Our A.A. General Service Center
The Alcoholic Foundation of
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
By Bill W.
The Alcoholic Foundation Of Tomorrow
Knowing that we are not prophets, and that great decisions about our future ought to be taken in the meditations of many hearts rather than a few, the Trustees, Dr. Bob and I would like to share the following reflections and proposals with every A.A. member.
Alcoholics Anonymous, we think, will always need a world center—some point of reference on this 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 attempt 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—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 middle of A.A. we now have the excellent body of custody and service described in Part Two of the narrative. There we saw how our Foundation Trustees have gradually come to symbolize the collective Conscience of A.A., how our General Office acts in the manner of a Heart which received problems through its veins and pumps out assistance through its myriad arteries, and how 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 task 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 are passed of f 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.
Though this might be the work of several years and the result of much experimental trial and error, I would now like to indicate what some of us now think such a Service Conference could be and how it might be started. This Conference, we think, ought to be composed of a fair number of good A.A. members meeting annually, at which time we would seat our present Headquarters down in their midst. Our Service Headquarters’ people—Trustees, general Office Staff and Grapevine would be members of the Conference also. We might add our ex-trustees. The Conference would then hear the reports of each headquarters’ department, making whatever recommendation it chose in that connection. The Conference would, at its conclusion, issue a full report of its proceedings to every A. A. in the world.
The General Service Conference, like the present Headquarters, would be no body of authority. It could recommend or suggest, it might approve or disapprove. But it would never command or direct, either the Headquarters people or A.A. as a whole. It ought never, we believe, have the slightest political complexion. Neither delegates nor headquarters people would consider themselves political representatives of any cause or locality. They would, instead, regard themselves as servants of world-wide A.A. charged with sitting at its yearly table to render all of us a few simple services.
It is thought, too, that our present Board of Trustees should retain the privilege of naming their successors, subject however to one important modification. It is felt that the Trustees should submit names for their successors to the Conference for confirmation—that the Conference might, if it ever seemed desirable, reject a nomination. This would permit the Conference to exercise, if it wished, a strong influence on the choice of Trustees, yet still avoid hasty or ill-considered election. At the same time, the obvious disadvantage of outright self-perpetuation without consultation would be avoided. We think the Conference should, in general, have a privilege of rejection, but not of election or direction. Should the Headquarters members of the Conference ever be tempted to run of f on an unwise tangent, it is anticipated that the privilege of the Conference to disapprove, publicly if necessary, would act as a healthy restraint, sufficient for any contingency.
Yet it can be seen, in effect, that the creation of a yearly Conference would not radically alter the set-up of our present Service Headquarters. It would simply broaden its base to the point where it would always be sure to engage the complete confidence and support of A.A. everywhere. It would bring our Trustees into friendly contact with a representative cross section of A.A., it would enable them to feel the pulse of the movement for themselves; it would securely link them to those they serve and it would permanently close that gap of remoteness in which Dr. Bob, I, and others, are still standing.
Now how shall we actually create the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous? Certainly neither Dr. Bob, I, nor the trustees could hand pick its membership. That would be too personal. Nor could we throw A.A. international into a spasm of yearly elections. That would be too political. As no matter of government or authority is involved, we shall never need a big gathering—just a few good A.A.’s—to see that our services are doing well. That will be enough. But how can we assemble these on a non-political basis? That’s the puzzle. Perhaps the answer is something like this:
Why not first go to our twelve largest Groups or areas asking each to designate our Conference one delegate, say every three years. The year following the appointment of this first “Panel of Twelve” we could ask the twelve Groups next largest in size to select a second panel of twelve,, and the third year we might repeat the process so deriving a third “Panel of Twelve.” This would give the Conference a rotating membership of thirty-six delegates. Adding the Headquarters members we would then have about fifty in all. For any practical purpose this would seem large enough. It is possible, of course, that the Conference itself might wish to name a “special panel of twelve” which could include foreign delegates or fill in from sections containing many A.A.‘s, but no large Groups. Under such a plan it would fall mostly to the lot of our large metropolitan areas to make the individual selections, much more of a headache perhaps, than an honor. Yet I’m sure it can be done. For the good of A.A. as a whole, we think it must be done. But how?
