An AA Convention For We Agnostics

AA Convention for Agnostics

Roger: Thank you Pam for agreeing to do this interview. You’re a member of the steering committee that is now hard at work planning a We Agnostics and Free Thinkers (WAFT) International Alcoholics Anonymous Convention. I understand the planning for the convention is in the early stages. First, where and when will it be held?

Pam: The convention will be  held in Santa Monica, California, Thursday through Saturday, November 6 – 8th in 2014. We found a lovely location at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in the center of Santa Monica, only a couple of miles from the beach. It has a courtyard with a BBQ and enough classrooms for several workshops and marathon meetings. The UU community is very embracing of non-believers and it has a special place in our history as the location of Chicago’s Quad A’s first meeting in 1975. It is a perfect place for this historic event. [1]

Roger: Tell us a bit about yourself, Pam? What is your motivation for wanting this Convention?

Pam: As a teen I discovered alcohol, and I had no control from the very beginning. By my late 40s, I couldn’t go a day without coming home from work and polishing off a bottle or two of wine.  Weekends were filled with emotional negotiating over how much time I would spend running errands before I could get  home and start drinking, to purge my feelings and distress. I was an alcoholic. Finally, fearfully, I stepped into an AA meeting in June 2008.

It happened to be an agnostic AA meeting. I found an immediate and overwhelming acceptance in that meeting and started to attend two of the Hollywood We Agnostics meetings. I never experienced the evangelical overtones at these meetings that I discovered in other meetings. I don’t like to be preached at EVER and here was a place that I could learn how to be in recovery without that distraction or distress.

That is my biggest motivation for wanting the convention. To make others aware that there is a solution in AA for them, no matter their belief systems.

Roger: I take it that reflects the motivation of the steering committee that is organizing this convention. How did you connect with the members of the steering committee?

Pam: I met the other two members of the steering committee, Dorothy H. and Jonathon G., at the We Agnostics meeting in Hollywood which Charlie P. and Megan D. first started in 1980. [2]

Dorothy and I were talking one weekend about how often newcomers walk into our group and sigh with relief that they have found us. We decided we needed to put together a convention to help support each other and to reassure agnostics, atheists and freethinkers that we are not alone in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Jonathon, Dorothy and I believe that  we can best be of service by letting others know of this wonderful alternative within the framework of AA’s Traditions by organizing this convention.

Roger: I don’t have to tell you that there is some controversy surrounding agnostics and atheists in AA. I personally belong to an agnostic group, Beyond Belief, that was booted off the official AA meeting list for taking God out of the Steps. [3] Will those with a belief in God be welcome at this Convention?

Pam: Absolutely. As it says in the preamble used at many agnostic meetings: “We do not endorse or oppose any form of religion or atheism. Our only wish is to assure suffering alcoholics that they can find sobriety in AA without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or having to deny their own.” Where we fail in the program, and in life, for that matter, is when we push our beliefs on others or deny our own.

Our hope is to share this embracing theme and to remember that this program is about recovery and helping the newcomer achieve a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism.” We are all about inclusivity. And inclusivity means working to make everyone feel welcome, not deciding who is in and who is out.

Roger: Tradition Eleven says that AA’s public relations policy ought to be based on attraction rather than promotion. Aren’t you promoting a certain form of belief or, perhaps more accurately, non-belief?

Pam: Not at all. At the first AA Convention in Cleveland in 1950, Dr. Bob said, “So let us never get such a degree of smug complacency that we’re not willing to extend, or attempt to extend, to our less fortunate brothers that help which has been so beneficial to us.”  We are not promoting anything. We are merely responding to the need to make AA more inclusive, to let people know that there is an option WITHIN AA. We are making sure that the hand of AA is there for our less fortunate brothers and sisters, including the agnostic, the freethinker and the growing number of those of diverse, non-Christian backgrounds. We are heeding Dr. Bob’s counsel and not being complacent.

That first international convention led to many others and has led directly to this We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Convention. In what would turn out to be his farewell talk – he died just a few months later – Dr. Bob also “simmered” the 12 Steps down to two words, “love” and “service.” Our convention is not about promotion but follows in the fine tradition of “love and service” that Dr. Bob so wonderfully described at the very first AA convention in 1950. [4]

Roger: Along the lines of my last question, Tradition Four says that a group is autonomous – can do what it wants – except when what it does affects other groups or AA as a whole. Your very goal is to affect AA as a whole. Are you not then in complete violation of this Tradition?

