Quakers and Alcoholics Anonymous

In support of a non-Quaker Friend, I recently went to my first ever Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Meeting.

What struck me straight away was how an AA meeting feels like a Quaker meeting.

Anyone is free to attend a Quaker meeting and anyone is free to attend an AA meeting as long as they have a desire to stop drinking.

Typically AA meetings ask you to believe in a higher power than yourself, but what that power is, is your choice – very similar to Quakerism.

Just like a Quaker Meeting anyone is free speak or not speak at all in an AA meeting.

But for me, the most striking similarity between both types of meetings is the sense of a common faith that binds their members together.

The Twelve Steps

Personal recovery is contained in the Twelve Steps, which are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

When I read the Twelve Steps for the first time I immediately thought of Quaker Faith & Practice and its first chapter, Advices and Queries.

Links Between British Quakers and AA

AA’s origins date back to 1935 when failed New York stock analyst and alcoholic Bill Wilson became sober and decided to help others do the same. The first recorded meeting in Britain took place twelve years later in 1947 at London’s Dorchester hotel. AA meetings quickly spread across the country and Quaker Meeting Houses were often used to host them. This was probably for the reason that Quakers were sympathetic to their cause as the Society of Friends had been part of the 19th century Temperance movement and have a long tradition of helping alcoholics recover.

The first ever AA meeting in Manchester took place in 1948 at the Quaker Meeting House on Mount Street. In 1960 The Retreat in York, a specialist mental health care provider based on the Quaker values, provided transport for its alcoholic patients to attend AA meetings.

Today there are over 150 AA meetings in Britain that take place in Quaker Meeting Houses.

Although I can’t find any direct evidence, it can’t be a mere coincidence in how closely an AA meeting reflects a Quaker meeting.

Therefore, I think it likely that those early AA meetings that took place in Quaker Meeting Houses were influenced by the structure of a Quaker meeting and adopted a similar structure that still stands to this day. Please let me know if you think I’m wrong or right about this.

Either way, I have a new-found respect for AA and will certainly be going back.

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