Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Preview of Rev. Sam Shoemaker's AA Cofounder Role

It is a pleasure to invite you all to read the attached talk just given by Dr. Karen A. Plavan at Sam Shoemaker's second and last major church. We owe such a debt to Karen that I can't cover it all in this message. However, here are some points: (1) Karen holds a Ph.D. degree and is a professor of counselling and chemical dependency at University of Pennsylvania. (2) She is an adjunct professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. (3) She is co-chair of the Board of Oasis Center in Pittsburgh. (4) She arranged three different talks by me in Pittsburgh and also was one of the speakers at our Second Nationwide A.A. History Conference in Delaware. (5) Karen was instrumental in my publication of the second edition of the Shoemaker book--New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.; and she joined the daughter of Sam Shoemaker and the widow of Shoemaker's assistant minister in writing a Foreword to the book. (6) On more than one occasion, Karen arranged for me to speak to her students and others in Pittsburgh. (7) She serves as one of our leadership advisors on the new and fast-growing International Christian Recovery Coalition (www.ChristianRecoveryCoalition.com). (8) And it was she who arranged with Dr. Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh to establish and house the Shoemaker Room there--to which benefactors enabled me to donate and place there a large collection of Rev. Sam Shoemaker's books, articles, sermons, correspondence, and other historical data. Aloha and love to my good friend Karen A. Plavan, Ph.D.
Dick B.

Sunday, January 31, 2010
Karen A. Plavan, Ph.D.
Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, PA

Good Morning. Every morning Sam took time for quiet prayer and meditation. In the gospel, Jesus went to a deserted place to pray. Sam too knew the importance of taking Quiet Time for himself -- time for prayer – talking to God and for meditation – time to listen to God.

I am grateful to The Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis and The Rev. Walter Szymanski for inviting me to speak. It is an honor to be here today to celebrate with you this first feast day proclaiming the 12th Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, the Rev. Samuel Moor Shoemaker a “Holy Man.”

What does it mean to be called a Holy Man or a Saint? St. Paul declared that anyone in Christ is a saint. We are all called to be saints. Saints are living people among us; sometimes we may not notice them. Some of us may have some preconceived notions about who is a saint. You may believe that you have to be perfect to be a saint. If this were true, we would have no saints.

A Sunday school teacher asked her students the question, “Who is a saint?” One student looked up at the beautiful stained glass windows and said, “A saint is someone who lets God’s light shine through them.” And this was eminently true of Sam -- the Light shined through Sam to help thousands, millions of people around the world to find God. Sam was a Life Changer.

Bardwell Smith said: “Sam was deeply in touch with the living God and because of this, hundreds of lives came alive to the same experience … such is part of what constitutes the vocation of sainthood.”

Norman Vincent Peale said: “I have known many men in the ministry who have been quite outstanding in their effectiveness. … But no one excelled Sam Shoemaker in sheer spiritual depth and persuasive power.”

Who is Sam Shoemaker? If he were alive today, he would most likely ask you to tell him your story. He then would be very interested in knowing if you had turned your will and your life over to God. If you hadn’t, he would say “First things First,” and would ask you to get on your knees and do so.

During the coffee this morning, Charles Jarrett recounted a personal story of how Sam Shoemaker helped him to get in touch with the Power of God. As you could see, Sam was a Life Changer.

Who was Sam Shoemaker? Sam Shoemaker conceived of his role in the church as three fold – as a pastor, priest and preacher. Newsweek named him one of the ten best preachers in America in 1955. He was also a counselor, coach, mentor, evangelist, a radio and TV host. But, most importantly, Sam was a “Life Changer.”

Sam was born on December 27, 1893. He had a sister who was 8 years older, yet he felt like an only child. He spent his summers at his family home, Burnside, 10 miles north of Baltimore. Sam loved nature and found God in the woods at Burnside. According to his mother, he was a witty, spontaneous joy to be around.

He attended St. Georges School in Newport, RI and graduated from Princeton University where he made a decision to enter the ministry as his life vocation. Sam studied for ministry at General Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1922.

After college, Sam visited China on a “Princeton in Peking” project. It was there in January 1918, that Sam met The Rev. Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman, a Lutheran minister, Penn State Chaplain, and YMCA secretary.

In 1921, Buchman started a movement called: “A First Century Christian Fellowship,” later to be called the “Oxford Group,” a Christian movement that attracted thousands of people in the US and Europe during the 20s and 30s.

Frank Buchman said the only sane people in an insane world are those controlled by God or those that surrendered their self will for God’s will. In 1938, the Oxford Group changed its name to Moral Rearmament and is still alive in their mountain home in Caux, Switzerland.

Sam felt that this meeting (with Buchman) was the greatest turning point in his life. It was here that he was first introduced to the Four Absolutes – honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, the essence of the Sermon on the Mount. These were to be the yardsticks or targets by which he would measure his life.

Sam liked to keep it simple. Immediately, he began applying these principles to himself. He surrendered his life to God’s will. He said, “God if you want me to stay in China, I will.” (Deep down, he did not want to stay in China.) Sam was honest with himself and with Buchman. He also wrote a letter of amends to his father asking for his forgiveness.

