Do you ever wonder where the 12 steps we so often repeat came from? Listen to this story.
1934 Calvary Episcopal Church New York, City
The Rev. Dr. Sam Shoemaker has been rector of Calvary, for 10 years. He has developed Calvary House, a hostel and center for ministry and small groups in the city. He also runs Calvary Rescue Mission, a place for the “down and out” to get a meal and rest. Bill Wilson, an alcoholic New York stockbroker, visits there during his last days of drinking. Bill is influenced by Ebby Thacher, a friend who has become sober through a spiritual program called the Oxford Group led by Sam Shoemaker while Ebby meets at Calvary House.
1935 Bill Wilson becomes sober and spends more time with Sam Shoemaker in his book-lined office talking with Shoemaker and attending Oxford Group meetings as well as visiting at Calvary Mission and Calvary House. Dr. Shoemaker sends Bill a letter when he is 60 days sober thanking him for his help getting a chemistry professor sober.
Later Bill Wilson says, “Every river has a wellspring at its source. AA is like that. In the beginning there was a spring which poured out of a clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. He channeled to the few of us who then saw and heard him.. the loving concern, the Grace.. to walk in the Consciousness of God- to live and to love again, as never before. 4 Dr. Sam Shoemaker was one of AA’s indispensables. Had it not been for his ministry to us in our early time, our Fellowship would not be in existence today. Sam Shoemaker passed on the spiritual keys by which we were liberated. He was a co-founder of AA.” The first three Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were inspired in part by Shoemaker. “The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and no one else.” I am quoting Bill Wilson directly.
So, Dr. Shoemaker provided a refuge for alcoholics in New York and directly influenced the Twelve Steps through his long and close friendship with Bill Wilson. 1.2,3
You have heard from Bill Wilson. Now here are the words Sam Shoemaker later said.
“I believe the church has a great deal to learn; not from any individual member of AA, but from the incredible collective experience of AA. I pray to God that what is happening pretty steadily and consistently throughout the fellowship could happen in every church. The AA fellowship is made up of people who are beginning to be changed, not saints, and not perfect. We in the church can all learn by this example and if we think we’re above it we are in real danger.”5
Every January 31, the Episcopal Church remembers the ministry of this Episcopal priest in New York City who saved and changed the life of so many people at this service today. One of my most spiritual moments was attending an AA meeting seven years ago in Sam Shoemaker’s office at Calvary.
Perhaps you have seen an Episcopal presence in AA, but even more, perhaps you can see that Sam Shoemaker transmitted to AA a message, that it is all about love.. the same message we hope is transmitted at every church and at every Eucharist.
1. Dick B, "Calvary House and the Oxford Group,” The Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous, A Design for Living that Works, p. 114
2. “A Biography of Sam Shoemaker,” AlcoholicAnonymous.org
3. "A.A. Tributes Samuel Shoemaker "Co-founder" of A.A.," Dickb.com
4. Karen Plavan, "A Talk on Samuel Moor Shoemaker," Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburg, January 31, 2010
5. Michael Fitzpatrick, "Rev Sam Shoemaker, His Role in Early AA Part 11," Recoveryspeakers.com
Joanna Seibert joannaseibert.com