Formula For An AA Meeting
In The East
First in a series reporting some regional differences that produce the same result – sobriety
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., June 1961
In meetings along the eastern seaboard, a standard procedure is followed, with variations for some groups and localities. The group program chairman opens the meeting, giving the name of the group and mentioning that it meets every week. He then reads the preamble: “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women….” He then states, “Tonight we have as guests some members of the _________Group and I shall now turn the meeting over to their leader, Sam.”
Sam thereupon takes the floor and announces, “My name is Sam Jones and I’m an alcoholic.” At this point he has considerable leeway. If there are two speakers, he may, before introducing his first speaker, “qualify” himself as an alcoholic who knows what he is talking about. In some groups it is considered slightly better form if the leader mentions only the first name of the speakers, leaving them to identify themselves by their full names if they so desire. This is a reminder to all to respect the anonymity of the members.
There are never more than three speakers at a typical meeting. Most meetings last one hour but may sometimes run fifteen or twenty minutes longer.
Before the last speaker is presented the leader customarily calls for the secretary of the group, who first announces the collection to pay expenses for the hall and the refreshments, then reads the announcements of other group meetings for the coming week. When there are too many of these, he reads only the ones where anniversaries will be celebrated. He then turns the floor back to the visiting group’s leader. After the last speaker, the leader invites “all those who care to” join him in the Lord’s Prayer.
There are members who will lead meetings but do not like to speak themselves. Others will speak but do not want to lead.
There are a number of suggestions for the member planning to lead such an eastern-style meeting. Like almost everything else in AA, these are only suggestions and probably cannot all be covered in a single meeting, but many seasoned leaders try to work in as many as they can. Here are the suggestions:
If you are leader, don’t go into your own story unless your speakers are brief and you find that the program is running short.
Before you present the first speaker it is a good idea to say a few words aimed at new people who are atheists or agnostics, lest they feel that AA is “too religious” for them or get the idea that it works only on people with the gospel-tent type of Faith. Someone, leader or speaker should see to it that it is explained for the benefit of newcomers that the Higher Power can be interpreted in terms of team spirit or group solidarity of purpose. Don’t “spook” the newcomer with too much piety.
Don’t tell any of the speaker’s story yourself – let him tell it, even though there is something in it that strikes you as a real AA gem. Similarly, if you kid the speakers, be sure they won’t be ruffled or hurt by your humor. Some people are particular about the gentlest of jokes at their own expense – even in AA.
Make sure that alcoholism is defined as a disease and not a moral problem – that it’s no disgrace to be an alcoholic. The speakers will probably cover this but take note and be sure to include it in your closing remarks if they have not mentioned it. This is one of the most important points for the newcomer who knows nothing about AA and is the most heartening news that AA brings to most of us.
Incredible as it may seem, sometimes none of the speakers will make the point, “You don’t have to stay away from all the booze in the world for the rest of your life. In AA we just stay away from one drink – the first one – today.”
At the collection it is tactful to say, “If you are here for the first time please don’t put anything in the collection.” This is for the drunk who comes in without a dime in his jeans and is ashamed of not being able to contribute.
If the group secretary, after reading the announcements, forgets to mention that the literature on the table is free, the leader can bring this in at the close. Likewise, it is good to tell newcomers (and always count on there being at least one) that there are other meetings – in the New York metropolitan area, for example, there are meetings every night in the week within easy access to anyone.
If you have any time to fill at the close of the meeting, you can mention the AA “gimmicks” so valuable to the new man or gal such as getting plenty of Vitamin B Complex, keeping liquids in the system with coffee or soft drinks at first, carrying candy for a quick “lift” (in mid-afternoon especially), the use of “telephone therapy” and the importance of a little book of AA telephone numbers. Other good advice to a new member or prospect is not to get too tired -–or to anything – if he can possibly avoid it, not to make avoidable vital decisions until he has been dry at least three months and has given his thinking a chance to clear up, and not to be discouraged if he doesn’t sober up instantly. He should keep coming back and “let it rub off on him.”
At the close of the meeting, the leader should (if the group secretary has not already done so) invite new people and their friends to stay for coffee and cake.
If, after giving out all these bits of wisdom, you still have an extra ten minutes to go – tell one incident of your own story which has a point. Such incidents are not hard to find: the first time you really got into trouble from drinking, how you heard about AA, how you came finally to realize that your life had become unmanageable. When you have told this incident and have reached stopping time, close with the Lord’s Prayer and the job is done.
If you are to lead a meeting at a group where you are not known personally to the program chairman, it is considerate to write your name and the name of your group on a slip of paper and hand it to him upon arrival.
If the meeting you are to lead is a special one – a group anniversary for instance, with prominent non-AA speakers, a clergyman, a warden or a judge – don’t make your introduction of the V.I.P. long-winded. Say who he is, that he is a good friend of our Fellowship, welcome him, and then let him do the talking. If he is a politician he will probably speak too long, so make allowances for this.
If your group has a sincere and colorful speaker who cannot tell his story in less than forty minutes, don’t put him on with two other speakers. Let him have “start billing”
For the evening and fill in fifteen minutes yourself first.
If the group where you are to lead does not usually set out an ashtray and a glass of water for the speakers, ask the chairman if these can be supplied.
Once in a great while a noisy drunk shows up at an open meeting and the local lads usually gather around and tactfully ask him to step outside where they can talk to him (actually to let him talk to his heart’s content, but away from the meeting). If such a character shows up and nobody in the group makes a move to usher him out, you, as a leader, should stop the proceedings long enough to call on the local boys for their help in handling the matter. Don’t try to carry on bravely in spite of the interference.
If one of your speakers, making his maiden speech, “blows up” and has to sit down out of stage fright, give him a comforting pat on the back and ask the audience to give him a good hand for effort (they probably will anyway).
A conscientious leader should carry a watch and leave it on the reading desk or table if there is no wall clock. This is a hint to long-winded speakers to watch their time.
When leading a meeting at a prison or hospital, take along a selection of basic AA pamphlets. Institution groups seldom have any budget for literature and these will be much appreciated.
Always remember that in AA, whether leading or speaking – an ounce of sincerity is worth a ton of eloquence.
Copyright © The A.A. Grapevine, Inc., June 1961
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