Arizona Secular AA Conference
By Dave H.
The second biennial Arizona Secular AA Conference will be held Saturday December 9, 2017 in Tempe, Arizona.
Here’s how it all got started.
There is something about being in a room full of people united in a common purpose that evokes a sense of refuge. For a handful of alcoholics from the Phoenix area this was felt in the fall of 2014 in Santa Monica, California. The occasion was the first international conference of agnostic, atheistic and freethinking members of Alcoholics Anonymous, an event which has since become memorialized in the local parlance as “Santa Monica”.
Many of us have felt isolated to a degree having attended AA meetings of a religious flavor, not knowing if anyone else might also feel ill served by talk of divine intervention.
One AA from Gilbert Arizona who made the trip to Santa Monica excitedly anticipated meeting other like-minded and freethinking sober alcoholics since he had, for over two decades, thought himself to be the “only atheistic AA member in the East Valley” of the greater Phoenix area. Imagine his surprise when someone who had volunteered to chair the discussion in a break-out session at the conference introduced herself as an alcoholic from Mesa Arizona, also part of the so called East Valley.
Then, in this assembly of less than thirty people, two more spoke up and relayed that they, too, live in the East Valley. Four out of thirty! Must have been a god thing, hehe.
It didn’t take long for this small band of newly found friends to begin planning a bold endeavor upon their return to the valley. Aware of the delisting of the Beyond Belief and the We Agnostics groups in Toronto three years earlier, they planned, with a bit of trepidation, to test the willingness of the East Valley Intergroup to list an openly non-religious AA meeting.
On their return it was learned that a meeting called We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers had been started in Phoenix earlier in the month and had been listed without controversy by the Salt River Intergroup. Encouraged, and fueled by the belief that more is better when it comes to meetings, they started the second meeting ever for non-religious AAs in Tempe, and the name “We Agnostics” was chosen. Success again – East Valley Intergroup listed the meeting willingly.
Attendance at meetings began to grow in fits and starts. As more people learned of the “secular” meetings they also learned of the conference which had been held in Santa Monica, and the plan to have another one in 2016 in Austin Texas. There were many who hadn’t learned about “Santa Monica” until it was over.
If impatience is a character trait of alcoholics it soon became clear that two years was too long to wait for another gathering of the secular in AA. Soon it was suggested by the former “only atheistic AA member in the East Valley” that a state secular conference in the intervening year – 2015 – might be realizable.
Getting in touch with the organizers of Santa Monica for advice, and drumming up enthusiasm here in Arizona, a loose-knit group began investigating the possibility of what would be a regional “gathering of the faithless,” which, ultimately, it was hoped, might continue to occur in the alternate years between the international conferences.
Most alcoholics are talented people (no surprise) who, when sober, can accomplish with ease projects that they often had abandoned in dismay during their drinking years. Such turned out to be the case as the statewide regional conference came together.
One of the organizers of Santa Monica, Dorothy H., was prevailed upon to give a keynote address and Nick H. from Austin Texas, chair of the international conference host committee, came to give an update on the international conference.
Local yokels participated on panels directed toward topics such as “Agnostic on the Steps,” “What the Hell is a ‘Freethinker’,” and “Secular Meetings are Still AA” which followed with Q and A. Five sober drunks put on a humorous skit written and directed by another member. The fellow who volunteered to emcee the affair surprised us all when he produced his guitar at the end and closed the meeting with a song.
We had attendees from Colorado, Texas, Nevada, California, and a number of Arizona towns. The conference was a daylong event with 40 sober drunks enjoying themselves on a Phoenix November Saturday with a catered lunch and plenty of coffee and tea.
This year we have invited Joe C. from Toronto to talk about the delisting of the two groups by the Toronto Area Intergroup, and the eventual resolution and relisting of them, and about the upcoming International Conference of Secular Alcoholics Anonymous (ICSAA) next year in Toronto, among other things.
There will be panel discussions, more music this year, catered lunch, and Phoenix December weather for out-of-towners who might want to come early and leave late in order to knock around town a little. We hope that our conference can continue on the alternate years between the ICSAA conferences.
Meanwhile in daily sober living there is a growing awareness in this area that recovery needn’t depend on theology or mysticism.
Meetings have now become groups, and groups have spawned meetings and new groups have formed and been listed. Today the greater Phoenix area boasts 13 meetings per week at six different venues scattered around the valley and Cottonwood Arizona to the north and Tucson in southern Arizona now have three meetings each.
We hope that news of the flourishing secular option within Alcoholics Anonymous which we are experiencing may give atheistic, agnostic and freethinking alcoholics in other areas courage to make similar efforts.
Dave is 73 years old. He took his last drink February 18, 1982. He had acquired a taste for beer in Colorado where, in the sixties, it was legal to drink “3.2 beer” at age 18. The legal theory at the time was that beer of only 3.2% alcohol wouldn’t make a person drunk. He disproved that theory on his eighteenth birthday and became an inveterate beer drinker thereafter. Dave, the beer drinker, has been heard to claim that he probably didn’t drink enough whiskey during the following twenty years to fill a bath tub. Nevertheless he became a hopeless alcoholic—hopeless until he found Alcoholics Anonymous. Happy these days about the growth, at long last, of non-religious AA around the country, he tries to help, as best he can, with Arizona’s secular AA conferences and also by carrying the message that AA is available to any alcoholic, even those without religious inclinations.
