The Pandemic and the Explosion of Zoom Meetings

By Chris M

The first 7 to 8 years of my sobriety, I attended meetings almost every night of the week. I live in a small rural area of Southwest Georgia. I was accustomed to driving up to 60 miles several nights per week to be able to attend a meeting every night. In years 8 to 11 of my sobriety, I was undergoing a “de-conversion” process from theism to atheism. There was simply not an availability of secular meetings in my rural area to meet my desires and I had always heard that online meetings were not as beneficial as face-to-face meetings. So, I never really considered finding any online meetings.

The only secular AA meeting that was in driving distance from me was a meeting in Tallahassee, Florida. It met one night a week on a Friday night. Tallahassee is about 60 miles from me. Due to conflicts in my work schedule with the time the meeting started, I was typically only able to attend it once or twice a month. I was continuing to attend nonsecular meetings about two to three times per week. I tried to start a secular meeting in the summer of 2019, but I found myself sitting in a rented room by myself for two months.  So, I closed the meeting.

In late 2019 to early 2020 before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, I remember seeing a small list of online secular AA meetings on a Secular AA website. I recall contemplating whether to attend one. Once the pandemic was declared and we began to have a shutdown of face-to-face meetings, I took another look at the small list of Secular meetings available. Most of the meetings were during the time of day that I was working. There were a couple that were taking place outside of my working hours, but it was only one or two nights a week.

Also, some of the nonsecular groups were asking me to start a zoom meeting for them on nights that they would meet. In February and March of 2020, I began doing this for them. Attendance was small as most everyone was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with online meeting platforms. Due to lack of attendance and other groups starting their own personal zoom meetings as well as using “covid protocol” for face-to-face meetings, I abandoned hosting any more zoom meetings. However, hosting these zoom meetings for the traditional AA groups gave me enough confidence to start attending secular online meetings.

In March to April of 2020, some secular groups began posting information about the zoom meetings they were starting in the private AA Beyond Belief Facebook Group. The list of secular meetings began to grow slowly. I was not seeing those meetings on the Secular AA website for inclusion on their list. So, I started creating my own personal list of secular zoom meetings in the Notes app of my iPhone. I created a list by day of the week. Every time I saw a secular group post their zoom meeting information, I added it to my list. My list grew to a nice small selection of meetings for every day of the week.

“Service work” has always been a staple of my sobriety. Whether I was serving on a Group, District, or Area level, I have always found great value in serving. Throughout the pandemic, I was always looking for a way to be of service to the recovery community. I had the idea that others might benefit from my list of meetings. I began posting them daily in the private AA Beyond Belief Facebook group. As I did this, I would have comments of other meeting information to add to my list.  My list began to grow.

I began to see a Google doc spreadsheet link being shared in the private recovery groups. It had even more meetings than were on my list. I thought about abandoning my list and just start using the Google doc spreadsheet. For my own personal preferences, though, it was a little hard to read and navigate using my iPhone. So, I kept using my list and the format that I preferred for a list of meetings. I continued to post my list of meetings each morning for the particular day of the week and my list continued to grow. As the list expanded to about 10 to 15 meetings each day in July of 2020, I created a simple single web page to list all the meetings. I wanted to make the web page easy to read, navigate, and easy to copy & paste from using a smart phone into the Zoom app.

Click on the above to visit the web page.

In July of 2020, my web page list of secular recovery zoom meetings had 207 views. In March of 2021, my web page had 3,019 views. Each month the number of views has continued to increase as people have become more comfortable with online meetings. Today there is an average of 35 to 45 meetings listed for each day of the week on my list. My list of meetings is not as heavily used nor as popularly linked to as a couple of other larger lists out there like the Google doc spreadsheet and the Cleveland Freethinkers list. I cannot imagine the number of views they are having each month.

It has been exciting to see the secular recovery community come together through these meetings. In just one years’ time due to the pandemic, I have personally gone from attending 1 or 2 secular meetings per month to attending no less than 15 to 20 per month. I have seen secular groups attendance go from an average of 5 people to an average of 30 people in the meeting. Some online secular meetings have 100 or more in average attendance! As I stated earlier, I had always heard that online meetings were not as beneficial as face-to-face meetings. My experience over the last year has proven this to be a fallacy. Do not get me wrong, if I had the availability of secular face-to-face meetings as I do with online secular meetings, I am sure I would be attending more face-to-face meetings than online meetings. For where I live, though, this will probably never be an issue. There are simply not enough secular people in recovery in my area. So, I will continue connecting to online secular meetings for a long time to come.

