What the Pioneers in AA Have to Teach Us

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

By Father Bill W. from Austin, Texas.

You’ve likely heard the old Chinese saying, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  But if that all-important first step points even slightly in the wrong direction, God only knows where your journey will lead!

After 20 years sober from alcohol and drugs, I knew something was wrong with the course I was traveling. My soul’s inner-compass was warning me I was lost and it would be wise to stop and catch my bearings. By most outward appearance I was doing just fine. I had a wife and three kids that loved me; my work was satisfying and bearing much fruit; I believed in God, prayed, attended meetings faithfully, and worked the Steps as seriously and conscientiously as I knew how; but still, something inside simply wasn’t right. That “hole in my soul” that alcoholics and addicts know only too well was starting to open up again. So once more, my Inner Guide, the Great Reality within who first whispered to me twenty years earlier telling me it was time to quit drinking, time to grow up, and time to start facing my inner demons through AA – now that same Voice was demanding my full and immediate attention once again.

Somehow, I sensed that another round of ninety-meetings-in-ninety-days or another journey through the 12-Steps as I had been working them wasn’t likely to provide the course correction my soul was demanding. And then one day, still another old saying became an experienced reality for me: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

Finding the Right Teacher

Earl Husband was an AA archivist I first met in 1992. I’d been in Oklahoma City on business when someone at an AA meeting encouraged me to go pay a visit to old Earl. They said, “He just might know how to fix what’s wrong inside you.”  They were right. Earl had made an extensive study of AA’s origins as it had emerged from the Oxford Group. Originally known as a First Century Christian Fellowship, its members wanted to get back to a faith that worked; a faith built less around doctrines and dogmas but one based more on the personal transformation that comes from living in conscious connection with their Creator. The Group was composed of self-described “life-changers” and “soul surgeons,” a varied assortment of men and women fully intent on devoting their lives to God’s service. They freely borrowed First Century Christian principles utilizing a host of different sources and put them to work changing people in order to bring about a much-needed change in the world around them. Their movement grew strongest during the years following the First World War when Nazism, communism, fascism, and unbridled capitalism were threatening new hostilities among the nations of the world. Oxford Group leader Frank Buchman was convinced that without a radically different and far more effective form of Christianity, a Second World War appeared inevitable.

Buchman said, “We need a power strong enough to change human nature and build bridges between man and man, faction and faction. This starts when everyone admits his own faults instead of spot-lighting the other fellow’s. God alone can change human nature. The secret lies in that great forgotten truth, that when man listens, God speaks; when man obeys, God acts; when men change, nations change.”

Earl explained to me how Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob had each been active members of the Group long before the 12-Step program came to be.  In one respect, however, they were cut from a different cloth than their fellow Group members; Bill particularly had far less interest in changing the world than he did in changing other alcoholics like himself. The spiritual principles that Buchman developed to change men and nations were now proving equally effective in changing drunks. Wilson later recalled, “Where did we learn about meditation and prayer and all the rest of it? The spiritual substance of our remaining ten Steps came straight from Dr. Bob’s and my own earlier association with the Oxford Groups ….”  – Bill Wilson,

The Language of the Heart, p. 298.

That night in Oklahoma City, with Earl guiding me through the Oxford Group’s simple program of change, I found myself hearing AA’s 12-Steps in a way I had never heard them before.  Sometimes a preacher will remark, “Now to really appreciate this scripture passage you need to hear it in the original Greek.” That night I heard the Steps as they had emerged from the unwritten program that had kept Bill, and Bob and scores of other alcoholics sober and sane before it was codified and recorded in a great, Big Book. I was never the same after that.

Finding the Right Path

Many years have passed since the night I left Earl’s home loaded down with Oxford Group books and pamphlets he hoped might help fill that gaping hole growing in my soul. Since then, I’ve continued experiencing many changes in my life that I can trace back to what he taught me and what I would continue to learn and put into practice, however falteringly, over the next twenty seven years. Perhaps the greatest change that’s come to me is a far more intimate relationship with God and a greater awareness of God’s will for my life

The Oxford Group and Pioneer AA program was a far simpler one than 12-Step members generally practice today. If you’d like to learn more about it, I hope you’ll visit our website: www.TwoWayPrayer.org/ or listen to my podcast series under the title: Father Bill W.  I hope our paths will cross as we travel together The Road of Happy Destiny.

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