I’m going to try to start a secular meeting in South San Francisco in Feb. 2018. I’m tuning up for it now. Guy H.
Good on you, Guy. It’s rewarding service work. Please let us know whether or not we can assist you in any way and inform us when you get it started.
Is it too late to register? I admittedly have not accomplished an exhaustive link search but am initially unable to find information, beyond this article, annotating conference details.
It is not too late. Please go to http://www.waaft-az.org. Hope to see you there.
So excited about this event. I’ve had nothing but great experiences at the secular AA meetings I’ve been able to attend in Phoenix and Cottonwood Arizona. All these groups are vital to certain newcomers today, I think to the future of AA and for me personally, adding a place where reason and sobriety can be celebrated at the same time unabashedly.
See everyone (who can make it) in Tempe December 9th.
We look forward to having you address us at the conference, Joe.
It promises to be a fun day.
I speak openly in nonsecular meetings as an atheist (recent convert), and as such I notice I am improving some attitudes toward atheists here. But I do not know any other atheists in the meetings yet.
I traveled down to New York City for a couple meetings.
I would love to attend whole meetings of atheists here in Connecticut – let alone a roundup or international conference! Setting my sights on Toronto…
Welcome to the secular wing of AA. It’s an exciting place to be as the movement is growing daily. We in the East Valley of Phoenix are busy planning this second biennial conference. An online search reveals no secular groups or meetings in CT. Just a thought but if you could attend that conference you would learn “How to Start a Secular AA Meeting” from people who have done so.
But you don’t need to come to Phx. If you are willing to commit to it, you could start the first secular AA mtg in CT. Most of the people who post to this site would be glad to assist you in the process. It’s not difficult and it is very rewarding. Just let us know.
I’m trying to spread the word in Tucson and hope to put together a van to carpool if enough people are interested. Loved reading the background of how/why this AZ conference started! So excited to see secular AA alive and well in AZ. Contact me if you want carpool info from Tucson at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you soon, Mary 🙂
Glad to see Arizona, Toronto and Olympia have pulled off local roundups. God willing we will have one in Northern California someday.
Here I am in Vancouver and the roundups and conferences are getting closer and closer. One day soon we here will put a conference together for the fine folks on the west coast and surrounding neighborhoods.
The subject of this article – spreading the word – is, I think, the most important thing we can do. Time after time I’ve made my atheism known at religious meetings and had newcomers (particularly) say they’d never heard about anything that was secular in AA meetings. And yes I’ve been criticized for bringing up the subject when I’ve been asked to share. So it goes…
Again; it’s very very important that a secular viewpoint be presented at “traditional” religious meetings. And be advised, the positive response you may get justifies the occasional negative energy that may also come your way.
I’ve forgotten who said it but:
If not me, who? If not now, when?
Hi Jack – we are hosting Widening the Gateway in Tacoma, Wa in March – we have a few northern neighbors joining us and helping with the planning – check out Widening The Gateway.
Thanks so much Willow.
I’ll be there and hope to bring some friends as well.
Thanks again, Jack.
We are doing a non-religious AA workshop at the Houston Roundup November 25 Houston Texas. We were inspired by your group and this website. Needless to say this is bible belt AA… so we are excited.
I would love more info about the workshop, David. Keep us posted!
Best of luck for a successful 2nd Biennial Conference in Arizona for Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers. Wish I could be there, especially to hear again my good friend Joe C., as well as to experience secular AA in Arizona.
Thank you, Thomas. You would be most welcome if you did attend. You and I could run down to Tucson to visit with your family.
A former WAAFT Board member will be attending the conference this year and we are looking forward to that.
Good luck, Dave … your regional conference experience can be valuable to those of us doing the same thing. We are working on our Widening the Gateway regional conference (in Washington state) for March 31, 2018. Any advice on what you find working (and not working) from your upcoming December conference would be extremely valuable. Hope you publish it in one of these secular web venues.
Widening the Gateway website: https://widegate.weebly.com
Wish I could come down, and I wish you all the best.
What GoGetters you are!
I’m interested in the planned music portion. Will it be a singalong, or performers? What music?
Jennifer A. with her guitar will interpose some parody AA songs (well known songs with words changed to reflect AA meanings) during the 10 minute breaks between panels and during the last half of the lunch break to start things up.
And Joel will close the conference at the end with his guitar as he did at the last conference. Only this time we won’t all be surprised like we were last time – nobody had seen it coming but it sure was good. A precedent was set and I hope we can get a jump start next time (2019) to include even more music.
Would it be possible to get details and/or contact info or URL for the upcoming event in AZ for those of us who might want to attend? And for that matter, the 13 Groups and Meetings; until just now I was only aware of the one in central Phoenix. THANKS!
Dave maintains a site, https://azsecularaa.org/, in which there is a list, with addresses, of all the secular AA meetings in AZ. You can register for the conference on the same site.
if you make it to N. Az, please drop in on one of our meetings. We started in 2014 and have two noon meetings and one at 10:30am. For more info: http://freethinkerslivingsober.org/index.html
Dave has the answer to all your questions at http://www.waaft-az.org. Hope to see you there.