Manitoba Keystone Conference

Keystone Featured

 2018 AA Keystone Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba
October 26 & 27, 2018

By Cathy M.

Members of the Winnipeg secular AA group, Beyond Belief, heard that the organizing committee for the annual Manitoba Keystone Conference was looking at new ideas for the 2018 conference.


We got a package together citing the rising number of non AA recovery groups vs. registered secular AA in Canada and USA.  AA is slipping.

We reported that the AA International Conference has hosted a dedicated panel for “Agnostics and Atheists” since 1990 – the last six International Conventions!

We cited census trends (fewer self-identifying as any religion), group and financial decline and a definite void in filling service positions at all levels.


We were invited to make a presentation to the 2018 Keystone Conference Committee – an incredible opportunity.

Heck – we thought it was incredible to be considered thus far!

In the allotted 15 minutes, Doreen D, Chantelle S and I made a palatable or soft pitch, favoring a panel vs. workshop. Going over the handout material and using props, such as the pamphlet “The GOD Word”, and the 2016 October Grapevine, which was devoted to articles by nonbelievers, and  – we read an excerpt from former trustee Ewing… and left copies of same for the entire committee.

Victoria Inn

The 74th Annual Manitoba AA Keystone Conference will be held October 26 and 27 at the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg

Yes, we were asked the basic questions, such as “What will you talk about?” “What literature do you use?” “Don’t you believe in a higher power?”

Indeed it was like starting from the amoeba… but we carried on: our emphasis of carrying the message and working within the theme of, get this: Inclusivity. Yes, that is the 2018 conference theme!

By now we were over 30 minutes and the next presentation group were scheduled. The attending members of the Committee all gave us the thumbs up, from their perspective, and commended us on a job well done.

A few weeks later, we heard that our panel was in!


Oh, but wait – what will we call it? After much discussion and back and forth… they agreed to our original title, “Secular Recovery in AA”.

Seems a few of the committee members thought that every AA group was secular, so they had to work that out.

And here’s the agenda for the Keystone Conference

Now, this fact is unfortunate: our group hasn’t grown much in the last 2 1/2 years. We can pretty much cover four seats and a panel chair/spare, plus we are on the lookout for a dynamo newcomer in the months ahead. Which means we don’t feel positioned to draw a huge crowd from within the city as existing supporters. It would be helpful on many levels to fill seats and gain momentum on our own, but that isn’t a given.

We would sure appreciate outside help from the secular community in this endeavour.

Will you come to Winnipeg in late October?

It must also be acknowledged that while the three presenters are members of Beyond Belief group, we were working independently of our Beyond Belief business meetings – a shot in the dark, we thought. We do not make a statement that we ARE the Beyond Belief group – we are in effect, forward-thinking members with a mission … to carry the message of inclusivity.

Whether we have a belief or not, we want the hands of AA to recognize changing times. There are many paths…

If you can find your way to Winnipeg – I hope you’ll come support us at this year’s Keystone Conference!

Cathy M came through the doors of AA in 1992 and easily identified with the stories of other people in recovery, and that she needed help. Trusted AA guides encouraged her curiosity with recommended reading, getting involved and humour. With professional counselling she realized her recovery was “life or death”, given a family history of addiction, suicide, and secrets.

She has always been reluctant to identify with a work or career identity or any sense of permanency – “any time I thought I reached a plateau, a place to be – something changes”.

Throughout the years, Cathy attended and served various AA groups in Winnipeg. At the 2015 International Conference in Atlanta she attended the “We Agnostics” panel which sparked a new direction in her program.

Back in Winnipeg, Cathy and two other women started a new AA group, Beyond Belief, in January 2016. Active in local Intergroup she remains dedicated to Beyond Belief, women’s meetings and visiting AA wherever she travels.

7 Responses

  1. Marty N. says:

    Maybe I’ll go to Winnipeg. I hope to see you at the convention.

    Marty – Connecticut “No bull” meeting.

  2. Bob F. says:

    Dear Everyone.

    I think AA Agnostica is a super-important voice for non-believers, in recovery.

    This said, however, I have been very disappointed that the forum is frequently used for AA bashing which I find in very poor taste. Does AA have faults and contradictions? Absolutely but, Higher Power or not, I think it is very easy to criticize the Program’s shortcomings and lose sight of what it has given us. I sense the anger and resentment resulting from our being ignored for so long, comes out in bashing and fault-finding. I would like to urge suggestions for improving the Program’s weaknesses to accompany comments about AA’s imperfections, rather than fine-tooth combing the Big Book and Program history for everything that’s wrong wit it.

