By Bob K
It must be almost three years since Jim M. first came down from Peterborough to see what we were doing at our Whitby Freethinkers meeting. As a long sober secularist in a town with only conventional AA meetings, Jim knew that there was a significant portion of the small city’s (80,000 population) alcoholics who were not well served by what traditional AA has to offer. A second resident, of the cottage country town, Ollie C., has also attended our Whitby meeting.
Thus, Whitby co-founder Craig C. and myself were like a couple of proud uncles on Tuesday, May 2nd, as we took to the road for the 80 kilometer drive (50 miles) to the inaugural meeting of Kawartha Freethinkers. A rainy night did not dim our enthusiasm. The proud uncles were excited uncles! I am also proud to report that our rainy cruise was in Craig’s Prius, leaving a minimum carbon footprint. Rarely have I been so politically correct, or so ecologically appropriate.
Of course, the cursed (two syllables) Bob K. cynicism feared that Craig and I would save the meeting founders, Jim, Ollie, and Val C. from having a three-way conversation with the coffee pot. This was to be a night of surprises.
The first delightful surprise was the venue:
The Mount Community Centre came into existence out of a single belief – that the option to redevelop the historic former home of the Sisters of St. Joseph was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This 10 acres in the middle of the City of Peterborough has 131,400 square feet of buildings – including housing, a commercial kitchen, chapel and so much more. (Mount Community Centre)
The Sisters of St. Joseph bought this land in 1893, moving into its original farmhouse on Jan. 1, 1895. The original farmhouse had previously been the residence of a local magistrate, and the AA meeting takes place in this 19th Century structure with 12 foot ceilings, tremendous woodwork, and remarkable windows. This latest secular AA meeting takes place in a onetime convent. The kitchen and washrooms are less delightful, but it’s a great venue.
The second big surprise came with the attendance. More and more chairs were fetched to accommodate the 21 souls (pardon the term, but we were in what was once the dining hall of a residence for nuns) who came out to the first-ever secular AA meeting in Peterborough. Although one might expect a certain number of curiosity seekers, and perhaps hostile investigators, the introductions confirmed that the target audience had been reached, and that Peterborough has a real need for such a gathering.
Some had come from other towns like Bobcaygeon, Lindsay, and Port Hope. Most were not quite sure what a freethinker meeting was, but they had hope. A very handsome fellow familiar with “agnostic” meetings, the movement, the Toronto situation, the websites, and the growing body of secular literature, described the mission of freethinker meetings. The nods showed appreciation, but the tears did so more poignantly. It was a terrific meeting!!
The desire for a non-religious meeting was not the motivation for all who felt a need for a “freethinking” meeting. Two gay men felt that they would find less prejudice here. They did. A feminist-activist had her own, and not unique, objections to fundamentalism and much that’s in AA literature. There were many agnostics, and there was much talk of spirituality, but spirituality outside of the usual template. Love, good, humanity, connectedness were discussed. It was a tremendous AA meeting. These folks were interested in recovery.
We had a Jewish man who expressed his feelings of being excluded by the strong Christian theme in AA’s literature, and in its meeting rituals. There weren’t a lot of folks there who’d be likely to object to the lack of “The Lord’s Prayer”. Don’t get me started. I must add that the discussion was respectful. The beliefs of traditional believers were not denigrated. Any venting was very gentle. The common tack was more “I don’t fit in”, “I’m uncomfortable with ABC”, “I was told I needed to XYZ, and I didn’t think I could do that”.
It was a terrific meeting! Did I say that already? Good.
I went back May 9th, and I have a report on the second meeting. It was a terrific AA meeting! Attendance was 20, with 9 women, including my new feminist friend, and some new faces. We read and discussed the daily reading from Beyond Belief – Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, by the incomparable Joe C. There were more young people. I think that trend of appealing to the youth demographic is certain to continue. There was a former DCM present and he said he supports the existence of the meeting.
There were three attendees who introduced as “recovered” alcoholics (ruh-roh) which is generally fundie talk, but only one shared her evolution from the heathen darkness, to a group higher power, and (cue the organ) eventually to the REAL Higher Power, who she calls God. (Should that be “Whom” with a capital “W”?)
On May 16th, I made it out to the third meeting. The topics “Can you be good without God?” and “How does a secularist do Steps 2 and 3?” drew some insightful comments from those who have navigated the path. Once more, it was a terrific AA meeting. Attendance was back up to 21, with almost half women, and more young people.
The thirst for secular AA is sustaining in Peterborough. There is a thirst for recovery, and a hunger for help.
The whole thing is electrifying for me. Five or six years ago, I was jaded, somewhat disenchanted, and considered becoming an AA dropout, or a once-in-a-whiler. Instead, I’m an activist. An active activist, and a presence both in secular and traditional AA. I’m enthusiastic!
We toil in a worthy cause. We’re serving a previously poorly served element of the alcoholic-needing-help market. We’re helping people. The Kawartha folks are going to help a LOT of people.
The featured image at the top of the article is of the Mount Community Centre, 1545 Monaghan Rd, Peterborough, where the Kawartha Freethinkers meet on Tuesday evenings at 8 PM. All alcoholics with a desire to stop drinking are welcome.
To view a differently detailed history of how this meeting came into existence, written by its three founders, you can click here: Kawartha Freethinkers.