Pam: Only if inclusion is a violation of Tradition Four. We are only asking for more accommodation for the individual who needs to find a safe home group where her or his spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs are never, ever, treated as an obstacle to recovery and a life of sobriety.  There is no question this is for the betterment of AA. Freethinkers, agnostics and atheists have been a part of AA since Jim B. And Hank P. created the compromise of the Higher Power concept. We are opening wide the doors to shed a brighter light on this program as an embracing solution that can work for anyone. That is being a responsible member of AA.

Roger: Okay, back to the Convention. What will be the format of the convention? How long will it last? Will there be workshops? What kind of workshops?

Pam: We are so excited for this convention!  All the details aren’t ironed out as yet, but we just had our most pivotal planning meeting on June 8th, where we had attendees from as far away as Hawaii. The convention WILL stretch over three days, with activities from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  On Thursday, there will be the traditional opening ceremony to welcome our fellow We Agnostics and Freethinkers (WAFTs).  This will be when we have our featured keynote speaker to start off our celebration!

In the afternoon there will be a few more featured speakers. These will be shorter shares, likely 30 minutes each, where we hear more inspirational stories of sobriety from our fellowship. This will set the tone for the first We Agnostics and Freethinkers International AA Convention. That first evening we’ll  wrap up early to allow for mingling and socializing at either a dinner or a barbeque.  It’s California after all, so there will HAVE to be a barbeque!

Over Friday and the first half of Saturday, there will be marathon AA meetings as well as a variety of workshops.

We will have one dedicated room for back-to-back marathon-style meetings. We  have asked our fellow agnostic groups to provide their formats and host these meetings, allowing us to “travel” to their meetings in New York,  Chicago, Boise, etc., without having to leave the room. It will be fulfilling to experience other non-religious styled meetings and share our different paths to recovery in the program.

As for the workshops, this is one of the more exciting parts of the event. Our workshop topics will come from everyone! We are asking for suggestions and ideas from the community with which we are connecting  in our outreach. We have heard from almost all of the 22 states that have agnostic-style and freethinker themed meetings so far. We even  made connections in Tokyo and England and, of course, your home town there in Toronto. We believe that the strength of the agnostics and others in our fellowship will create lively and worthwhile discussions. These will be planned ahead of time, so we are hoping to get those suggestions in the works over the next several months.

On the evening of the second day, we are looking into having a beach bonfire.

After lunch on our final day of the convention, Saturday, we will have another panel of speakers, who will have very different spiritual backgrounds. Let’s just say it will probably be our more spiritual day, and, I am sure, one filled with a great deal of emotion on the part of the steering committee, as we come to the conclusion of sharing our experience, strength and hope with each other at an event we put together in the spirit of unity and celebration.

Roger: Sounds absolutely fantastic! There is, obviously, a great deal of work to be done. Pam, what are the crucial next steps?

Pam:   Oh, my goodness. There is so much to do! The steering committee is talking every day and we are getting such a great response from all over…  The website committee is working on the website…  We are getting established as a not-for-profit organization… We have to identify our keynote and guest speakers… Some of us are focused on compiling lists of activities for visitors to do outside of meetings as well as putting together lists of  hotel accommodations for convention attendees…  We need to get our fundraising going…

If anyone can help us with any of these – and with any of the tasks mentioned above, like hosting marathon meetings or suggesting keynote and guest speakers and workshop topics – please contact us by email at WeAgConvention@gmail.com.

One of the unique qualities of this convention is how much inclusion we are able to establish by using the tools of the internet. Our next planning meeting will be held at the Santa Monica Library on Saturday, August 31st, and everyone who wants to can participate! The library has the resources which will allow us to do an internet connection to our fellows around the world. As we get closer to the date, we will provide the time and information on how people can log in and be a part of the process. In the meantime, contact us at the address above. Please!

And, of course, there is continuous outreach. I think Dorothy, our steering committee head, is set on reaching every possible supporter of WAFT in every corner of the world.  She wants to make sure that we don’t leave even one AA rock unturned!

Roger: My final question, Pam. As you go forward, over the next year and a half, what do you want the message of this Convention to be? What is the theme of the convention?

Pam: Over the days leading  up to our June 8th planning meeting, we were brainstorming different themes and we had about twenty or so variations. I was personally hung up on the idea of “A Bridge Towards Unity” because I thought it really spoke to the idea of inclusion and unification. One of our fellowship, Angela from Boise, responded to an email on the topic and poignantly stated that she felt that anything with the words “bridge” or “build,” even though they emphasize tolerance, would perpetuate the divide, the differences. Rather, she argued, it was time to celebrate the fact there are many paths to recovery, a reality always keenly appreciated within the fellowship of AA.