The other day a friend came up with a proposal: Why, said he, in areas having strong Central Committees, couldn’t we ask these committees to make the Conference designations? Couldn’t any personal feeling be avoided if a Central Committee were to make several suitable nominations and then draw lots to see which nominee would be the Service Conference delegate? And why not apply the same principle in cities having several Groups but no Central Committee? Each Group could vote its choice of a nominee. Then a drawing from among these Group nominees would determine the Conference delegate.
Such methods might not invariably produce the best possible choices but it would pretty well eliminate personal competition and would make each General Service Conference delegate realize that he had been, only by chance, chosen to do a duty rather than elected to enjoy an honor. While not perfection, this idea, or some variation of it, may have great merit for our special purpose. Of course each locality making a Conference designation must need to feel at liberty to choose its own methods. Perhaps it ought to be emphasized that Conference delegates would not necessarily have to be local leaders or super A.A. ‘s We would only require a group of good members capable of sitting down once a year at the Headquarters to report on the state of our services and A.A. in general.
It ought to be noted that these remarks about the non-political character of our Service Conference have no special bearing on the desirability of local elections for local Group purposes. Election is the democratic way of doing thing so I firmly believe in that principle when at all practical. It is only because of the tremendous importance of maintaining the pure service character of our Headquarters and the manifest impossibility of electing Trustees, Secretaries and Editors from among the thousands of A.A. Groups that I feel we should deviate, in this very special case, from the election process. Neither would it seem proper or feasible to load our small, loosely knit and rotating Service Conference with full responsibility for such choices, though the Conference should most definitely participate in them, as already suggested.
One more point should be made clear here – while our non-alcoholic trustees perform a special function at our general Headquarters, it does not necessarily follow that non-alcoholics are needed on the average A.A. group rotating committee dealing with local problems only.
To complete our picture of The Alcoholic Foundation of Tomorrow we suggest one more alteration of the status quo. The suggestion is that we change the name of The Alcoholic Foundation to that of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous and we would incorporate the Board (for business transactions only), as Alcoholics Anonymous Inc. The present trustees would then become known as members of our A.A. General Service Board.
The reasons for these changes are abundantly clear. The words “Foundation” and “Trustee” constantly suggest a moneyed institution engaged in a money charity; they also suggest formalism and authority. As these concepts no longer characterize our Service Headquarters, it is clear we ought to abandon such terms. Then, too, The Alcoholic Foundation has already, though unintentionally, set a precedent for the formation of several other “Foundations,” sometimes incorporated under A.A. auspices and usually chartered to solicit funds for research hospitalization and education. As our own Foundation now has none of these aims, we see one more excellent reason to change its name.
So our next two steps would seem to be the Foundation name change and the formation of The General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous. Each is a simple idea. But the latter way requires a considerable period of years to perfect. And may we urge that none consider these suggestions final, or the best possible. While we are fairly sure of the general principles involved, this is not the time to declare, in detail, the precise form of our future Center of Service. Though our present convictions on these matters are quite firm, they may prove far from infallible. Only in the fullness of more time and experience can they be tested. This is the spirit in which they are offered.
In times of imaginative reflection, Alcoholics Anonymous seems to me as a cathedral of infinite dimensions in process of building. Like the cathedrals of graceful line and stone, our structure of truthful principles will never be quite finished. There will probably be, as we better apprehend the truth for us, certain additions, refinements and perhaps, who knows, marked changes.
Yet to us thousands who now stand in peace on its vast floor, whereon is inscribed our twelve points of recovery, and gaze at the great walls and vaulted roof, now so well buttressed by our A.A. tradition and seemingly secure against the storms without and subtle perils within, we wonder that we have come so far without mishap.
But it is more to the beckoning spire that some of us now are looking. Its outlines seem clearly there; workmen are upon its scaffolds. We may not surely rest secure until we know that it is firmly anchored; that its symbolic finger points straight upward—toward God.