The Only Requirement Group


The fifth AA agnostic group in Canada is now holding regular meetings in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (There are three groups in Toronto and one in Montreal.) One of its founding members shares the experience, strength and hope of this new group, aptly named The Only Requirement.

By Reed H.

When I first joined the AA program in 1999, I was willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober. That included getting on my knees and praying to a higher power.

I never had much of a conception of a higher power prior to entering the program. I never went to church growing up and I never prayed. So when my first sponsor told me to get on my knees, hold his hands and pray, it felt strange, to say the least.

For years, I took the advice of AA members and prayed at night and in the morning. Although it didn’t do any harm, I never really felt comfortable doing it. As much as I tried, I was unable to develop a concrete conception of a higher power. Yet, AA encouraged me to continue to seek.

I took that encouragement to heart and searched and searched. In the end, I finally made a discovery: there is no supernatural higher power or paranormal overlord watching and influencing my every move. And there certainly is no “better place” than the one I’m in now.

This discovery, which ironically I credit to AA and the search for a higher power, suddenly made it more and more difficult to fake my way through the prayers and God talk at AA meetings. I felt like a hypocrite.

I also started to realize how religious AA really can be, despite its insistence that it’s not. That concerned me. In particular, I started to understand how AA could turn off newcomers, especially during a meeting with repeated droppings of the G-word.

Eventually, I left my home group, which is old school when it comes to reciting prayers, and I joined an excellent 12th Step Meditation group that de-emphasizes AA’s religious aspects. At the same time, I did some Internet research to see if there were any agnostic AA groups around.

I discovered that there are many such groups including Beyond Belief in Toronto, the city where I first got sober. I made contact with group member Stan R. and he gave me some great advice on how to start a group. He also warned me about some of the inevitable resistance that would arise in Halifax if an agnostic group were to form.

With this in mind, I decided to reach out to other AA members. I put a notice in the area newsletter asking if there were other atheist or agnostic AA’s who would like to get together and chat. I quickly received responses from three members, Allan G., Judi M and Arch M., all whom were quite eager to get together.

We met for coffee and it was like four long lost friends reuniting for the first time. We all shared some of our frustrations as non-believers in AA and had a few good laughs along the way. We were relieved to find others of the same ilk and immediately began the process of starting a new group.

Within a couple of weeks, we had a time slot at a local community centre. At our first meeting on November 23, 2011, we were joined by a few more members. Word had spread.

At that meeting, we decided on a name (The Only Requirement) and a format (a “topic” meeting). The next thing we decided on were the readings. Wanting to be true to our goal of creating a secular AA meeting, we decided on reading the Agnostic Preamble and the Agnostic 12 Steps, which Stan had graciously passed along.

We all sensed that choosing these readings would ruffle some feathers, particularly in light of what happened in Toronto – we had all read the article in the Toronto Star about how the Beyond Belief and We Agnostics groups had been turfed from Intergroup because of the Agnostic Steps.

Regardless, starting in early December, we forged ahead and began to have regular meetings.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. The meeting has not been well received by members of the old guard who are protective of tradition and concerned about change. Some of those members sit on the board of Central Service, Halifax’s answer to Intergroup.

The rumours we heard about the board’s displeasure were confirmed when I asked the newsletter editor to put a notice in the February edition about the group. The first time I requested a notice, the editor was very accommodating. This time, not so much.

As it turns out, he had been instructed by the board not to put anything in the newsletter about the group. Since we read the Agnostic 12 Steps, the board felt the meeting could “affect AA as a whole,” he said, and because of this, in their eyes we are not an AA Group.

We suspected this might happen. We could perhaps drop the reading of the Agnostic 12 Steps in order to be added to the fold. But that likely won’t happen. It seems many of us are simply tired of making compromises in spite our beliefs (or lack thereof).

Meanwhile, attendance has been solid fluctuating between 10 and 15 members. More importantly, the meetings have featured great discussion, great sharing and great sobriety.

The agnostic meeting has been warmly embraced by AA members who have hidden for too long and have faked their way through countless AA meetings. Members who choose to call their higher power “God” have also attended our meeting and have made great contributions to our discussions.

If you’re ever in the Halifax area, please be sure to drop by our meeting.