The result was that Sam felt a life change in himself. He felt forgiven and free. And here was the real beginning of his life ministry – a Life Changer. He then wanted to pass on to others what he had received.

In Sam’s first book published in 1923 “Realizing Religion” he describes the discontentment, unhappiness, disconnectedness often felt by men and called it “a spiritual malady” which results when people are estranged from God. Sam said: “We were meant to be God’s companions.” He said that sin or character defects separate us from the love of God and that honesty is the first step in knowing God.

Sam began to travel with Frank throughout the US and abroad and it was on a trip with Frank in Egypt in 1924 that Sam received a call to Calvary Church in New York City. He began his ministry in 1925 and ministered there for 26 years. Not wasting any time, he opened the Calvary Rescue Mission a year later. It was here that Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) began his spiritual journey.

AA was formed nine years later in 1935. AA is a fellowship of men and women who have a common desire to stop drinking. It was founded by two alcoholics Bill Wilson, a stock broker from New York and Bob Smith, a Doctor from Akron, Ohio. At the Calvary Rescue Mission, Bill Wilson, an atheist was born again in 1926. He visited the church even though he did not attend regularly.

Recalling Sam, Bill said: “I remember that first day I caught sight of him. It was a Sunday service at his church. I was still rather gun shy and diffident about churches. I can still see him standing there before the lectern. His utter honesty, his tremendous forthrightness struck me deep. I shall never forget it.”

Sam took a liking to Bill and asked him to help other alcoholics. Bill Wilson took on the challenge. A year later, Bill joined Sam in a processional from Calvary Episcopal Church, NY to Madison Square.
Sam led the group in full vestment as people witnessed as to what God had done for them. A reporter for the New York Herald quoted Sam: “We fix flats, or rather Christ fixes them. If any of you are flat tires running on your own rims, come with us and Christ, and let us help you pray.”

Sam married Helen Smith, the daughter of the late Hon. H. Alexander Smith, US Senator from NJ in 1930 and they had two children. It was during this time, the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, that Sam became very active in the Oxford Group, and Calvary House served as a US headquarters for the Group. He even took a sabbatical in 1932 to travel for the Oxford Group

Sam had a genuine appreciation for those who struck out against the establishment. He also had a deep sensitivity to the unrest within the church and in the world. It was difficult for Sam to call the church to task for failing to be the “Body of Christ.”

Sam believed that creative social change came primarily from changing individuals -- the same work done in the Oxford Group. And Sam considered this personal work with individuals to be the most important work in his entire ministry. He was a Life Changer!

He believed that every parish should build small groups for deepening the spiritual life of the individual, and at Calvary Church in NY, he had a meeting for alcoholics on Tuesdays and an Oxford Group meeting on Thursdays. Both groups used the same principles: The four moral absolutes – honesty, purity, unselfishness and love combined with the 5 C’s – Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, and Continuance, were the foundation of both groups.

Sam referred to working these 5 C’s or steps as “Soul Surgery.” He said it all starts by making a decision to turn one’s life over to God. This decision can be found in the 3rd step of AA today.

The first step – Confidence -- was all about having faith and confidence that others would keep your confidence and had confidence in you. This is the cornerstone or the spiritual foundation of AA today. It is called anonymity.

The second step -- Confession called for absolute honesty and was translated into Steps 4 & 5 of AA.

The third step – Conviction called for a conscious realization of the seriousness of our sins or defects of character. Sam would often say: “Is there any apology that you won’t make? Make it now!” This step is now Steps 6 & 7 of AA.

The fourth step – Conversion is Choice to use free will to surrender one’s will over to God’s will, the 3rd step of AA.

Lastly, the fifth step – Continuance -- which required one to help the next person change their life. The idea of continuing to carry the message and this word is found in the 10th, 11th and 12th steps of AA. One continues to take personal inventory, Continues to watch for resentments, Continues to improve one’s conscious contact with God, Continues to carry the message to help others, Continues to do this for a lifetime, and Continues to grow in God’s Grace.

So at Calvary Church in New York, both the alcoholic group and Oxford Group used the same principles -- the four moral absolutes and the 5 C’s -- which influenced the writing of the 12 steps of AA. Sam said this basic approach was fundamental to anyone with problems. And he added with humorous insight, “for everyone has a problem, is a problem or lives with a problem.”

Billy Graham called Sam Shoemaker “a giant among men.” He said: “I doubt that any man in our generation has made a greater impact for God on the Christian world, than did Samuel Shoemaker…”
And nowhere did he make this impact greater than his influence on the writings of the 12 steps of AA.

Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson are the two best known founders of AA. Bill asked Sam to write the 12 steps, Sam declined. Sam told Bill that the steps should be written by a alcoholic and that Bill was the one to do it. Bill closeted himself in the book-lined study at Calvary House with Sam, and the two men hammered out the basic ideas for the Big Book of AA. In addition, Bill submitted his Big Book manuscript to Sam in advance of its publication in 1939. Humbly Sam would deny any involvement at all in AA and would not take any credit for the creation of AA. However, we now know better.

