Convention Fellowship Speakers
By Dorothy H.
The Steering Committee of We Agnostics and Free Thinkers (WAFT) International AA Convention (IAAC) is thrilled to announce the speaker line-up for the convention beginning Thursday, November 6, 2014. The Fellowship Speakers are marvelous unsung servants within AA.
The convention registration so far represents how we agnostics and freethinkers in AA span the globe, with people from Canada, U.S., Philippines, Costa Rica, England, Spain, France, Ireland, Australia and American Samoa.
Our fellowship speakers have labored in love and anonymity for decades. Some are founders of meetings, prison panel leaders, authors, GSRs, webmasters, and founders of Internet groups and have dedicated years to WAFTs in AA. They gave countless hours of volunteer work to guarantee that our convention in November will be an amazing historical event.
They did not allow discouragements to stop them. They were proactive and worked honest programs. They learned patience and tolerance towards well-intentioned believers who believed that a god-based program was the only way to sobriety.
Each speaker’s contribution to AA is distinct and their stories follow.
Staying in AA
Deirdre S.’s service work is one of the pivotal reasons that people like me were able to get sober and stay sober. Deirdre’s website, with the World Agnostics AA Meeting List, would lead me to my homegroup, We Agnostics of Hollywood, CA.
The world list taught me WAFTs exist internationally. Deirdre was the first person I contacted about the convention. Deirdre responded to me by email on 3/31/13, she wrote: “I strongly believe that the goal of any discussion must be about staying IN AA and not trying to form a second organization and it looks like that’s part of the agenda.”
I addressed Deirdre’s concerns that we were not a split! Once that was clear, Deirdre sent an email to her contact list to announce that we “were thinking of creating a convention.” My inbox and voice mail was full of messages from people across the country and Canada pleading with us to move forward. Deirdre’s response was the turning point that told Pam W. and me that WAFT IAAC was possible and the Fellowship wanted it!
When I asked Deirdre why she thought the convention was important to her, she wrote:
I don’t have a lot of faith. What I have is experience. For the past 17 and a half years it has been my experience that within the unstructured structure of Alcoholics Anonymous I have found a new way to live. I was never able to make my numerous decisions to stop drinking or cut down stick. I began finding my place in AA. This is something that didn’t happen in my first six months of sobriety. I had to walk into an agnostic meeting before I met people who I really identified with unreservedly. There I could be completely honest. There I found real friendship and help. We each need to find our place and that is why coming to the first-ever conference for agnostics, free thinkers, and others was a must.
We all need to find our place, and Deirdre has been a pivotal resource for people within AA.
This movement in AA is growing.
The first step of outreach work was to call people from the World AA Agnostic list. I called Maui, HI, and spoke to Rich H. Rich is one of the co-founders of three agnostic groups on Maui. After a three-hour talk, Rich called Joan C. She was his co-founder of the Maui groups.
Joan, as an old-timer, had left AA a few decades before. She felt her voice wasn’t respected and that AA did not want her sober experience. When Rich approached her, it changed her life and the face of Maui AA. Joan did not stop at forming three meetings. She also started an independent women’s prison panel. She continues to be of service to her local central office and has been a part of countless committees.
Joan and Rich made plans to come to our first public planning meeting in Hollywood, CA. While in southern California, she found another WAFT group in Ventura. She convinced them to come to the planning meeting. Joan continues to spread the word about WAFT IAAC. When I asked Joan why she thought the convention was important she said:
This convention is very important to me. It is something that I, in my forty-five years of sobriety, didn’t think I would ever see. It confirms that we agnostics and free thinkers in AA are numerous enough to reassure the non-believing newcomer that he is in the right place for recovery. This movement in AA is growing and will continue to grow as more and more We Agnostics meetings are formed.
Not a rote ‘program’ but a movement
John C. is one of those AAers who has broken down barriers within AA. After attending Charlie’s Polacheck’s agnostic groups in Austin, Texas, he went to agnostics meetings in New York, NY, and, like AAers of the past, John was inspired to start an English-speaking group in Paris, France.
John’s group has now grown to three meetings a week: an agnostics meeting, a free thinkers meeting that alternately uses AA literature and non AA literature about alcoholism, and a meditation meeting.
