Tackling the Lord’s Prayer at the Grassroots Level


By Linda R.

On this website there’s an article, Is AA Just for Christians?, that Barb C. wrote for the October 2003 Grapevine. In the article she discusses the use of the Christian Lord’s Prayer at the end of meetings. What she wrote then still holds true today.  What I find troubling about the story she tells in her article is that she wasn’t able to ask her AA group to take a group conscience vote to stop using the Lord’s Prayer:

One woman suggested that I bring the matter up for a group conscience vote. I’m afraid to do this because I think I know what the outcome will be, and it will make me angry, and resentment is a feeling I can’t afford.

I wonder how many of us AA’ers don’t even try to bring this matter up for a group conscience vote? Are there ways for us to help each other do this? This is an important issue because there will never be a mandate to prohibit the Lord’s Prayer at a meeting.

First, any mandate to prohibit the Lord’s Prayer violates the Fourth Tradition, which grants a group complete autonomy in its own affairs. In the Fourth Tradition, a very important principle is applied: “With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience.” – Bill W., “On the Fourth Tradition,” Grapevine, March 1948.

Second, a mandate to prohibit the Lord’s Prayer would be just as distasteful as a mandate to require the Lord’s Prayer. Prohibiting or requiring anything in an AA meeting, except the desire to stop drinking, are the flip sides of the same coin and undermines the autonomy of all AA groups.

Third, who would issue the order to cease praying the Lord’s Prayer at the end of a meeting? The General Service Office (GSO)? The Area Service Offices / Intergroups? I hope this kind of power is never given to those offices. Could these offices then order AA groups to recite a Jewish prayer or a Hindu prayer or a Moslem prayer?

Instead, the solution to this issue needs to be at the grass-roots level, not through a dictatorial mandate. Those members of AA who object to the Lord’s Prayer should talk to their group members about this. They should explain the reasons it is objectionable and offer an alternative.

There are plenty of alternatives to praying.  For instance, some meetings open with a moment of silence and close with the Responsibility Pledge:

I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want AA always to be there. And for that, I am responsible.

Some groups may be so religious that they will resist this type of change. One alternative for religious groups would be to switch to the non-denominational Serenity Prayer. For non-Christians, this prayer is typically not alienating, unlike the Lord’s Prayer. And for those who do not believe in God, the religious phrase “God grant me” at the beginning of the prayer can be replaced with one of their choosing, such as:

May I find
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

Here are some suggestions to increase the likelihood of getting a positive vote at a group business meeting:

  1. Gently let members know that this matter will be considered at a group business meeting. Do not discuss it at a regular meeting.
  2. Present alternatives to the group. For instance, suggest that the meeting could close with the Responsibility Pledge. 
  3. If the group is highly religious, make sure the matter being voted on is to switch to using the Serenity Prayer, instead of the Lord’s Prayer. People might be more inclined to vote yes if they feel they are voting a prayer preference, rather than voting against a prayer. Here is a template of a letter proposing to replace the Lord’s Prayer at meetings with The Serenity Prayer, in case such a letter would be helpful.
  4. Provide any written materials, such as a copy of Barb C.’s Grapevine article, to the group to read prior to the business meeting, so that members have a chance to carefully review them before they vote.
  5. Make sure the group knows that they are not violating any AA “rules”. Explain the Fourth Tradition and how it is traditional for each group to decide these matters for themselves. The AA fellowship does not impose or require specific prayers.
  6. Try to determine if there are others in the group who would support the vote, and ask them to make sure they attend the business meeting where the vote will be taken, so that they can vote yes.

It’s difficult to tell if a grass-roots effort like this will be effective. But if no effort is made, nothing will change. There may be a few groups that vote to keep using the Lord’s Prayer instead of the Serenity Prayer. If so, so be it.

That is “Live and Let Live” in action.

Undeniably, being pro-active about addressing this issue with their groups may be very uncomfortable for some AA members. However, if AA’ers begin to take action, it is more likely than not that at least over time, AA will become a more inclusive fellowship.

4 Responses

  1. Don S. says:

    Thank you. Removing prayer from AA meetings is vitally important. AA membership is at 1993 levels, while the population has increased 20%. We are declining while the general population is getting more secular. Removing sectarian prayer is in line with our primary purpose.

    At our local secular AA meetings, I share that I sit out the Lord’s Prayer in my regular AA meetings. This is the best way I know to visibly object to the LP while letting other nonbelievers know they are not alone. No one has joined me yet. The social pressure is too great. No one wants to look like they don’t value unity.

    Well, sitting for an hour with other alcoholics is unity. Sitting out a prayer for 30 seconds does not diminish that.

    Prayer belongs in church. Each group must ask if it is more like a church, where there is no expectation of equality, or like a public school, where there is.

  2. Boyd P. says:

    With 18 months sobriety I have been content to be part of the closing circle, remaining silent for the LP. I sometimes look around to see if others are silent as well. Usually there are one or two, often young newcomers.

    I am satisfied to say “amen” to the fellowship present at the end.

    Change is needed, and the mechanisms suggested are helpful. We must remember “Unity” is our goal. Our sobriety is at stake. Thank you all for honoring the fellowship, my touchstone for a power greater than myself, along with the awesome natural (real) world.

  3. Tom S. says:

    Personalities vs. principles, atheist vs. agnostics, agnostic vs. Christians, good vs. bad, opinions vs. beliefs, change vs. consistent, truth vs. false, fact vs. fiction: kinda funny how there cannot be one with the other. It is a dichotomy world which means there is never an overlap between the two parts and yet we all have the same disease of alcoholism. There are agnostic meetings because they are needed. There are atheist meetings because they are needed. There are AA meetings because they are needed. Average attendance at our meetings is 30 people. We have visitors that come to our traditional meetings and they choose to stand outside of the LP circle because it is personal to them. It works because we try to focus on helping another alcoholic/addict get thru a day without an alcoholic drink/addict consumption no matter what, who, how they came to believe and utilize the steps.

  4. Pat N. says:

    Our We Agnostics meeting is 20+ years old, and many folks got their sobriety started in it. A number of us are old-timers (30+ years). The circle at the end is a physical act of union, and I think it’s regrettable if anyone feels they have to avoid it because of a sectarian prayer. We use the “When anyone, anywhere….” commitment instead of the LP, as a reminder of what we need to do in the coming week. The LP makes no more sense in AA than saying the Hail Mary in Latin, in my opinion.

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