Lets Ask Bill W.
Question & Answer # 38
Why the General Service Conference?
Alcoholics Anonymous, we think, will always need a world center — some point of reference on the globe where our few but important universal services can focus and then radiate to all who wish to be informed or helped. Such a place will ever be needed to look after our over-all public relations, answer inquiries, foster new Groups and distribute our standard books and publications. We shall also want a place of advice and mediation touching important questions of general policy or A.A. Tradition. We shall require, too, a safe repository for the modest funds we shall use to carry out these simple, but universal purposes.
Of course we must take care that our universal center of service never attempts to discipline or govern. Conversely, we ought to protect our good servants working there from unreasonable demands or political demands of any kind. No personal power, no officials or resounding titles, no politics, no accumulation of money or property, none but vital universal services to Alcoholics Anonymous – that is our ideal. To do without such a Center would be to invite confusion and disunity; to install there a centralized authority would be to encourage political strife and cleavage. Some little organization of our services, securely bound by tradition, we shall surely need – just enough, and of such a character as to permanently forestall any more.
At the center of A.A. we now have the excellent body of custody and service. Our Trustees have gradually come to symbolize the collective conscience of AA, our general office acts in the manner of the heart which receives problems through its veins and pumps out assistance through its myriad arteries, and The Grapevine tries to record the true voice of Alcoholics Anonymous. Such is the happy state of our central affairs that we surely must take pains to preserve and protect, we trust, into a long and useful future.
Therefore, our headquarters problem of the future will, in all probability, consist in guarding and preserving, in its main outlines, what we already have. How then, shall we best keep intact our ideal of service; how shall we avoid national or international politics; how can we best devise against any possible breakdown of the present A.A. Service Headquarters and how shall we give each A.A. in the world a continual assurance that all is well with it; that it continues to perform its tasks effectively, so meriting his warm support, moral and financial?
To these problems of tomorrow many are giving prayerful reflection. A.A.’ s are commencing to say what, or who, is going to guarantee the operation of our General Headquarters when the old-timers who inaugurated it have passed off the scene, especially very early ones like Dr. Bob and Bill. Known so well to us from the pioneering period of A.A., these early ones still occupy a unique position. They command a wider confidence and still wield more personal influence than anyone else could again, or for that matter, ever should. Having helped set up our universal Service Center they asked the rest of us to have confidence in it. And we do have that confidence, not that we much know the present Trustees, but because we know Bob and Bill and the other oldsters, in the long future, when these oldsters can no longer assure us, who is going to take their place? Does it not seem clear that the A.A. movement and its Service Center must soon be drawn closer together? Though we know our General Office and our Grapevine fairly well, shouldn’t we somehow draw closer to our Trustees? Shouldn’t we take steps to allay our feelings of remoteness while the older ones are still around, and there is still time to experiment?” Such are the questions now being asked, and they are good ones.
Perhaps the best suggestion for closing the gap between our Alcoholic Foundation and the A.A. Groups is the idea of creating what we might call the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous. (Proposal by Bill W. and Dr. Bob to the Alcoholic Foundation, April, 1947).
Let’s face these facts (October 1950). First. Dr. Bob and I are perishable, we can’t last forever. Second. The Trustees are almost unknown to the A.A. membership. Third. In future years our Trustees couldn’t possibly function without direct guidance from A.A. itself. Somebody must advise them. Somebody, or something must take the place of Dr. Bob and I. Fourth. Alcoholics Anonymous is out of its infancy. Grown up, adult now, it has full right and plain duty to take direct responsibility for its own Headquarters. Fifth. Clearly then, unless the Foundation is firmly anchored, through State and Provincial representatives, to the movement it serves, a Headquarters breakdown will someday be inevitable. When its old timers vanish, an isolated Foundation couldn’t survive one grave mistake or serious controversy. Any storm could blow it down. Its revival wouldn’t be simple. Possibly it could never be revived. Still isolated, there would be no means of doing that. Like a fine car without gasoline it would be helpless. Sixth. Another serious flaw; As a whole, the A.A. movement has never faced a grave crisis. But someday it will have to. Human affairs being what they are, we can’t expect to remain untouched by the hour of serious trouble. With direct support unavailable, with no reliable cross-section of A.A. opinion, how could our remote Trustees handle a hazardous emergency? This gaping “open end” in our present set-up could positively guarantee a debacle. Confidence in the Foundation would be lost. A .A.’s everywhere would say: “By whose authority do the Trustees speak for us? And how do they know they are right?” With A.A. Service life-lines tangled and severed, what then might happen to the million who don’t know. Thousands would continue to suffer or die because we had taken no fore-thought, because we had forgotten the virtue of prudence This must not come to pass.
That is why the Trustees, Dr. Bob and I now propose the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous. That is why we urgently need your direct help. Our principle services must go on living. We think the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous can be the agency to make that certain. (Third Legacy Pamphlet, October 1950)