When I asked John why he thought WAFT IAAC is important to him he wrote:
WAFT meetings are extremely important to my recovery. They epitomize the real principle of Alcoholics Anonymous – one alcoholic helping another – not some sort of rote ‘program’ based on archaic religious notions… Those of us with different ideas are often seen as radicals, and pressured to conform or ostracized as a danger to other members. So, for me the event in California is an opportunity to meet like-minded people… I see it as a new part of the magic of AA and of my recovery.
Be it magic or the power of the agnostics and atheists movement’s conscience convergent within Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time; either way, it will be a powerful event, and we are grateful to hear more of John C.’s story during the Fellowship Speakers’ line-up on Thursday, November 6.
Our primary purpose and the global WAFT movement
Michael is an Irishman by birth and currently lives in London, England. Michael’s dedication to his sobriety and to WAFT groups can be seen in his relationship with his homegroup, the Angle, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday in North London. Michael drives three hours each way, twice a week to attended an agnostic meeting.
Michael has been lucky enough to travel extensively and be able to attend agnostic and traditional meetings throughout the world. He has been involved in AA since 1978 and has lived a life of service, being a sponsor, and a conference speaker in England, Greece and Slovinia, all as an open atheist.
I started talking to Michael when he contacted the WAFT IAAC Steering Committee after he went to an AA conference in Greece. While in Greece, he was able to use a spare room where “any” meeting could be held. Michael conducted an agnostic meeting, where a half a dozen people from Ireland, England and Sweden attended. After opening with the We Seek version of the Serenity Prayer, he used his laptop to show the websites of waftiaac.org, AA Agnostica and the world list of agnostic, atheist and freethinker meetings. After the inspiring meeting, Michael was told that the next year’s committee will consider including an agnostic meeting in the schedule.
After reading Michael’s email. I was thrilled beyond belief! I printed it out and read it to my homegroup. After the meeting, many of the old timers came up to me to share how inspiring Michael’s story was for them. Michael’s independent actions also inspired me and confirmed what I had already been thinking, that there is an international WAFT movement within AA, which has only been growing since the announcement of the convention. WAFT IAAC has encouraged people to truly live an honest life and openly express who they are without fear.
When I asked Michael why he thought the convention was important to him he wrote:
I am ‘sorted’ with regard to my own beliefs. My concern is that new people who research AA on line are put off with the references to god in serenity prayer and in The Steps especially 6 and 7. This needs to be addressed and assurances published that AA really means what it says in The Preamble – WAFTs must be made to feel welcome.
Even with his struggle within AA around the god language, Michael is someone who believes in AA and believes there is a new future on the horizon for people in recovery.
Navigation of our Own Recovery
Joe C., from Toronto, Canada, is also another webservant and also author of the book, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, which you can find in endless agnostic and free thinker meetings and numerous coffee tables. Joe has been the direct inspiration of others to form WAFT meetings in Canada and beyond.
Joe is a life-long atheist and started his early sobriety in the Young People’s movement of the 1980s. Early on, Joe has been of service within AA. He has served in various Young People’s committees, founded online WAFT meetings and is the webmaster for an important resource, Rebellion Dog Publishing. He is an open atheist, AA conference speaker.
Joe has been blazing a trail via service as a GSR. Joe actively seeks WAFTs to get involved in AA service work. He encourages WAFTs to be open and honest about who they are and to be of service within AA’s community.
Joe is one of the founders of the Beyond Belief group in Toronto, Canada. The group has grown to 4 agnostic groups in Toronto. The Toronto members were inspired by Joe’s leadership and other WAFT old-timers. They have thrown themselves into service by carrying the AA message to ALL who suffer from alcoholism. Joe and Larry have created WAFT psych ward and rehab panels and they answer phones for their local intergroup, among other forms of service.
On Joe’s site he writes about his views of special interest groups within AA: “AA accommodates and includes new groups, be they special interest or general purpose… We have a living program, and an evolving fellowship that, through a spirited language, says we are AA members and groups not all the same, but all equal and all united.”
