Starting an Agnostic AA Meeting
By John S.
It occurred to me that I should write about our experience starting a secular AA group in Kansas City, and since we’ve only had three meetings thus far, we are still in the early stages of this endeavor. As time goes by, I’m sure there will be many ups and downs along the way, and hopefully by documenting our experience, we may be of some help to others who are starting similar groups in this or other cities.
I would first like to give credit to the folks at aaagnostica.org. I knew absolutely nothing about agnostic AA groups, and their site opened me up to an entirely new experience and a more meaningful recovery. It is they who inspired me to begin this journey.
I’ve spent half my life in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous and I absolutely love it. I credit AA with saving my life and the people I have known these past 26 years are truly family to me. I love them and I would stop at nothing to help any one of them if they are in need. I know that no matter where in the world I may travel, I can walk into an AA hall and feel at home. These are my people.
With this in mind, you can imagine how unsettling it was a couple of years ago when I came to the realization that I was an atheist and no longer interested in a supernatural higher power, but it is this unease that propelled me to seek out other alcoholics who think and feel as I do.
At AA Agnostica, I read about how to start an AA meeting and I completed the form to match me with others in Kansas City interested in starting an agnostic AA meeting. In a few days I received the names of two women, but they never responded. It was disappointing but rather than wait any longer, I approached my friend Jim to ask if he would like to start a meeting with me and he said he would.
The very day Jim and I agreed to start a meeting, we created a website for our new group. Building a website is not difficult. There are templates galore that design perfectly acceptable websites with no need to have any understanding of html or any other code.
We initially used GoDaddy.com . This is where we purchased the domain name and found the template to use for our site. In this day and age, if people want information, they go first to the Internet, and we were certain there must be other alcoholics in Kansas City searching for this type of meeting. This website would help them find us.
The site was simple, it provided information about A.A., Agnostic AA meetings, and a contact form for people to reach us. We hoped other alcoholics would find us to help get the meeting started. Search engines love original content so we went to town creating content for our site, eventually moving it to Word Press and creating this blog. Someday, when we have enough members and our group is on solid ground, we will elect trusted servants and the group conscience will decide what to do with this site.
With a little help from our friends
At AA Agnostica, we learned about Start with a Coffee Pot, a Google Group that brings together the combined experience of AA members who are starting or wanting to start A.A. meetings that serve atheist and agnostic alcoholics.
The group has some good information about finding a meeting place, registering the group with local central offices, listing with GSO, announcing the meeting to the local A.A. community, and more.
It is from Start with a Coffee Pot that we learned about Unitarian Universalist Churches as being friendly to our type of meeting. We found a U.U. church in a nice neighborhood between the Plaza and Midtown. The All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City Missouri, with the Kemper Museum of Modern Art across the street, the Kansas City Art Institute next door, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art around the corner, this was a great spot for our meeting. A safe and serene neighborhood in a central location.
We contacted the church to ask if they had a meeting space available on Thursday nights at 7:00 that they would rent us. They responded quickly and told us that a room was available that they would lease at a very reasonable rate. We found a home!
On Friday August the 1st, Jim and I visited the We Agnostics AA Group in Lawrence Kansas , this was our first experience at an Agnostic A.A. meeting and we thoroughly enjoyed it. They used the meeting format from Toronto’s Beyond Belief Group found on AA Agnostica. I liked how the tone of the meeting was set with the opening reading. Jim and I introduced ourselves and told them that we were starting a We Agnostics meeting in Kansas City.
After the meeting, they had a quick business meeting and then we sat around and chatted for maybe an hour. They told us a little about what they went through starting their group. They didn’t have any trouble being accepted by the AA community in Lawrence, although they had been visited by few AA fundamentalist a couple of times, apparently trying to catch them at something.
This group has the Twelve Steps hanging on the wall, and AA slogans posted around the room like “Easy Does It”, and “One Day at a Time”. It looked exactly like any AA group you would find anywhere. The only difference is they did not open and close the meeting with a prayer. Religion was taken off the table. This group understood and followed A.A.’s traditions, there is absolutely nothing about it that would harm other AA groups or AA as a whole.
We learned that one of their members moved to Kansas City and would like to know that there is a new We Agnostics meeting in town. We invited them to come to our first meeting to be held on August 7th. How nice it was to connect with this group. We are not alone, not by a long shot. We have friends in Lawrence.
Our First Meetings
We visited the AA World Services Online Store to purchase a few things for our meeting. We ordered what they call a 12 Step Window shade which is the Twelve Steps printed on canvas that you can roll up and store in a tube, and take out to hang on the wall. We also ordered a sign to hang on the door to let everyone know that’s where the meeting is taking place.
Jim was out of town for our first meeting, but I was hoping some of the guys from Lawrence may show up. I brought the 12 Steps and AA sign, the printed meeting format and a hat to pass around to pay for expenses. I got all set up, and then waited to see if anyone would show up.
Sure enough three guys from the Lawrence group made it to our inaugural meeting, Dave, Justin and Austin. I started the meeting using the Beyond Belief format, but altered a bit. Then I read a passage from “There’s a Solution” in the Big Book that I thought was fairly secular and positive. It was about starting new AA meetings and how the best years of our existence are ahead of us, that our imagination would be stirred, and we would meet new friends in the fellowship. The reading ended with “and you will know the true meaning of love thy neighbor as thyself’.
After reading this I sensed it kind of turned off the guys. I guess the part about loving thy neighbor as thyself had a bit too much religiosity in it, and I guess it did. At any rate we discussed the reading, and went around the room a few times sharing our experience, strength and hope as is done in AA meetings the world over. It was a nice evening and I hope that they can come back. I will stay in touch with them through their Face Book page and with regular visits to their meeting on Friday nights.
The next week’s meeting was just Jim and myself, but we opened as was done the week before, using the Beyond Belief format and reading the AA preamble. This time, we chose a reading from Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. Again, it was a nice meeting and neither Jim nor myself were discouraged that no one else made it.
The third meeting was very encouraging. We had two join us who learned about the meeting online from our website. Mike who moved to Kansas City from Louisiana was happy to see an AA meeting without the religion, and Cathy who belongs to an agnostic AA group in Colorado Springs called the Happy Heathens. She said she visits Kansas City often as her husband has work here. For this meeting, I picked a reading from “More About Alcoholism” from the Big Book, thinking we could discuss the first step. Unfortunately, it was kind of a depressing selection, but the meeting was upbeat none-the-less. I was so excited to see these two, that I probably scared them a bit with my over-the-top exuberance.
After the meeting, Cathy told us a little about the Happy Heathens group in Colorado Springs and mentioned that several from her group would be attending the We Agnostics and Free Thinkers International AA Convention in Santa Monica this November. She will also try to make it.
I’m already pretty excited about the convention and now even more so. I want to meet as many people from as many different groups as is possible. This is such an interesting time to be in A.A.
In the coming weeks, I won’t continue writing about each meeting as we go forward, but I will continue to blog as we go through our growing pains. Other members from our group will be blogging as well.
One thing that we will definitely keep you posted on is how we are accepted by the AA community in Kansas City. About three weeks ago, I called our area central office to ask that our meeting be listed in the directory. I keep checking online and I still don’t see us listed. I’m hoping they are just slow and not avoiding listing an agnostic AA group. If I don’t see us listed next month, I will give them another call.