Arizona Secular AA Conference

Introduction

By Ralph B

Our Many Paths secular meeting in Langley, BC is planning for a regional conference May 16, 2020. The Arizona Secular AA conference gave Brad and me an opportunity to do some research and get some sun.

Starting on a Tuesday with a flight to Phoenix and after checking into a hotel, we went to find the We Agnostics meeting In St. Stephen’s church. We arrived early, as I always do, and a large meeting was setting up. The handouts on the chair said it was Big Gary’s Back to Basics and we were welcome to join in the third step prayer on our knees if we wished. Brad rushed me out of there and we were told to check out other buildings across the parking lot. Next room we entered was an Al-Anon meeting; they sent us to another room which was a meditation meeting, and they suggested we try the kitchen where we found Dave who said we were in the right place. Two others showed up and we had a good secular meeting.

On Wednesday we had an awesome visit to scenic Sedona and Grand Canyon. Brad used his charm, did a Step 9, made amends, and found Arizona Highway patrol can be forgiving.

Thursday morning we arrived at the Cottonwood Freethinkers Living Sober 7:30 AM breakfast meeting just as it was starting with 5 other fine men. Good breakfast and secular meeting, then a drive to Palm Desert, CA for lunch with Brent, an AA friend from Langley, and on to Oceanside, CA for a walk on the pier.

Friday involved a visit to Encinedas but we were too early in the morning for the Guru’s Meditation Center. On to San Diego, Coronado, Yuma and back to Phoenix.

Saturday was the Arizona Secular AA conference and about 60 people participated. It was a great day:

* * *

The Conference

By Gary S

The Arizona Secular AA Conference – the result of months of footwork by a committee that often was too small – was held in Phoenix on November 9th.  People arriving early, not formally part of the committee, were often eager to be of service. This included making coffee, helping with the sound system, taking delivery of lunch, helping with registration, organizing display tables and setting up a basic continental breakfast of muffins, assorted fruit, coffee, tea and cold water.

Registration (Ed B) went from 9:30 to 9:55 which was a period in which people were able to settle in and strike up conversations with those they knew and those who might become new friends. Our capable Master of Ceremonies (Joel Y) kept the room on schedule throughout the day. This “herding of cats” that is so often chaotic proved to be fairly simple for the entire conference.

Our four panels for the day “Dogma and Ritual in Secular AA”, “How to Survive in Conventional AA Meetings”, “Raising Secular Awareness in AA Through Service Work” and “Tolerance within Secular AA” were all very well received. Each panel consisted of three participants each of whom was given 8-10 minutes to present their interpretation or experience pertaining to the topic followed by 30 minutes of sharing from the open mic on the floor. Our Program Chair (Beth H) received a positive group conscience response from the committee for each panel.

It was also the Program Chair’s responsibility to develop the rest of the day’s agenda. She approached the committee with a list of prospective guest speakers and we were fortunate to book Jeffery Munn, the author of Staying Sober Without God. Jeffery proved to be both a good speaker and someone who was willing and able to interact with the attendees during a lively Q & A session.

A past Committee Chair (Jerry F) arranged for Greg O, the Host Chair of ICSAA 2020 in Washington DC, to come and talk with us about that upcoming conference. Another upcoming event Chair was Ralph B of BC, Canada, who was in attendance and was able to invite us all to BC in May of 2020.

Our Food & Beverage Chair (Ryan B) was among the days “stars”. He quietly kept the coffee flowing, and made sure that cold beverages and all the other consumables were always available. He managed that with only two people (Elliot W and Jerry F) as co-members of his committee. Lunch was kept simple with three varieties of six-inch sandwiches, including a vegetarian option, from Subway.

Fully 25% of the attendees were walk-ins who didn’t balk at paying a slightly increased registration cost. While these attendees registered at the door, which kept Ed busy, 74% registered online, which is certainly the method of choice. Dave H, our longtime web guy (who is soon to pass the task on), handled our PayPal based registration. One percent registered via check at the Conference P.O. Box, which allowed for mailing anonymity.

Publicity for the event was far ranging. Our committee recording secretary (Jennifer A) sent electronic or paper flyers to all the Intergroup offices in the US and Canada along with a request that the info be shared. Beth H, who maintains the Conferences’ Facebook presence (Beth will also be taking on Dave H’s task on maintaining the AZ Conference website) talked up the Conference at the group level and kept people aware of the pending event. As the Chair I phoned and emailed those who I thought might be interested.