Chop the wood and carrying the water
Ann H. came to America as a young woman in her early 20s from Ireland. Once she established her life in Los Angeles, CA, Ann became a single mother of a bi-racial child in the 1960s. She found the We Agnostics meeting in Hollywood in the early 80s. As Ann grew in her sobriety, she gained the confidence not to be afraid to identify as an Agnostic in traditional AA meetings. Ann is confident in herself, her beliefs and her sobriety that she does not seek out conflicts with god bullies or other believers. Ann embodies AA’s life lessons of love and tolerance of ALL AAs.
Ann lives by the motto that, spirituality is defined by chopping the wood and carrying the water. She has spent years in AA service work from the meeting level where she is the current secretary for the Santa Monica We Agnostics meeting and currently a GSR for a traditional AA meeting.
I have never seen Ann turn down an AA request. I have seen Ann speak at a South Central Los Angeles Alano club, identifying as an Agnostic, when she said, “I am an Agnostic because I cannot know the great unknown.” Her service work has included driving someone out of town to a train station so they can go to a WAFT meeting, to giving rides to people who had to take the buses late at night. Ann has done logistical footwork with the city of Santa Monica to help with the nuts and bolts of the convention.
Once it was clear to Ann that we only sought unity and acceptance within AA, she went to work on organizing the Los Angeles Old Timers into action. She wanted to guarantee that WAFT IAAC got all the local support of the founding members of the We Agnostics groups. In Santa Monica and Hollywood, Ann has earned the admiration of all her know her.
Honest Conviction and Conscience
Tim spent his early sobriety in San Diego, CA. Tim comes from a Catholic family and has a wonderful relationship with his brother who is a Jesuit priest. He has been a cornerstone for the We Agnostics meeting in Los Feliz, CA, for over twenty years. A few years back the meeting was struggling with low attendance. Tim and a few others didn’t give up hope. They came every week, kept commitments and created a safe place for WAFTS. Currently, the Los Feliz meeting is a young and vibrant meeting; often it is only standing room only.
If Tim had not kept that meeting alive, Pam W., a member of the Steering Committee would not have walked into what was her first agnostic AA meeting. Without that meeting available to her, there would be no WAFT IAAC.
In shares, Tim describes his alcoholism as a desire not to feel.
In the life process of accepting his feelings he was able to gain a wife and child. Tim is not someone who shouts from the roof tops his beliefs yet he doesn’t deny them either. Tim is the kind of AA member who finds any and every way to connect to another AAer on a deeply human level.
Tim has been a part of WAFT IAAC from the very first public meeting in March of 2013. He has never been discouraged during the process of building for our convention. He has given insight and guidance and has given of himself in every way he can to ensure the convention will be a success. When I asked Tim why he thought the convention was important he wrote:
What I am is a skeptic and non-believer, a philosophical perspective developed both honestly and independently of other important currents in my life, including alcoholism and recovery. What I am not is a proselytizer for atheism or any other creed. I respect the right of others to believe as they will. I contend that belief or non-belief is a matter of individual conviction and conscience. I believe that the point of the Convention is to assert that right of honest conviction and conscience with respect to belief or non-belief, to do so on behalf of every individual in the fellowship, and to insist that it be respected by all. Nothing less, nothing more.
Respect for all is our goal. The Fellowship Speakers have been an inspiration to everyone in the WAFT world through their love and service! And they continue to give of themselves to make AA a place where we ALL can live honest and open lives.
As we shall all experience in Santa Monica in November.
In a recent email, the Steering Committee made the following announcement:
On November 6th after the first day of the convention at 5:30pm at the Unitarian Universalist of Santa Monica, CA we will be conducting the first business meeting of WAFT IAAC. The first part of the agenda is the election of officers and board members… The second agenda item is the location of 2016 WAFT IAAC.
There will be a total of eleven positions on the board: Four officers (the chairperson/
Since the board will be responsible for the next proposed AA convention for agnostics and freethinkers in two years (the word “biennial” was used in a previous email), it is presumed that the new board members will have more than a passing acquaintance with the “location of the 2016 WAFT IAAC”.
This exciting and intriguing proposal for another WAFT IAAC should certainly be given some serious thought – and discussion – in the two weeks remaining as we prepare for the convention in Santa Monica.