Well, we shared her opinion during the planning meeting. Others in the meeting voiced similar concerns and ideas, and, by a nearly unanimous vote, the convention theme was decided: “Many Paths to Recovery.”

In that moment, it seemed as if a new momentum stirred in the room. It was not only a more concise vision of the WAFT International AA Convention, but a statement of what a bright future this convention has for us going forward. We are reaching out to all of the fellowship and becoming connected in a way that is securing the unity we have in AA. I think this is an amazing testament to the program and what it has to offer us in sobriety. Our paths may be different but our experience, strength and hope are what bind us. And, through this act of service in providing an international forum to help bring about recovery for the alcoholic who still struggles, we are surely following in the path of the founders of AA.

Roger: I can’t think of a better way to conclude, Pam. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Obviously we wish you the very best. And we here at AA Agnostica, and I’m sure others in AA from around the world, will do our part to make this Convention a wonderful success, a true landmark in AA’s modern and ever-evolving history.

———-

[1] The involvement of the Unitarian Universalist community in the first Quad A (Alcoholics Anonymous for Atheists and Agnostics) is recounted here: A History of Agnostic Groups in AA.

[2] Megan D. wrote a post for AA Agnostica which you can read here: Megan D. A very touching account of Charlie P. is also shared on this website: Father of We Agnostics Dies.

[3] Does religion belong at AA? Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA groups (Leslie Scrivener, Toronto Star, June 3, 2011).

[4] Dr. Bob’s Farewell Talk (From his remarks on Sunday, July 3, 1950, at the First International AA Convention in Cleveland, Ohio).

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Comments

An AA Convention For We Agnostics — 27 Comments

  1. This is fantastic news. I’m presently in Regina, Saskatchewan and for the first time in 24 years of sobriety, feel at home in AA….online through the Agnostica site. I’ll be checking regularly for details on this Convention and I will most definitely be going!!!

    Thanks to all of you for the amazing Service work.
    Susan F.

    • Hello Brendan
      I have just read your message and I am happy to learn that others from England will attend WAFT Convention in November. It is my intention to do so. It would be nice to meet others in London area or other parts of the country. I attend agnostic meetings in USA and Canada when I am there, and also in Paris too.
      Yours in fellowship
      Michael

      • Hi Michael, maybe you already know this but there are three Atheist/Agnostic meetings in London – two in Islington (Tuesday and Thursday evenings) and one in Bethnal Green on a Saturday evening. All are in the Where To Find. Hope to see you at one or more of these.

      • Thanks Brendan Yes I know of those meetings and have managed to get to one which was great. I shall look out for you and hopefully meet sometime.
        Yours in fellowship.
        Michael

      • Hey Michael and Brendan: If you want to share your email addresses, let me know. Be glad to help out that way. Roger: (aaagnostica@gmail.com).

  2. At last I realise that it may be possible in my lifetime to see meetings in all places where the Twelve Step Programme will be practiced without the word “God.” I feel liberated at such meetings as others say “Coming Home” all over again. I live in London, England.

    • Hi Michael,
      I just did a search, and found 4 waft meetings in greater London:

      * Sorbiton We Ags at the Sorbiton YMCA Sunday 1930
      * Bethel Green Atheists/Agnostics, Quaker Social Action House, Saturday 1800
      * Angel We Ags Green Cinema (?) N1 0RN Saturday 1100
      * Islington Aths & Ags also Green Cinema Thursday 1900

      Please let me know if you find any others, or if these are defunct. nagleph@msn.com

      • Hello Pat Thank you for your message and information. I am looking into these meetings – three are outside of London. I will keep you informed of developments. My name is Michael – Chiswick is where I live.

      • Great-I hope some of those meetings are reachable for you. Please let me know if you learn of any ag-type others. My beloved is a Brit, and we come back every year or so-East Anglia mostly.

  3. I have just come across this site, and have experienced that same tingle down the back that I felt at my first AA meeting – that “coming home” thrill all over again. So thank you so much.

    I heard the last part of “Women suffer too” at a meeting the other day. Marty M says in that “I went trembling into a house in Brooklyn filled with strangers……and I found I had come home at last, to my own kind”. My experience exactly (apart from the Brooklyn bit!).

