Sam Shoemaker, the Priest Who Helped Form Alcoholics Anonymous


I have a more or less daily practice of looking at Wikipedia’s list of events, births & deaths for that day. Today as I ran through the list I noticed a feast for an Episcopal priest. I often find who the Anglicans make “saints” interesting. And, indeed…

Today is the Feast, as it were, contemporary Anglicans don’t really quite go so far as to officially create saints, of the Reverend Canon Samuel Moor Shoemaker, III, DD, STD.

It has occurred to me in the past that Frank Buchman’s Oxford Group, which is justly credited with being the inspiration for much of the structures of Alcoholics Anonymous, also seemed a bit too hard, hot, maybe even fundamentalist is a good word, for Bill Wilson. Although a bit of research shows that it was Bob Smith, Dr Bob, who belonged for a time to an Oxford Group, group. In looking this up I see a passing connection to Carl Jung, which is interesting.

So, it seems Ebby Thacher, convinced Bill Wilson to attend an Oxford Group meeting. And as I thought might be the case, he is reported to have been appalled.

But, Sam Shoemaker, an Episcopal priest seemed to have a moderating effect of the heavy evangelizing while still holding to the discipline. And, when Bill had his more secular awakening experience, the version of the Oxford Group that the founders turned to for their structure was Sam Shoemaker’s. And full credit was given.

The Wikipedia article on Shoemaker quotes Bill Wilson, “It is through Sam, that most of our principles have come, that is he has been the connecting link for them, it is what Ebby learned from Sam and what Ebby told me that makes up the linkage between Sam the man of religion, and ourselves. How well I remember that first day I caught sight of Sam, it was a Sunday service in his church. I was still rather gun-shy and diffident about churches. I can still see him standing there before the lectern, and Sam’s utter honesty, his tremendous forthrightness, his almost terrible sincerity struck me deep. I shall never forget it.”

Interestingly the good reverend denied all this. Also cited in Wikipedia, he states, To set the record straight, that there has gotten going in AA, a kind of rumor, that I had a lot to do with the 12 steps. I didn’t have anymore to do with those 12 steps other than that book had, those twelve steps, I believe came to Bill by himself, I think he told me they came to him in about 40 minutes and I think its one of the great instances of direct inspiration that I know in human history, inspiration which doesn’t only bring material straight down outta heaven, but brings rather I think from God the ability to interpret human experience in such a way that you distill it down into transmissible principles, I compare it to Moses going up on a mountain and bringing down Ten tables of the Law, I don’t think that’s the first time Moses ever thought about righteousness, but I’m glad he went up there and got those ten and brought em down and gave em to us. And I’m glad Bill got quiet for those 40 minutes, until he finished off these 12 steps and I believe they have only been changed by about one word. Bill said at the end of this talk “Who invented AA?, It was God almighty that invented AA, but this is the story of how we learned to be Free.” And he closed by saying “God grant that AA and the program of recovery, and unity, and service be a story that continues into the future as long as God needs it.” Praise be to God for it, and for the life of that fellow and all those who where with him in the beginnings of this incredible movement.”

I like the denial.

And I like the counter facts. Again, Bill Wilson says, “It was from Sam Shoemaker that we absorbed most of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, steps that express the heart of AA’s way of life. Dr. Silkworth gave us the needed knowledge of our illness, but Sam Shoemaker had given us the concrete knowledge of what we could do about it, he passed on the spiritual keys by which we were liberated. 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 Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker…”

And so…

A tip of the hat to one of the good ones.

Canon Samuel Shoemaker, Episcopal priest, whose Feast we celebrate today…

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