Evolution of Portland Oregon’s Beyond Belief Group
Jun 27, 2015 | Agnostic AA Group Histories | 0 comments
By Thomas B.
Portland-Beyond-Belief On Sunday, November 30th, 2014, the Beyond Belief AA Group of Portland, Oregon celebrated its first year anniversary. As one of the founders of the group, I am humbly grateful to have been able to evolve with our group members and the support of our District and Assembly trusted servants a viable AA group to serve the needs of We Agnostics, Atheists and Free Thinkers within the AA community of Portland. We hold open AA meetings every Sunday morning at 10:00 am at the Portland Alano Club and welcome all who seek recovery from addiction to alcohol, regardless of belief or non-belief.
A wee bit of background — I went to my first AA meetings in New York City in October of 1972. I describe how I got sober in First AA Meetings, which is posted on the AA Agnostica website. I am forever grateful I found recovery in New York AA, where the prevalent formula for staying sober a day at a time was “Don’t Drink, Go to Meetings, Help Others.” In 2007, I moved up to Woodstock, NY where I met my wife, Jill, who was 25 years sober, at an ACOA meeting.
We relocated from New York to a small seacoast town in southern Oregon. AA meetings there were vastly different from what we had known in New York. The predominant focus of most meetings was a literal parsing of the Big Book, which in the opinion of most members was just a tad smaller than the biggest book, the Bible. No other AA — and certainly no-non-AA — literature were ever discussed, and the customary practice was to end every meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. Jill was scolded at a meeting for dropping “F-bombs,” being told that Jesus didn’t want that kind of language at AA meetings. For the two years we lived there, we were most grateful to have found the AA Agnostica website. It sustained our recovery in AA, saving our serenity, if not our sobriety!
After two years, we moved further up the coast to be closer to the Portland metropolitan area. Here we’ve experienced AA to be considerably more open and progressive. Nevertheless, most meetings start with 15 minutes of dogmatically ritualistic readings of the Preamble,“How It Works,” the Steps and the Traditions, along with the Daily Reflections or a chapter either from the Big Book or the Twelve and Twelve. Progress, however, is that most meetings end with the Serenity Prayer.
We saw that a “We Agnostics” meeting was listed at the Portland Alano Club, but when we attended the meeting, no one else was there. Since Portland is one of the most progressive and freethinking cities in North America, we were quite surprised. We were told by the Alano Club manager that it hadn’t been active for several months. We inquired if we could possibly start another meeting, and he most enthusiastically supported us. Using resource materials from AA Agnostica about how to start a non-believer meeting and in contact with a several folks who had queried AA Agnostica about a meeting in the Portland area, the first meeting was held on December 1, 2013 with five persons in attendance.
By the end of January, we were averaging 5-7 persons attending the meeting and were collecting enough 7th tradition monies to pay our rent with a month’s prudent reserve. At our first business meeting in early February, I was elected as GSR of the group and attended the District Meeting in Portland, where I was warmly welcomed by the DCM and other GSRs, who said they would announce our meeting at their groups. I also attended my first Area Assembly and met a number of Oregon Area 58 trusted servants. In late February, we registered our group with GSO through the Area 58 Registrar and in mid-April, we received confirmation from GSO that we were registered as an AA group by GSO with Group Number 711575.
Since we were formally recognized by GSO, we were now ready to approach the General Manager of the Portland Intergroup Office to list our meeting. Over the next several weeks we had several “debates,” as he described them, regarding whether or not we were a legitimate AA group. He parroted many of the arguments against us being a legitimate AA group from the infamous White Paper, which was used by ardent theists to persuade Intergroup Offices in Toronto and Vancouver to delist WAAFT meetings. He was emphatic that if we used other than conference-approved literature, we could not be an AA group. Most onerously he suggested, as is advocated in the White Paper, that we form a separate organization apart from AA for agnostics, atheists and free thinkers, similar to what Alcoholics Victorious has done for fundamentalist Christians. He informed me that in order for our group to be listed we would have to submit our group format to be vetted by him and the Intergroup Board to determine if we qualified to be listed as an AA meeting.
