16 Specific Practices
Associated with the Original Akron A.A. “Christian Fellowship” Program
Bill W. and Dr. Bob Developed
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Here are 16 actual practices of the original Akron A.A. “Christian Fellowship” during the period from June 10, 1935, to the publishing of the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (the "Big Book") in April 1939:
1. Qualifying the newcomer. Newcomers—and often their wives—were interviewed by Dr. Bob (and other pioneer AAs) to determine: if they had conceded that they had an uncontrollable alcoholism problem; if they had shown a desire to quit permanently; and if they had committed themselves to go to any length to stay sober.
2. Hospitalization was a must. Newcomers were hospitalized for a period of some five-to-seven days. They were medicated to prevent seizures and other problems. During this time, Dr. Bob would visit extensively each day, other sober alcoholics would tell the newcomer their stories, the Bible was the only reading material allowed, and Dr. Bob would offer the newcomer the opportunity to "surrender" before release.
3. “Surrender” by the newcomer before discharge after his five-to-seven-day stay at the hospital. Before the newcomer was discharged from the hospital, Dr. Bob would conduct his final visit and require that the newcomer profess a belief in God—not “a” God, but God. Then the newcomer would get out of his bed, get down on his knees, and pray with Dr. Bob, accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in the process.
4. Upon leaving the hospital, in the case of Clarence Snyder at least, Clarence was taken to his first Oxford Group meeting at T. Henry’s house, given a Bible by Dr. Bob, and told by Dr. Bob to “go out and fix drunks as an avocation.” This practice of telling the newcomer, at the time he surrendered to God, that he must go out and help other drunks was consistent from the very first.
5. Most went to live in the Smith residence or in the residences of other Akron people like Wally G. and Tom L. They stayed as long as needed in order to get steady in their path.
6. There were Christian fellowship meetings every day, with Dr. Bob, Anne, and Henrietta Seiberling. These included group Bible study, prayer, and Quiet Time observances.
7. In addition, each morning, alcoholics and their family members gathered at the Smith home for a Quiet Time conducted by Anne, with prayer, Bible reading, seeking guidance, and discussion of portions of Anne’s personal journal.
8. There was one “Oxford Group” meeting each Wednesday at the home of T. Henry Williams—a meeting unlike any other Oxford Group meeting. These meetings scarcely resembled conventional Oxford Group meetings. Oldtimers Wally and Annabelle G. said they had read a lot about the Oxford Group meetings being held at the Mayflower [in 1933] but that “it wasn’t until later that they realized the meeting at T. Henry’s was 'sort of a clandestine lodge of the Oxford Group.'” Dorothy S. M., wife of Dr. Bob's sponsee, Clarence S., observed in 1937 that the meeting was “a regular old fashioned prayer meeting.” Dr. Bob’s son, Robert R. (“Smitty”) Smith, in a telephone conversation with me from his home in Nocona, Texas, described the meetings as “old fashioned revival meetings.” Author Nan Robertson quoted Dr. Bob's son, Smitty, as follows: “It was kind of like an old fashioned revival meeting.” Some called the group itself “the alcoholic squad.” Frank Amos referred to the group as the “self-styled Alcoholic Group of Akron, Ohio.” Dr. Bob called the group a “Christian Fellowship.” Frank Amos declared, “Members did not want the movement connected directly or indirectly with any religious movement or cult; they stressed the point that they had no connection whatever with any so-called orthodox religious denomination, or with the Oxford Movement. (Obviously, Amos meant the Oxford Group).” Bob E. stated:
Dr. Bob and T. Henry “teamed” the meeting; T. Henry took care of the prayers with which the meeting was opened and closed. “There were only a half dozen in the Oxford Group. We [the alcoholics] had more than that. Sometimes, we’d go downstairs and have our meeting, and the Oxford Group would have theirs in the sitting room.”
9. The “real surrender” by each newcomer at a “regular” meeting on Wednesday. And at these weekly meetings, there was a time in which newcomers were required to make a “real surrender” with Dr. Bob and one or two others upstairs. There the newcomer, on his knees, accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, asked that alcohol be taken out of his life, and asked strength and guidance to live according to cardinal Christian teachings. The elders prayed with him after the manner of James 5:16.
10 There was extensive reading of Christian devotionals and literature provided by Dr. Bob, or recommended by Dr. Bob or his wife, and/or distributed or made available at meetings.
11. There was particular stress on study of the Book of James, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and 1 Corinthians 13.
12. Meetings concluded with invitations to reach out to newcomers in the hospital and elsewhere, and then closed with the Lord’s Prayer.
13. There was frequent socializing in the homes, particularly on Saturday evenings.
14. The little group of members and wives knew each other well. They frequently phoned one another. They frequently visited the homes of each other. They gathered for parties, dances, covered-dish suppers, and picnics. They prayed together. And they frequently had meals together.
15. Keeping track of names, addresses, phone numbers, and sobriety information about each member was commonplace as evidenced by their address books and rosters. They kept little address books with the names, phone numbers, and street addresses of the pioneers. Also, this data was listed on some of the rosters which they kept and which are discussed next.
16. The easy to find, extant rosters they kept, make it equally simple today to name and document the successes, relapses and returns, and failures among the original AAs. Particularly evidenced by the hand-written memo and roster kept by Dr. Bob and on file in the Rockefeller Archives today. Other rosters of the names and addresses, sobriety dates, and relapses, if any, were kept and still exist today. Richard K. of Massachusetts—author of four major works on early A.A. history, including studies of the “First 40” cures, about early articles about A.A., and about statistics relating to A.A.—has discussed these rosters. Richard spent several months with me in Maui reviewing the rosters and materials I had, as well as materials he obtained from A.A. General Services in New York and elsewhere. He carefully examined photocopies of original documents, newspaper accounts, and extant lists of the early A.A. members and their sobriety records. His work is the most important study of early A.A. successes, cures, and announcements written to date. There are also my own copies of the pioneer member rosters which were acquired by me from several A.A. historians such as Earl Husband, George Trotter, Sue Smith Windows (Dr. Bob’s daughter), and Ray Grumney (former long-time archivist and member of the managing board at Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron). Their value became particularly valuable when other evidence was reviewed and clearly disclosed that early AAs commonly kept address books—many of which contained names, addresses, phone numbers, sobriety information, and relapse and death notations. As a group, these rosters enable an accurate evaluation of the successes of the original 40 pioneers surveyed by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in November 1937. And they provide important evidence relating to the 75% and 93% successes rates (overall, and in Cleveland, respectively) early A.A. claimed. Recently, an anonymous friend from New Jersey supplied me with a copy of a roster in Dr. Bob’s own hand, written on his medical office stationary, and listing all the successful original members, giving names, drinking history, relapses if any, sobriety dates, and age. It came from the Rockefeller Archives in New York. I now possess one I secured from those archives. It is a vital, new piece of evidence apparently unknown to those who have disputed the early A.A. successes or temporized about the reason for them.