    Pointing out problems is necessary for effective change so long as we don’t lose sight of our debt to Bill, Bob and all those who provided us with an incomparable prescription for healing the cunning, baffling and powerful disease of addiction.

    • Roger says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      We do not trash traditional AA here. There is not a single article that does that on AA Agnostica.

      A critique of the Big Book? Yes indeed. It is too often treated as a Bible. And it shouldn’t be. As good as it is, it contains a number of serious errors. And that has to be pointed out, if there is any chance for AA to move forward.

      We do indeed respect the work of Bill and Bob in starting AA. And we respect the work of Jim Burwell in early AA. Not surprisingly, he too was attacked. And that too was for criticizing the Big Book. But really all he was wanted to do – and what we at AA Agnostica are trying to do – is to widen the gateway.

      And here is a lovely article about Jim Burwell (just click on the image):

      Jim Burwell

    • Mitchell K. says:

      I have often wondered why sites like AA Agnostica have to be the only ones standing up for secular recovery. After all, the long-form of AA’s Third Tradition states that AA should be open to anyone seeking recovery from alcoholism and that neither money nor CONFORMITY be requirements for AA membership.

      Alcoholics Anonymous should be standing up for secular recovery. Didn’t Bill W. say each member has the right to their own conception?

      AA is supposed to be inclusive and not exclusive. AA is supposed to neither endorse nor oppose any causes.

      I’m not for changing the established literature but that being said, AA does have literature addressing all kinds of stuff in many different languages. AA talks about the language of the heart, it talks about accessibility, it talks about the declaration of responsibility and ensuring the hand of AA always being outstretched for anyone, anywhere seeking recovery from alcoholism.

      As someone who believes in the long form of our Third Tradition and our Declaration of Responsibility, AA must be open to the secular alcoholic seeking recovery equally as much as those who believe in some sort of deity. The hand of AA must be there for ANYONE, ANYWHERE and CONFORMITY should never be a requirement. None seeking recovery from alcoholism may be refused.

  3. John S says:

    Hi Cath, I wish that I could go, but there is no way. I like this a lot though, I think it’s a really good way to get our message out that there is a secular path within AA.

    I hope that it’s recorded or that you will record it. I would love to hear it. Also, it might make a good podcast conversation on AA Beyond Belief if you are interested.

  4. Joe C says:

    A great writing voice, Cathy. I wish the article was longer.

    I moved to Calgary, from my sober roots in Montreal for a summer in 1979 and I didn’t leave the West until 1985 when I came to Toronto (where I also had no intention of staying for long, either – Life happens when I’m busy making other plans). I travelled all over the West for work and was it ever nice to get to meetings in different towns and cities in the West. In time, I had familiar faces to count on in many of my more regular stops.

    I know how spread out Winnipeg’s Freethinkers meeting is from its Thunder Bay, Regina or Edmonton neighbors. That’s a lot of kilometres between meetings. It was nothing for me to drive straight through to Winnipeg from Calgary and then go home via Fort St. John, BC. But I know that’s not normal. I put 30,000 miles on my car in some years back then, more than one lap around the equator. I know that kind of travel isn’t normal but I’m glad to have seen so much of the country and met so many people.

    I hope some of the Western Canadians get a chance to meet each other as I consider you all either friends or friends I haven’t met yet.

    Conferences are great reasons for Road Trips. When Martin and I went from Ontario to the Eastern Canada Regional Forum in Quebec we met secular local members and others from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Also meeting with atheists and agnostics in AA is way different for our believing brethren from “hearing about us” and many innocent prejudices are eliminated when people of differing creeds roll up theirs sleeves and talk about the common problem of reaching out the hand of AA – every one and every where (you know how it goes).

    Your part of a pioneering group and we never get to know how long it will take for one local group to be a few and/or many. But it has to start somewhere.

    Imagine, maybe there could one day be a Western Canada Secular Round Up or Conference. Who knows what the future has in store for us.

    See you in Toronto in 19 days.

  5. Thomas B. says:

    Wonderful article – thanks Cathy for writing it and Roger for publishing it. It’s so important to get our message of recovery heard far and wide throughout AA.

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