Our Literature Chair (George M) had two tables that presented both AA Conference-approved literature on one table and non-Conference literature on the other. The bestselling piece for the day was certainly Jeffery’s book.

As is too often the case, there were too few people to take on all the tasks that it takes to make a Conference happen in a smooth and successful manner. The result of this is that people end up serving in multiple capacities and thus reap the spiritual rewards of providing service to Fellowship. The internal wealth that is acquired through this is beyond measure and is best received by as many people as possible. Those who do not raise their hands and volunteer in my estimation must not realize what they are missing. Just a personal note.

Jennifer A, our Recording Secretary, served as our sound person. This entails setting up our sound system and, alas, unavoidably irritating some folk as she repeatedly adjusted the floor mic in an effort to get clean recordings of the event.

You can hear these recordings by visiting our website: Arizona Secular AA.

As the Conference Chair, which in my mind is essentially “herding the cats” of the committee and helping to assure a smooth flow throughout the day of the event, I also got the opportunity to wear another series of service hats. I also got to serve as Facilities Chair (Jennifer A also assisting in this). The task consisted of canvassing the Phoenix area to locate a suitable site for the event. I found our host site after visiting and discussing our needs and budgetary requirements at a number of potential locations. With this came working out the contract with the facility, acquiring the required insurance (provided by one of our local Intergroups) and acting as a liaison with the facility management and staff. I inherited this task of Treasurer as well. This entailed establishing the Conference account (which will carry forward to our next Conference) and managing its “in & out flow” throughout the process. Having some money management experience was very helpful in this function.

To close, being a part of the Conference has been a growth experience no matter what hat or hats I have worn and I feel secure in saying that it was like that for each member of the committee. I have encouraged people to “rotate on” instead of “rotate out” as there is an anticipated long term need for these types of conferences.

Acceptance of new things in AA has always been glacial in nature and eventually these new things today become the norms of tomorrow. When I got sober in 1990 the then LGBT movement and the BTG committees were new or perceived as new and today they are an embraced part of the fabric of AA. The Secular movement too will have its time. Perhaps then there will be less need for secular conferences. However there are still LGBTQ and BTG focused events in the Fellowship to this day. If we are outliers in AA it is to some degree by choice. To the degree that we embrace the parts we want and leave the rest, AA is ready for us even as I write this. We should not underestimate our reach within AA.

If you aren’t organizing a Secular AA Conference within your area today, tomorrow is the day to start.

* * *

Back Home to BC

Continued by Ralph B

Brad and I invited everyone we met at the Arizona Secular AA conference to come to our conference in British Columbia and got several people interested. We got some good ideas for our conference; the Arizona conference was kept simple and flowed smoothly which showed that they had prepared well.

Sunday morning we went to an 8:00 AM traditional AA meeting outdoors held in a large picnic shelter in a park at the foot of a small mountain. Approx 100 people showed up and after preliminary format introduction a speaker told his story for 15 minutes, then they broke into several smaller groups. We joined the newcomers group of about 25 typical members with a few weeks to 40 years of sobriety.

Sunday afternoon at 1:30, we went to We Agnostics secular meeting at the Pigeon Coup where 30 members shared in a way similar to our Many Paths meeting.

Glad to be home after a enjoyable trip of six days, two flights, 1500 highway miles, one conference, four meetings and hundreds of friendly members of AA.

Keep your eyes out for details of our “ONE BIG TENT” Pacific Northwest Secular AA Conference on May 16, 2020 in Langley, BC.


 

2 Responses

  1. John S says:

    Thanks for the report, Ralph and Gary. I agree with Gary’s statement that we shouldn’t underestimate the reach of secular people within AA. I believe there is enormous interest in secularly formatted AA meetings, and these regional conferences are a great way to reach out to the broader fellowship.

    I would like to see a regional conference in the Midwest. I may suggest this at my group’s next business meeting. It’s a huge amount of work, and not something to enter into lightly, but the effort is well worth it.

  2. John R says:

    Thanks, Ralph, for your post. It was great to meet you and Brad at the conference. Kinda wish I’d been able to make it to our Thursday morning breakfast meeting in Cottonwood to speak with you, too. One of the great things about the AZ conferences (we’ve had 3 now, every other year) has been meeting people from all over the country who’ve come to it. Those of us who are not financially situated to be able to attend the International Conferences really appreciate the connection with visitors from other states (and countries).

    Best of luck with your conference!