As the pandemic begins to fade, the ultimate question is will online secular meetings fade away as well? I do not believe they will. There are too many like me that simply do not have access to face-to-face secular recovery meetings. Sure, we can start our own secular recovery meetings. I have plans to eventually restart a face-to-face secular meeting with a couple of people. I met them in an online secular zoom meeting! I had no idea they were in the same tiny rural hometown as me. Zoom meetings made this possible! I have heard many online secular meetings state that even after the pandemic is gone, they will continue to host online meetings as well as their face-to-face meetings. This is exciting news for people like me. I have grown attached to several groups and I feel like a homegroup member of a few that I regularly attend each week. I would miss them dearly if they discontinued their online meetings.

For all it’s worth, the pandemic has brought many of us pain, misery, financial hardships, and death. But it has also brought us together as a secular recovery community in ways that probably once seemed unattainable. The pandemic brought us a multitude of zoom recovery meetings. The Zoom meetings have changed how I view online meetings and how I participate secularly in my recovery. I look forward to the secular recovery community within AA continuing to grow after the pandemic. Though the number of secular online meetings may shrink a little after the pandemic, the connection will not.


Chris M. is from Donalsonville, GA. He has been around 12 Step Programs since his early 20’s and has stayed sober since the age of 40. His date of sobriety is January 24, 2009. He has served in many positions at the Group, District, and Area levels. The past four years of his sobriety has been converting from theism to atheism while experiencing all the obstacles that confront the secular person within nonsecular 12 step program. He is the webmaster of his local district 12 step fellowship and created a web page listing of International Secular Recovery Zoom Meetings.


 

27 Responses

  1. Farley B says:

    Chris, my friend, you know you rate high on my list. Have enjoyed getting to know you over the last year and we are always glad to see you show up at our Durham NC Agnostic meeting on Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM.

    Thank you for circulating the Zoom list every day. That takes commitment. I also like to read/hear your shares. You tell it like you feel it, Chris. It ain’t always easy staying sober but we put one foot in front of the other and let our friends help carry us from time to time. This sober woman has 31 years and so happy to be a part of this inclusive movement of having secular meetings we can attend. That awful pandemic helped us find each other and grow exponentially.

    Here is our Zoom link and password. Folks, plz join us. We would love to welcome all of you and we laugh a lot! The Triangle Agnostic Group Saturday AM. 10:00 -11:30.
    https://us02web.zoom.us/j/6159489186?pwd=TmVndit0dXdyOG9iQXMvbUNzaGZwZz09
    Password: agnostics

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you, Farley! It has been great getting to join you when I can on Saturdays! Hopefully, I can do so again this weekend 🙂 Thank you for being there for me! It is absolutely GREAT that we have been able to connect together as a secular recovery community through the pandemic. I continue to look forward to our community growing! I don’t know if it will ever happen, but my future plans are to eventually either end up in North Georgia or North Carolina. It may be 10 years or so down the road, but North Carolina is in the lead of places I would love to live! 🙂

  2. Richard K. says:

    Hey Chris, I can definitely relate to your “situation”. I have lived in Albany, Georgia a few miles north of you and have felt the pressure of being agnostic in AA. I have been sober since October of 1982 and attended meetings pretty regularly and during that time I may have run into maybe 5 “non-believers”. I keep thinking maybe one of the reasons I keep coming is to be “here” when a non-believer happens to show up, but the pickings have been mighty slim.

    Glad to hear of your success. Keep the faith or the non-faith (ha ha). Maybe we will cross paths one day.
    Peace.

    • Chris M says:

      Hey Richard! I think our paths have crossed but it has been quite some time ago. Glad to know you are still here! Hopefully, our paths will cross again sooner than later. Feel free to look me up any time. You can always contact me through the email address on the list of secular zoom recovery meetings that I have created. Hopefully, if we can’t meet in person for a while, we could meet up in a zoom meeting.

  3. Jonathan CJ says:

    Thanks for the article Chris! I got sober just about the same time you did and have also based a lot of my sobriety on service within AA.