Bill Wilson wrote of Sam Shoemaker: “Every river has a wellspring at its source. AA is like that too. In the beginning, there was a spring which poured out of a clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker… He began to teach us the principles and attitudes that afterwards came to full flower in A.A.’s 12 Steps for Recovery. The streams of understanding and love that were gathered together by God in 1935 to create AA will always be the source of our infinite wonder, inspiration and gratitude. Some may say, but Sam is not a stream, he is just a great man! But we of AA know better. We know he is both.”

“He channelled to the few of us who then saw and heard him, the message, the understanding, the loving concern, and therefore the Grace that enabled our small band and all the countless thousands who followed afterward to walk in the Consciousness of God – to live and to love again, as never before.”

“Sam passed on to us the spiritual keys by which so many of us have since been liberated.”

In AA, only members of AA speak at conventions. However, Sam was invited to speak at two conventions. The first was in St. Louis in 1955. Here Bill Wilson wrote the following: “The important thing is this: the early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in the US, and from nowhere else.”

“AA owes a debt of timeless gratitude for all that God sent us through Sam and his friends in the days of AA’s infancy.”

At the 1960 AA convention in Long Beach, CA Bill said of Sam: “The 12 Steps of AA simply represented an attempt to state in more detail, breadth, and depth, what we had been taught – primarily by you.
Without this, there could have been nothing – nothing at all… Though I wish the co-founder tag had never been hitched to any of us, I have no hesitancy in adding your name to the list.” “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that I founded AA. If it wasn’t for Sam Shoemaker, AA would never have been born.

One day the 12 steps of Recovery as they are used to help transform the lives of people with all types of addictions may be viewed as the largest spiritual movement of our lifetime. And that, perhaps, is Sam Shoemaker’s greatest legacy – as the spiritual director or co-founder of this spiritual movement that has changed millions of lives. Sam was a Life Changer indeed.

Sam was called to Pittsburgh in 1952 and was known for his ministries here at Calvary Episcopal Church. One of his ministries was to young married couples in the church. Sam could talk them into doing practically anything. Sam would say “get changed, get together and get going!”

Sam was also known to take people to the top of Mt. Washington to pray over the City of Pittsburgh, a tradition still today. Sam prayed that “one day Pittsburgh would be as famous for God as it was for steel.”

Sam Shoemaker was the “Pittsburgh Man of the Year” in 1956. He had a radio show on KDKA Radio from 1952-1961, and an Episcopal Hour called: “The Art of Living.” He started the Pittsburgh Experiment where he challenged people to experiment in faith and to pray with a prayer partner for 30 days and to witness the results. Upon his retirement in 1962, he said that the growth of this ministry was the high point of the year.

After Sam left Pittsburgh, he continued his writings and broadcast ministries. He was influential in bringing together national leaders to share their experiences, which resulted in the President’s Prayer breakfast in Washington, DC and other prayer breakfasts around the country.

Sam said: “My job is to reach as many people as I can for Christ before I die, and that will be my testimony. I haven’t the time or strength to try to explain to the people in the structure what I am doing. I am too busy engaged in doing it.”

Two months before Sam died, he wrote: “I have by no means, done what I should have done with all that I have been given… It’s been a great run…I’am thankful for it and for all the people who helped to make it so.”

Often people ask me why I work with individuals and families with addictions. I do this for two reasons. First God called me to do this work. Secondly, in today’s reading from Isaiah, it says: “your children have fainted, and lie at the head of every street like an antelope in a net.” This is true today; young people are on every street corner in the net of addictions, trying to get out. Every year an average of 250 young people die from addictions in Allegheny County.

Like Sam and along with two other Episcopal clergy here in Pittsburgh -- The Rev. Walter Szymanski and The Rev. Dr. Jay Geisler, we are all called to work in this ministry at the Oasis Recovery Center. We stand at the door to help people find recovery. Standing by the door is where Sam Shoemaker felt most comfortable – helping people find God and to change their lives. Sam was a Life Changer.

His wife Helen said: “He knew if he stood by the door and remained willing to reach out to men and women involved in even the most sordid of sins – inevitably he would be given supernatural grace and power with which to help them.” We too will be given God’s Grace if we stand by the door. God calls all of us to be saints in spite of our brokenness. God calls all of us to let our light shine. What door has God called you to stand by and to let your light shine through?

I think it is appropriate to end the sermon by reading a poem that Sam wrote entitled, “I Stand by the Door.” I asked Dr. David Bandler, like Sam a Princeton University alumnus, and a Board Member of The Oasis Recovery Center, to read “I Stand by the Door.”

B., Dick. New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and AA. Hawaii: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., Pittsburgh ed, 1999.

Shoemaker, Helen Smith. I Stand by the Door. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

Shoemaker, Sam. Realizing Religion. New York: Association Press, 1923.

Shoemaker, Sam. Confident Faith. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1932.

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