    Your site got me thinking. I suddenly realised that the feeling of being a rather second-rate AA member owing to my repeated failed attempts to grasp hold of that God I was brought up to believe in has still not entirely gone away. And this despite over four decades of sobriety and service!

    I have a higher power, of the nature/love/spirit of AA variety. This enables me to work the steps ok, and it is clear (to me anyway) that I had a spiritual awakening or experience at that first meeting: I knew I had arrived home and would be ok. I knew for sure that I would never drink again (a bit over-optimistic perhaps, but so far I haven’t). My feet felt they weren’t touching the ground as I walked to the car after that meeting – I felt as though I was floating on air. I will never, I hope, forget that feeling or the welcome I received – and had not expected – that day.

    Enough of this!! Now – about the convention:

    What a wonderful idea. I just hope I get it together to attend. I’d better start saving up! I’ve been to a few Internationals, and tried to get into the heavily over-subscribed “We Agnostics” meetings at each of them! They could usually have done with a bigger room to accommodate the non-theist throng! Hey, but a whole convention? Terrific.

    I’m so glad to have found this site. I’ll keep checking in and will pass details of the convention on to other groups and regions here in the UK once the arrangements are settled. No doubt there’ll be a flyer on this site in due course.

    Good luck with it all. You’ve taken something on here I reckon!!

    All the best

    Chris

  4. This is something which is sorely needed. I’ve tried to spell out ways agnostics and atheists may profit from AA without being turned off by the “God Stuff”. Every good wish to you all.

  5. Wow! I am so excited to hear about this. I just wish it was this year instead of next. I’ve always wanted to go to an AA convention but have been told they are often like church revival meetings so have avoided them. I will be telling my friends about this and will be looking forward to having a website I can refer folks to. I live in Long Beach, CA, and have been trying for years to get an agnotics/atheists meeting going.

    Good luck.

  6. I think a workshop sharing ideas on starting up a meeting for Agnostics would be well attended. I am in the process in Cape Coral, FL, of starting one at 5:30 pm Mondays at the first pavilion at Jaycee Park off Beach Parkway.

  7. Oh so needed! Thank all of you who are organizing, and who will eventually be involved. I especially like the “collaborative” aspect I read about above! Wonderful stuff. The “Many Paths to Recovery” is spot on! Indeed!

  8. Pam and Roger – How wonderful to be a part of such an adventure. Who would have thought that when we all stumbled through the doors of AA that we’d encounter such an opportunity to be of service.

    The energy is up and what a relief that others are picking up the challenge where some of us oldtimers may have become somewhat fragile or complacent.

  9. Howdy!

    My name is Dorothy H., and I am the Steering Committee chairwoman of WAFT IAAC. Like Pamela L., I will be visiting the east coast, the Midwest, and Toronto this summer. I will be in New York City from July 17 to the 26th, Toronto from July 27th to August 3rd, Chicago from August 3rd to August 9th, and Detroit/Southwestern Michigan from August 9th to August 22nd. I am looking forward to meeting members of the WAFT fellowship and having online planning meetings with the other members of the Steering Committee when possible! I would also love a chance to meet individually with people to talk about WAFT IAAC and what each person can do to help in creating this historical event.

    Most importantly I want to say thank you to all of our WAFT supporters. Your efforts over the years to keep the rooms of AA open to everyone are the inspiration for this convention. But there is much to be done to make this amazing event happen. We need the help of the WAFT fellowship! Contact us at weagconvention@gmail.com and we will send you an organizing packet to help you get started in your area. Act now and be a part of this team effort! We know AA works; let’s all join in this important 12th step work to ensure that the door is open to ALL who suffer from the disease of alcoholism. The Steering Committee looks forward to meeting you in Santa Monica, CA in November of 2014.

    • Dorothy, I just found your post almost a year later (!) and wonder if there is an agnostic group that you found in the Detroit area? I have discontinued attending meetings that are listed in the AA website because of the lack of inclusion of non-believers in the traditional definition.

  10. Thanks so much for this info about such an important initiative within the fellowship, and I look forward to participating in any way I can. Today I’m grateful to finally feel at home in AA. I am no longer alone!

  11. Terrific, finally a convention to call our own!

    Wish it were in Florida instead of California.

    I hope CD’s of the speakers will be available.

    Let me know as the date comes closer.

    Marnin

  12. Thanks Roger and Pam for this interview. My wife and I are planning on attending and the agenda you outline, Pam, sounds very exciting to us.