    I’d love to see an article from you about your experience at the district and area levels, working among people with different belief structures and sobrieties, as I have recently been elected as a DCM. I feel there’s a lot of positive aspects to having people of varied backgrounds working alongside one another.

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you! I found that at Area things seems to be a lot less theistic or religious. It is more about concentrating on how to do the work to get the message to the next suffering alcoholic through the structure as well as discussing current issues within the fellowship. And yes, there is more acceptance of varied backgrounds but with as in anything with a theistic model, even at Area it has its limitations in acceptance as far as secularism.

  4. Karl H. says:

    Great article, Chris, and thanks so much for the link to the page of secular AA meetings!

    I currently host three weekly Zoom meetings (keeping our three local meetings going, and am also the GSR for these meetings) and have been since the pandemic started… and I’m about four sessions into a Zoom AWOL… and I find myself becoming quite disenchanted with the overtly God-centric slant.

    I’ve been sober for 3 1/2 years, and have managed to get around the built-in religious leanings (fortunately my three meetings aren’t Big-Book Thumpers or Get-God-or-get-out in nature; they’re pretty tolerant), but still, the longer I “step around” the religious stuff, the more hypocritical and phony I feel. Gave starting a secular meeting some thought, but without knowing anyone (for sure) who’s also agnostic/atheistic, it seemed like a futile idea (I live in a rural area, where everyone seems to know everyone else). I’ve been looking around for a good secular meeting that fits my timetable, and if I can’t find at least one on that page, then there’s something wrong with me! Much appreciated!

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you Karl! I absolutely know where you are coming from! Yes, check the schedule out. There are so many great meetings on the list. You will feel right at home in them. It is like a breath of fresh air!

  5. Neal R. says:

    Fantastic article and truly hope you will submit it to the Grapevine. Although I have not attended zoom meetings of any kind I’m very grateful for anything that helps others to live in emotional sobriety. To me this is the key.

    I have been privileged to spend a few hours serving with you in various ways and your enthusiasm for AA as a whole has always been a pleasure to be around.

    Thank you for all your service!!!!

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you Neeeeeaaaallll! 🙂 You are being modest. Just a few hours? We have burnt up some roads and been through several vehicles in the service of AA together. LOL! Your sobriety has meant the world to my sobriety! Thank you for always being there!

  6. Stacy K. L. says:

    Thanks Chris! You are one of my AA Angels!

  7. Thomas B. says:

    Thank you Chris for this excellent article and for your service work in AA, both in meet space and virtually.

    I live in Tucson, AZ, also the home of Wally P, who proselytizes in workshops across North America about how AA did in the 1940s, strictly following a most “God-is-great-and-we-are-blessed-to-be-sober-as-one-of-His-chosen-ones” format.

    I am most fortunate that the two groups I attend regularly are mostly secular in membership. My home group is occasionally led by a devout Christian who closes the meeting with the “Lords Prayer” – this gives me an opportunity to read and practice the Big Book quote on a large poster on the wall opposite me that reads “Love & Tolerance Is Our Code” !~!~!

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you Thomas! I can relate! Check out some of the secular zoom meetings on the list. I am sure you won’t be disappointed. I know I haven’t been!

  8. Good for you! And, wonderful for all those you are able to reach. Being of service is the key.

  9. John M. says:

    Such a great article! It’s been a pleasure seeing your process unfold in our secular AA Facebook groups, Chris…

    I came into AA in 1986 at 21 years old, while serving in Okinawa. (I actually could attend an Okinawa zoom meeting at 3:00 am my time). Over the years I lived in Georgia, Tennessee, Maine, Washington, Connecticut, Germany, India and now Canada. I relied heavily on this little red international directory to find meetings.

    And, like you, I have transitioned to atheism. It was tough over the years, learning to find my truth in AA… but I’m so grateful to have stuck with it. And it’s always nice to run into kindred spirits like you, on the same path.

    Thanks again for posting this.

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you John! That is so cool that you can attend the zoom meeting in Okinawa! The technology today connecting us is truly amazing. If you or the Group in Okinawa ever wish to add it to my list, there is an email address on the webpage to send me the information.

  10. Tom F. says:

    Great, Chris. I only “joined” Agnostica last December but have done Zoom for perhaps 2 years now. I am not too “tech-savvy” but I do my very best. Greatest thing about Zoom Meetings? Of Course: “The Coffee!!!” I can sit here at my desk and drink my fresh-ground Ethiopian brew (rather the the brown water served at “in-house” meetings.) At an in-person meeting a guy asked me: “Tom how is the coffee today?” I replied: “Well, Brother. It’s wet.”

