A Brief History…


A Brief History of the Conference

From the Summer 2016 issue of Box 459

It’s been with us for so long now, providing guidance and stability throughout the Fellowship, that there may be some within the A.A. universe who have forgotten — or never knew — that not everyone thought creation of the General Service Conference was a good idea. It could be said that nothing comes easy in A.A. — not the price many have paid to get here, the sacrifices necessary in keeping our groups together, or the ongoing maintenance of the very services that hold us in unity today. So, it should be no surprise that getting the Conference up and running as “the actual voice and the effective conscience for our whole Society” itself took some doing.

A.A. had grown tremendously in the years since the Alcoholic Foundation had been created in 1938, when there were barely 100 A.A. members. In 1946, when membership had reached about 30,000, Bill had begun formulating a plan for some kind of conference with delegates from A.A. groups around the country.

In the beginning, though, there was little enthusiasm for the project. As almost all the 15 trustees on the board of the Alcoholic Foundation saw it, the Alcoholics Anonymous movement had flourished in the 10 years since the Foundation had been created, and they saw no reason to endorse what looked like a radical change. Bernard Smith, who joined the board as a nonalcoholic trustee in 1946, was alone in supporting the plan. A businessman and a lawyer, Smith’s backing over the next few years was to prove crucial.

One angry faction that opposed the conference called itself the Orthodox Group, and included Henrietta Seiberling among its few members. In a letter she wrote at the time she charged that Bill was motivated by greed and suffering from delusions of grandeur, and that, “we want the people in the Groups to know just what the dangers are.”

One nonalcoholic trustee, Leonard Harrison, resigned over the issue, saying in a February 1948 letter to Bill: “I have felt that a degree of isolation of the Foundation from the main currents of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement has been, and would continue to be, a stabilizing factor in dealing with the necessary ‘housekeeping,’ legal, and financial affairs of the A.A. headquarters. The somewhat intricate relationships envisaged in your plans… will invite more troubles than solutions, I believe.”

Harrison later rejoined the board and was credited by Bill with being a calming influence that helped the Foundation weather the controversy.

Essentially, Bill feared that after he and Dr. Bob passed on, the Alcoholic Foundation would eventually suffer a loss of legitimacy. As Bill saw it, such a development would hurt A.A. in various ways, including diminished financial support from A.A. groups for the New York office.

Writing to an A.A. member in San Diego at the end of 1947, Bill said: “We shall have to do something… about the New York Headquarters. A self-perpetuating Board of Trustees unknown to most A.A. members could never stand up over the long future. So we shall have to have some kind of annual conference in which out-of-towners delegated for the purpose would sit down and talk things over with the Trustees, the office, and the Grapevine, and make a joint annual report to the Groups.”

As Bill noted, however, in a July 1955 article from The Language of the Heart (p. 162), “It was one thing to say that we ought to have a General Service Conference, but it was quite another to devise a plan which would bring it into successful existence. The cost of holding such a Conference was easily dismissed. Even though the outlay might be $20,000 for each yearly session, this would be only fifteen cents apiece extra for each A.A. member, and mighty well worth it. What member wouldn’t give that much to be sure that A.A. didn’t collapse at its center in some future day of great need or crisis?

“But how on earth were we going to cut down destructive politics with all its usual struggles for prestige and vainglory? How many delegates would be required and from where should they come? Arrived at New York, how could they be related to the Board of Trustees? What would be their actual powers and duties? Whatever the plan, it had to be sound enough to work well on the first trial. No blunders big enough to create a fiasco could be allowed.”

And work well it did. Like other not-so-popular-at-first ideas (think Big Book and Twelve Traditions), in the 66 years since its “experimental” appearance on the A.A. landscape, the General Service Conference has proven to be an indispensable thread woven firmly into the fabric of A.A., a worthy successor to the Fellowship’s founders and early members.

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Other articles include: A call for resumes; Openings for various non-trustee Directors and Class A Trustees; Budget Highlights; and the Bulletin Board — Items and Ideas on Area Gatherings for AAs.

“The Man on the Web”


Online Intergroup of A.A. Nears 20-Year Anniversary

“Today’s counterpart to the ‘man on the bed’ is the trembling, sick alcoholic in cyberspace,” writes Dennis M. of the Bronx, N.Y. in a Grapevine article titled AA in Cyberspace. “And we see a good number of them looking for help for the first time. We see them coming back from slips; we see them finding A.A. at a time and a place where we can feel their desperation and share our hope, just as we do in f2f (face-to-face) meetings.”

Excited about today’s expanding ability to reach out to suffering alcoholics, A.A. members around the world continue finding new ways to carry A.A.’s message of hope.

One helpful development in this effort has been the growth of the Online Intergroup of A.A. (O.I.A.A.), an organization nearing its 20th anniversary. First formed to help unify the growing number of online meetings that began to mushroom in the late 1980s, many starting as bulletin board meetings and email groups, the O.I.A.A. was legally incorporated in 1996, giving online groups a forum for exchanging information and ideas and for helping one another carry the message of A.A. online.

Online meetings come in a variety of formats: real-time chat, email meetings, telephone chats, audio-visual meetings using video streaming applications, message boards/forums, and discussion board meetings. Some are targeted toward specific groups: women, military, deaf/hard-of-hearing, and there are meetings available in a number of languages. Many have regular schedules, and some are “catch-as-catch-can,” with members posting when there is time and a burning desire.

Many A.A. members use the online medium to supplement their f2f meetings or vice-versa, depending on each member’s own situation, and most online groups encourage attendance at f2f meetings. There are many A.A.s, however, who cannot attend f2f meetings (geographically-isolated members, members with physical disabilities, members living in a foreign country, members in the military or at sea, older A.A.s, shift workers, parents with young children) and online A.A. may be the best or only resource available to allow these members to participate fully in the A.A. Fellowship.

One of O.I.A.A.’s chief services is an online meeting directory posting an up-to-date list of online A.A. groups on its website (www.aa-intergroup.org). On average, the directory lists about 170 groups. It also directs an estimated 22,600 online visitors a month from more than 100 countries to meetings held in 14 languages and to meetings with formats that make A.A. accessible to people with vision, speech, or hearing problems. A little more than half of O.I.A.A.’s visitors access their information on mobile devices (phones or tablets), with others using desktop computers. O.I.A.A.’s directory does not include every A.A. group in cyberspace, however — only those that choose to be listed and subscribe to the Twelve Traditions of A.A.

Keenly aware that “personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity,” as the First Tradition says, O.I.A.A. also encourages communication among online groups as well as with local intergroups, areas, G.S.O., and other A.A. service bodies. This is done chiefly through the work of its committees. In addition to a Twelfth Step Committee, which is comprised of approximately 40 members worldwide, speaking multiple languages and fielding between 350-400 requests for help per month, O.I.A.A. has formed committees for: Public Information, Cooperation With the Professional Community, Unity and G.S.O. liaison, Conventions, Finance, Policy and Admissions, and World Wide Web — all of which are described on O.I.A.A.’s website.

O.I.A.A.’s governing body, the Intergroup Assembly, is made up of an Intergroup Representative and alternate from each registered group, plus its committee chairs, their alternates, and five officers: a chair and co-chair, treasurer, historian, and secretary. With the lessons learned over nearly 20 years working together, they strive to practice the principles of A.A. in all web affairs, so that the hand of A.A. will always be there in cyberspace as well.

From the Holiday issue of  Box 459, the quarterly “News and Notes from the General Service Office of A.A.®”
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