Book was begun. His was the kind of giving that
had no price tag on it. What our 7,000 groups today owe
"Uncle Dick" Richardson, a clergyman, only God
could possibly know.
the Rockefeller dinner meeting of 1940 another man of
the cloth appeared. He was no other than Dr. Harry Emerson
Fosdick. As the main speaker for the nonalcoholics present,
Dr. Fosdick became the first man of religion ever to stand
right up before the general public and give us a big pat
on the back. I often wonder how much this generous act
required of his understanding, love, and sheer nerve.
Here was a small bunch of so-called "ex-drunks"
-- virtually unknown. I still tremble when I think how
America would have rocked with mirth if tow or three of
us AAs had turned up plastered in the spotlight of that
famous dinner! Clergyman Fosdick had gone far out on a
limb for us. We shall remember this always.
by hundreds, and probably by thousands, our friends in
the clergy have since continued to go our on a limb. They
install our meetings in their basements and social halls.
Never interfering with our affairs, they sit in the back
rows -- explaining that they have come to AA to learn.
When Sunday arrives, they preach sermons about us. They
send us prospects and marvel at their progress. When we
sometimes ask them to speak to us, they invariably apologize
for their own ineffectiveness with alcoholics. This is
humility for sure ... too much of it perhaps.
it comes to patience and tolerance they are at their best.
Of course they soon learn that, although sober, we AAs
can sometimes be grandiose and champion rationalizers.
We can also be careless and irresponsible. They listen
blandly when we tell (by inference) what a superior Society
we have! Once in a while they hear experiences and language
at a meeting that would make practically anybody blush.
But they never say a word, or bat an eye. They take the
nonsense side of AA in stride, sometimes with the patience
of Job. They know we are really trying to grow up, and
they want to help.
stirring and round-the-clock demonstration by our friends
in religion sets many of us to thinking: "When we
consider all that these priests and preachers have done
for us, just what have we ever done for them?" This
is a good question indeed.
the following isn't strictly AA business, I cannot help
but report what priests and ministers have done for many
of us, personally. Some AAs say, "I don't need religion,
because AA is my religion." As a matter of fact,
I used to take this tack myself.
enjoying this simple and comfortable view for some years
I finally awoke to the probability that there might be
sources of spiritual teaching, wisdom, and assurance outside
of AA. I recalled that preacher Sam probably had a lot
to do with the vital spiritual experience that was my
first gift of faith. He had also taught me principles
by which I could survive and carry on. AA had provided
me with the spiritual home and climate wherein I was welcome
and could do useful work. This was very fine, all to the
I finally discovered that I needed more than this. Quite
rightly AA didn't try to answer all of my questions, however
important they seemed to me. Like any other adolescent,
I had begun to ask myself: "Who am I?" "Where
did I come from?" "What is my purpose here?"
"What is the real meaning of life?" "When
the undertaker gets through with me, am I still alive,
or not?" "Where, if any place, do I go from
here?" Neither science nor philosophy seemed able
to supply me convincing answers. Naturally I began to
shop about in other directions, and I think I made a little
still rather gun-shy about clergymen and their theology
I finally went back to them -- the place where AA came
from. If they had been able to teach me the principles
on which I could recover, then perhaps they might now
be able to tell me more about growth in understanding,
and in belief.
my sobriety had come easy, the growing up business hadn't.
Both emotional and spiritual growth have always been might
difficult for me. My quest to understand myself -- and
better to know God and his design for me -- became a matter
of great urgency. The clergy, I reflected, must represent
the accumulated wisdom of the ages in matters moral and
theological. So I began to make friends with them -- this
time to listen, and not to argue.
can happily report that one of these clergymen has turned
out to be the greatest friend, teacher, and adviser that
I ever expect to have. Through the years I have found
in Father Ed (Dowling) much of the grace and understanding
by which I can now grow, if only a little at a time. He
is the finest living example of spirituality that I happen
to know. He has often set my feet back on the path when
otherwise I might have gone off on an indefinite dry bender.
It is characteristic that he has never, in all these years,
asked me to join his church.
it is with the deepest feeling that I here cast up AA's
debt to the clergy: without their works for us, AA could
never have been born; nearly every principle that we use
came from them. Their example, their faith, and their
beliefs in some part, we have appropriated and made our
own. Almost literally, we AAs owe them our lives, our
fortunes, and such salvation as each of us has found.
this is an infinite debt!
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., September 1957
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