    I like the acronym you use, WAFT (We Agnostics and Free Thinkers), since it is so all-embracing and inclusive but still identifies us all under the rubric of our particular AA “movement” to embrace all who suffer regardless of AA’s traditional theistic modus operandi and bias.

    I must confess that when a few of us established our group “Widening Our Gateway” north of Toronto, there was a slight resistance (and I do mean here “very little” resistance) to our insistence that we identify ourselves as a free thinkers group and not as the 3rd agnostics group in the Toronto area. (Of course, it didn’t save us from being the 3rd group to be de-listed by Toronto Intergroup.)

    We took seriously Bill W’s statement in AA Comes Of Age that “this was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They had widened our gateway so that all who suffer could pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.” So, we wanted a “gateway” as wide as possible to include atheists, agnostics, and believers. What better term than “free thinkers” to embrace this diversity of sufferers and recoverers.

    And we see from your responses, Pam, that the convention will welcome and respect all who wish to attend and this acknowledgement is so well summed up by the theme agreed upon: “Many Paths to Recovery.”

    Also, November is a great time of the year to hold the convention especially for those of us from Toronto who will welcome the visit to sunnier southern California.

  13. My boyfriend, Greg and I are part of the WAFT committee. We are also excited about the upcoming convention.

    I am “Pamela” in the Hollywood area because there are two Pam’s on our committee. Pam is the one that did such a great job being interviewed in the piece above. She is a great leader and when you throw in Dorothy’s inability to accept the word “no” from any member and Jonathon’s organization and party skills, I am excited to see the world of AA transform into what I think the founder’s would have hoped for.

    This week we are going on holiday and planning on attending the following meetings in New York.

    TUESDAY SOBER AGNOSTIC GROUP AT 6PM on 242 West 36th Street, Third Floor (The place is called “The Network”)
    Between 7th and 8th Avenue in Manhattan
    6:00 PM to 7:00 PM

    Wednesday We Humanists of NY meet at the Jan Hus Church at 6:15 one hour speakers meeting…Jan Hus Church
    351 East 74th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues), 2nd Floor, Museum Room
    New York, NY 10021

    Thurs at noon in the Meatpacking district at the Lesbian, Gay, BIsexual and Transgender community center. 208 West 13th Street (between 7th and Greenwich Avenues)
    New York, NY 10011
    OR
    At 6 pm at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue
    30 West 68th Street (between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue), 5th Floor
    New York, NY 10023 This is a speaker meeting next to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History.

    Friday -East Sober Agnostics Friday at 6:45pm at At University Settlement/Chinatown YMCA
    273 Bowery @ Houston Street (downstairs) New York, NY
    Take the “F” train to the Second Avenue Subway Stop or the “B” “D” “F” or “M” stop at Broadway/Lafayette.

    We will then be driving to Toronto (Boston to Toronto in one day!) to get to the Tuesday night meeting in two weeks.

    If anyone in NY has any information on these meetings, we would love to know ahead of time.

    We have used the AA Agnostic meeting website to visit all of the meetings in So. Cal., however, some were not active and other’s not listed.

    Thanks,
    Pamela and Greg

    • Dianne and I just got home from the Tuesday night meeting of We Agnostics and, true to their word, Pam and Greg drove from Boston to Toronto to be with us.

      What a pleasure to meet them and have them share with us at the meeting. And to talk with them both after the meeting to catch up on the plans for the WAFT convention in 2014 was delightful.

      Thanks to you, Pam and Greg, for making the long trek in one day and making a fine contribution to our meeting. Looking forward to seeing you both on your turf in California in about 17 months.

      Safe trip home!!

      John and Dianne

  14. Indeed, thank you Pam and Roger for providing information on planning process for the first WAFT International AA Convention in Santa Monica, one of my favorite places on the planet. “Many Paths to Recovery” is a most appropriate theme.

    I’m also most enthused by your efforts to reach out to the wide community of WAFTs within AA, both in your planning to date and in your connectivity with us through the Internet at the next planning meeting August 31st at the Santa Monica library. After I finish this comment, I’ll be sending an email to WeAgConvention@gmail.com to offer my assistance.

    Thank you for your sobriety, but especially for how you epitomize the core values of our recovery which Dr. Bob taught us, “Love and Service.”

  15. Congratulations and good luck. Forty two years of experience with AA. This is much needed. I hope to get to Toronto this summer and go to this type of meeting.

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