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The History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Oxford Group's Influence

Oxford Group's Principles – Their Beginning

Frank ‘s Story (The founder)
In 1908, a YMCA secretary named Frank Buchman had a spiritual transformation that changed his life. Upon graduating in June, he started a street-side church in Philadelphia (Church of the Good Shepherd) with a donation of seventeen dollars. The church flourished so he started a hospice for young men, which spread to other cities. This was followed with the founding of a settlement house project. Frank had a violent argument with his trustee committee because they cut the budget and the food allotment. He resigned and went to Europe, ending up at a large religious convention in Keswick, England.

He had a spiritual transformation when he heard a speaker talk simply about the cross of Christ. He felt the chasm separating him from Christ, and a feeling of a will to surrender. He went back to his house and wrote these words to each of his six trustees in Philadelphia: "My dear friend. I have nursed ill feelings against you. I am sorry. Will you forgive me? Sincerely, Frank." Feeling an urge to share this experience, he went to nearby Oxford University and formed an evangelical group there among the student leaders and athletes.

The movement spread, and groups formed over the next twenty years in England, Scotland, Holland, India, South Africa, China, Egypt, Switzerland, and North and South America. They practiced absolute surrender, guidance by the Holy Spirit, sharing in fellowship, life changing faith, and prayer. They aimed for absolute standards of Love, Purity, Honesty, and Unselfishness, which later became an integral part of A.A. In addition to the Four Absolutes, they practiced the principles of the “Five C’s”: confidence, confession, conviction, conversion and continuance. Above all the group was a fellowship." They carried the message aggressively to others.” They met in churches, universities, and homes.

In 1918 during his travels, Frank Buchman met a young YMCA worker, Sam Shoemaker, in China and converted him to the Oxford Group principles. Years later, Sam became the minister of the Calvary Church in New York, which later became the titular headquarters for the Oxford Group in the United States. (The name was changed in 1928 from "A First Century Christian Fellowship" to the "Oxford Group.") The groups' popularity peaked during this period with up to 10,000 people at one meeting in the Berkshire Mountains.

Bill W. and the Oxford Group
In 1932 and 1933, a man named Rowland H., son of wealthy Rhode Island mill owners and a State Senator, had become a hopeless alcoholic, and in his quest for help had sought out the world famous psychiatrist, Carl Jung. Jung told him there was no hope for him in Switzerland, and to go home and seek spiritual conversion through religion. Rowland found the Oxford Group in the United States and became sober as the result of a spiritual experience.

In 1934, Ebby T., childhood friend of Bill W.'s, was about to be locked up as a chronic drunk in Bennington, Vermont. Three men visited him from an Oxford Group, one of whom was Rowland H. He taught Ebby the precepts he had learned from the Oxford Group. In December Ebby had his chance to describe these precepts to Bill W. The following words are transcribed from a tape of one of Bill's AA talks:

  • We admitted we were licked.
  • We got honest with ourselves.
  • We talked it over with another person.
  • We made amends to those we had harmed.
  • We tried to carry this message to others with no thought of reward.
  • We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.

In November of 1934, Ebby surrendered his life to God at the Calvary Episcopal Church mission run by Sam Shoemaker. (Sam had met Frank Buchman in China in 1918, and by 1934 was regarded as a major leader of the Oxford Group movement in the United States and was hosting their headquarters.) Ebby was living at his mission. Bill W. showed up there drunk looking for Ebby, couldn't find him, and was admitted into Towns Hospital.

"Bill W. told us at the mission that he had heard that Ebby, on the previous Sunday at the Calvary Church, had witnessed that with the help of God he had been sober a number of months." Bill said that if Ebby could get help here, then he (Bill) needed help, and he could get it at the mission, also. Bill looked prosperous compared to our usual mission customers, (actually, he was wearing a Brooks Brother's suit purchased at a rummage sale for $5.00!). We agreed that he should go to Towns Hospital where Ebby and others of the group could talk to him.

After his spiritual experience at Towns, Bill immediately made a decision to become active in Oxford Group work, and to try to bring other alcoholics from Towns to the group. He visited the mission Oxford Group meetings and the hospital daily for four or five months, up to the time of the Akron trip. No one stayed sober.

Rowland H., who rescued Ebby in August 1934, had a thorough indoctrination in Oxford Group teachings and he passed many of these along to Ebby and Bill W. Soon after his release from Towns Hospital at the end of 1934, Bill and the rest of the of the Oxford Group began gathering at Stewart's Cafeteria in New York following their regular meeting. He was obsessed with the idea of carrying the message and he had wide range of acquaintances in the Oxford Group circles. His next stop was at the Mayflower Hotel in Akron, Ohio when he met Dr. Bob S. (See Bill W. – A Biography)


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