On May 8th, I emailed our group format to him, as he had requested. This was problematic, since our group conscious decision was twofold:
that we would use non-conference-approved AA literature to include Joe C.’s Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12th Step Life, as well reading one of the alternative versions of the 12 Steps from Roger C.’s The Little Book, and
that we would be honestly truthful to our Beyond Belief philosophy— we wouldn’t “fake it” by reading AA’s version of the steps from the Big Book at our meetings, nor would we send a fake format to pass muster with Intergroup.
Later in May I attended another Area 58 Assembly, during which I received strong support again from a number of Assembly trusted servants, including a former General Service Conference delegate. She said she would straighten out the Intergroup General Manager, if he continued to balk listing us as an AA group.
Having not heard back from Intergroup, I called the General Manager concerning our status the week of June 9th. He told me we had been listed online a couple of weeks after he got our format and that our meeting would also appear in the next printing of the meeting list. We were most pleasantly surprised and surmise that either he didn’t bother to read our group format or he was persuaded by District and Assembly trusted servants to list us in full accordance with AA’s history and traditions that have guided our Fellowship for almost 80 years. Several weeks later, he was most pleased when I gave him a donation from our 7th Tradition funds to support Intergroup activities for alcoholics throughout the Portland area.
By summer’s end, our group had expanded to average 10 to 12 members attending each Sunday morning meeting. In late August I commenced on a 7-week long camping trip around the US. Like many bleeding deacons, I initially was concerned that without my being there, the group would dissipate if we didn’t elect a permanent secretary for six months. However, the group conscience consensus was that the secretary position would be rotated among group members, including Jill, from week to week. When I returned in early October, average attendance had increased again, making it very crowded in the initial small meeting room we rented from the Alano Club.
At the group business meeting in October, the group decided to negotiate with the Alano Club to move to one of their larger rooms at a substantially increased rent. While I was away at the WAAFT Convention, the group held another business meeting, electing a group Secretary, Treasurer, H&I Chairperson, and Coffee Maker with me remaining as GSR. The group also decided to have a group list of phone numbers to provide to newcomers and tightened up the group format. The group today is fully functioning as a grown-up, fully responsible AA group in accordance with AA’s Traditions, Concepts of Service and Responsibility Pledge. We now average between 15 and 20 attendees each Sunday. About half of the group are in early recovery; the other half consists of members with longer-term recovery. The meetings are full of laugher, fellowship and deep exchanges of the human power of shared experience, strength and hope to stay sober a day at a time, by not picking up, going to meetings and helping others.
In conclusion, this has been a most valuable experience. Jill and I received another powerful lesson that when we trust the process by being true to ourselves and choose to deal with people by utilizing AA’s code of “love and tolerance,” the results take care of themselves. We also learned how important it is for WAAFT groups to be fully integrated within the AA Service Structure. We strongly believe this is the way we shall slowly begin to shift the balance of influence within AA from ardent, and sometimes bigoted, theists to be more openly accepting of all alcoholics, including us who doubt, question or flat out don’t believe in the absolute necessity of an intervention by some alleged deity in order to get and stay sober. Many of us live useful and productive lives through the Good Orderly Direction of the AA Fellowship and the human power of one alcohol addict sharing their experience, strength and hope with another alcohol addict.
A final thought, we deeply empathize with those of us who live in small-town, more rural settings where theism is the predominant ideology. After living much of our lives near New York City, we survived a most daunting couple of years in a small Oregon seacoast town. Even there, however, we found a Buddhist with 57 years of recovery and a couple of other non-believers. We grew very close together and were instrumental in helping keep ourselves sober. We are also most grateful we have the Internet to augment our Beyond Belief group members, keeping us in contact with other WAAFTs throughout North America and around the world. Through such deep connections our WAAFT movement within AA shall continue to expand and evolve.