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you Tom! The coffee is great for us coffee lovers who know how to precisely make the perfect cup of coffee for ourselves! LOL! I was the DCM (designated coffee maker) for my former home group for a long time! I knew I enjoyed the coffee because I made it. But others, maybe not so much! I like it just a little bit stronger! They never replaced me, so some must have liked a little stronger as well.

      • Tom F. says:

        Honestly, Chris. My “Ethiopian Ground” is the only drug I have taken since December7, 1991!!!

        (Good “suppliers” in Toronto.)

  11. Joe C says:

    Beyond Belief Agnostics & Freethinkers (Toronto) spoke with other secular groups in Toronto. We had a healthy selection of face2face meetings, being in a rural area. Most of our groups were at different times/days so we decided th share a Zoom account. Our group very intentionally set the Zoom times a few hours from the f2f meetings they replaced. I already knew how Trans-Timezone online meetings were going back to InTheRooms.com and an AA freethinkers Yahoo Group some of us around were members of in the early years of this century. So I knew that people’s meeting needs would have no relation to work routines or where they live. So one of our 7PM meetings was 5 PM on Zoom and a noon meeting moved to 3PM. “It’s always lunch hour somewhere in the world.” We Agnostics (Toronto) also ran their Zoom meeting @ 6:30 and continued running a COVID protocol f2f meeting at 8:00 PM for those who wished for it.

    So we are well situated whenever opening happens to offer both, indefinitely. We have substantial attendance from members, like you Chris, new to 16 hours per day of secular AA, and tourists who love checking out meeting customs and personalities of different meetings around the world. I was at my first Hong Kong meeting, exactly 12 hours ahead of where ai live. I’ve spoken in Poland with the aid of an interpreter and been to Africa, all over Europe, Australia and of course North America where I can get back to meetings I’ve travelled to in person.

    I’m such a dinosaur of AA, I remember written and mailed correspondence was all some AAs had and it kept them connected and sober, one alcoholic communicating with another. So I’ve never been of the “not as good as the real-thing” camp when it came to virtual recovery. There is a need and place for both and it changed my view of AA being slow to adapt to modern ways. Pandemic response was spontaneous and ubiquitous, by AA groups-not GSO. But the service structure was right there too to lend more support to virtual meetings. Living Sober – my favourite AA book – can be read as a PDF online and shared in a virtual meeting as a reading to spur discussion. As you know Chis, AAs got a good problem on our hands, counting all the new members and meetings who have no zip code or postal code regional connection to districts/Areas or even General Service Offices. How do we count them all and how do we hear from them all? Good problems in deed.

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you Joe C! There are those we find along the way that set great examples of service and you are one of those I have come to take notice of in the past year as well as respecting and admiring! Thank you for all that you do!

  12. John B. says:

    Good article Chris. I admire all the service work you have done. Since we moved to Georgia going on 11 years ago I retired myself from being involved in that except for some writing for this website every couple of months. We live up North from you in Lumpkin County, just outside of Dahlonega. I had one brief thought about trying to start a secular meeting, a very brief thought, because I’m sure I’d of got the same result as you did.

    Since Covid-19 shut down my home group, I’ve been hooked up with a zoom meeting in Hamilton Ontario – it’s a good one. Check it out. If you ever make it up to the foothills look me up. Ask Roger to give you my e-mail address.

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you John! I know where you are! I love the terrain of North Georgia! We have visited Dahlonega before. It truly is beautiful up there. I will most certainly look you up! At any time you wish to contact me, you can do so through the email address on the webpage list of meetings. I am glad to know of another fellow traveler in my State 🙂

  13. Nina C. says:

    Good article Chris, I also feel like I have become a member of some of the online zoom meetings that I attend weekly. There are no shortage of meetings that beat to a different drummer to choose from. A great addition to in-person meetings.

    • Chris M says:

      Thank you Nina! Yes, they have been a great addition that I don’t foresee stopping in the future. It is very cool to be able to travel all around the World for a secular meeting and experience the nuances of each meeting and culture. It is like I have won the lottery for recovery meetings. LOL!

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