The Most Important Job in AA
WHEN I WAS new in AA, I went to the meetings and sat in the chairs and drank the coffee and tried to make sense out of what I heard. After a while, I picked up the pamphlets and read them. Later, I bought a Big Book and began to read that. I stayed sober, and my family life and my business affairs improved, and I continued to sit in the chairs and drink the coffee. But, like a small, protected child, never once did I wonder why the chairs were always in place and why the coffee was always ready when I came into the meeting hall.
Then one night there was no coffee.
When the people came in and saw no big, shiny urn in its usual place, they stood dazed. In petulant tones, they asked each other, "Why haven't they made the coffee?" I looked around for the mysterious "they."
Finally, one of the regular members rushed in from the parking lot, ran to the kitchen, took the urn down from the shelf, and began filling it with water, "They" had arrived.
"They" turned out to be just one person--a quiet little man who had faithfully made the coffee each meeting night for more than a year. On this particular evening, his car had broken down on his way to the hall.
On that night, I may have crossed the invisible line that separates the indifferent from those who are aware that well-placed chairs and tables, and coffee and cookies and literature, don't just happen.
I did not immediately transform myself into an active, useful member of AA as the result of that one lesson. But I began to appreciate a little more the efforts of the group secretary, the chairman, the treasurer, and the members of the steering committee.
Fairly early in my sobriety, my group chose me at different times to be secretary, program chairman, and a member of the steering committee. Later, in 1967, my group elected me their general service representative (GSR). It was then that my education about AA really began, and with it a deepening love of the program and appreciation of its power.
As GSR, I was my group's link with AA as a whole, the means of conveying my group's views and needs to the General Service Conference. Through me, if I acted in a responsible manner, my group in turn learned how other groups were solving common problems, not only in my area, but all over the United States and Canada.
Among the service offices I have held are district committee member, delegate, and several functions in many service conferences in the Pacific Coast Region in which AAs from seven Western states participate. This does not make me an expert nor qualify me to speak for the Fellowship. But just as we learn about our recovery program from AAs who have experienced sobriety, so I learned about the problems of communication and service from my fellow GSRs, delegates, and other elected AA workers. I would like, through the Grapevine, to share with you some of my thoughts based on these experiences and observations.
The most important job in AA, in my opinion, is that of the GSR. This may seem strange, since there are thousands of GSRs and a rapidly decreasing number of other offices as one scans the structure chart from GSR on to district committee member, delegate, and trustee. There are, for instance, ninety-one Conference delegates (from areas of the United States and Canada) and fourteen alcoholic trustees. Why, then, don't I consider delegates or trustees more important?
The importance of the GSR to our Fellowship was beautifully summed up by a trustee from Canada at a General Service Conference a few years ago: "If we want better trustees, we need better delegates. If we want better delegates, we need better district committee members. If we want better district committee members, we need better GSRs."
Practically all our service people, including the alcoholic trustees on AA's General Service Board, come from that potentially ample pool of GSRs. Yet of our 17,819 reported groups in the United States and Canada, a large proportion do not elect GSRs. And how carelessly some groups choose their GSRs; once the groups have chosen, how little encouragement and guidance they offer.
As a new GSR, attending my first district meeting, I began to grasp, at gut level, the tremendous extent of AA. Intellectually, of course, I had known that AA was more than my home group and the few groups in the immediate vicinity. But in AA service sessions, I began to feel it emotionally, and it became real. I heard the current delegate and past delegates talk about the annual General Service Conference in New York, and they communicated to me their excitement and gratitude at being a part of this tremendous, worldwide Fellowship.
Not all the GSRs shared my excitement, however. Many were confused and bored. They did not know why they were there. Some did not even care, and dropped out--often without the formality of an honest resignation. Many groups think they have a GSR because they elected one "a while back."
I learned that some of the groups did not even ask their GSRs for reports on district or area meetings. The more eager and responsible GSRs were often brushed aside or given very little time for their reports. This kind of treatment is discouraging to the GSR. It shows respect neither for a fellow AA nor for the essential AA service structure upon which the recovery of millions of suffering alcoholics eventually depends.
During my own first few weeks as GSR, I, too, had trouble getting time for my announcements. Then I made some blackboards out of panels of Masonite, two feet by four feet. I hung them on the wall in front of the room, and wrote pertinent information on them. While members listened to the speaker, they couldn't help seeing the boards.
When the chairman called for announcements about the next meeting, I'd make some announcement about service whether it concerned a meeting or not. Eventually, group members would automatically look at me when the leader asked if there were any announcements, because they knew I'd have one.
In The AA Service Manual, Bill W. defines AA service as anything that helps us reach a fellow sufferer. Bill lists Twelfth Step calls, a cup of coffee, and on to AA's General Service Office and Board for national and international action, pamphlets, books, and this magazine, the Grapevine.
In St. Louis in 1955, Bill--the surviving co-founder--turned AA over to the membership. As Bill phrased it, AA had come of age.
I don't believe that we have ever fully accepted that responsibility in all these twenty-one years. The General Service Conference is the ultimate acceptance of our responsibility for the survival of AA. The quality of the delegates we send to that Conference is determined by the quality of the members we choose as GSRs.