Samuel Shoemaker"Co-founder" of A.A.
Bill Wilson heaped accolades on the Reverend Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., who was rector of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church in New York during A.A.'s formative years.
Bill was in close touch with Sam from the beginning. Bill had heard from his friend Ebby Thacher that Ebby, the seemingly hopeless alcoholic, had gone to Calvary Mission, made a decision for Jesus Christ there, and had, for a time, been healed of his alcoholism. Bill took no chances. He went to Shoemaker’s church to hear Ebby’s testimony. Then Bill decided that if Ebby had received help at Calvary Mission, then perhaps he (Bill) could also receive help there. So Bill went to Calvary Mission drunk. He made his decision for Jesus Christ at Shoemaker’s Calvary Mission. Mrs. Sam Shoemaker was there and witnessed Bill’s decision. Bill wrote in his autobiography that he had been born again. Bill went on, drunk, to Towns Hospital where he cried out to God for help, had his blazing white light experience and sensed the presence of the “God of the Scriptures” as he phrased it. And Bill was cured of his alcoholism for good. He never drank again. Bill and his wife Lois immediately began going to Oxford Group meetings, often led by Shoemaker. Meanwhile, Bill was seeking out drunks at every turn, with a Bible under his arm, urging them to give their lives to God.
While at Bill’s home in Stepping Stones, I found a treasured letter. It was dated January, 1935—shortly after Bill got sober in December of 1934. The letter was from Sam Shoemaker to Bill. He received that letter from Sam when he [Bill] was less than 60 days sobe. In it, Shoemaker commended Bill for his work with a drunken chemistry professor. Bill attended many Oxford Group meetings at Shoemaker's Calvary House. He exchanged correspondence with Sam. Later, Bill became a member of the Oxford Group businessmen’s team led by Shoemaker. And, at meetings, he was looking for drunks to help.
Later, after Bill and Dr. Bob had counted noses and seen the Akron A.A. program worked, Bill got the authority to write a book describing the program. Bill virtually took all of his Twelve Steps from Oxford Group principles he had learned from Shoemaker. And then, Bill closeted himself in Sam's book-lined office in Calvary House to discuss the spiritual principles. And many of the original Twelve Steps contained Oxford Group language closely paralleling Shoemaker’s language. Bill had worked closely with many in Shoemaker's circle-people such as Rowland Hazard, F. Shepard Cornell, Hanford Twitchell, Garrett Stearly, Irving and Julia Harris, Hanford Twitchell, and others. All are mentioned in company with Bill's name in Shoemaker's personal journals for the 1930's. Bill worked with drunks in Shoemaker's church, in Oxford Group meetings, and in Shoemaker's Calvary Rescue Mission.
Bill actually asked Sam to write the Twelve Steps. Sam declined, but Bill did send Sam a copy of the multi-lith manuscript of the Big Book before the Big Book was published in 1939.
Later, Bill asked Sam to write articles for the Grapevine. And he asked Sam to speak at the A.A. International Conventions in St. Louis and in Long Beach. The two became close personal friends. In many places, Bill attributed the ideas for the Twelve Steps to Sam; and he called Sam a "co-founder" of A.A.
Sam was inclined to quote Professor William James of Harvard. Dr. Bob and Bill studied James's Varieties of Religious Experience and Bill specifically mentioned it in the Big Book. James commented in his book that there are a variety of ways by which men have discovered God. And Bill paraphrased that in his Big Book writing.
Though James was long dead, Bill also called William James a "co-founder" of A.A. In an article for the Grapevine, he attributed his learning of the materials in Steps Two through Eleven to the teachings of Rev. Shoemaker.
There are many of Sam’s writings which we found in the Episcopal Church Archives in Austin, Texas. Here are some excerpts from Shoemaker writings you probably have never seen:
- In a pamphlet which published the substance of a paper delivered before The Club in New York, December 10, 1928, titled "A First-Century Christian Fellowship," Shoemaker wrote about the Oxford Group as follows: "While outsiders are listening to rumors and criticisms, some of us have seen the steady results of the movement called "A First Century Christian Fellowship" in rekindled hopes, strengthened wills and altogether remade personalities. . . ." Let me enumerate some of these rediscoveries. First, the importance of the individual in religious work. . . . This movement believes the individual intensely matters; that more is likely to happen between two people guidedly talking together than as a result of the average sermon, provided one of those people has had a genuine experience. SECOND, the belief that sin is the key to human problems. . . . Therefore you will find this fellowship tackling personal sin in all of its forms with that confidence which belongs to all those who have found Christ the Cure. THIRD, the adequacy of Jesus Christ to solve our personal needs. . . . Conversion seems very remote to most people. Surrender is a handle by which to take hold of it. By talking out fully a person's sins with them, negative or positive, by sharing your own when it will help, you can pack the idea of surrender full of meaning. . . . Surrender is our part in conversion; and God will do His part in His time if we fulfill ours. . . . Fourth, guidance as the continuing relationship with our Lord. . . . Divine guidance is perhaps the most important rediscovery of the movement. FIFTH, the possibility and necessity for every Christian to be a personal witness for Christ. . . . Sixth, the rediscovery of Christian fellowship upon a deep level. . . ."
- In his well-known article in the October, 1954 issue of the Christian Herald and reprinted in Reader's Digest, titled "Act As If"-The First Step Toward Faith, Shoemaker wrote as follows: "Want to try an experiment?" I asked. He answered, "I don't even believe in God, you know." . . . I suggested that we kneel down out of reverence toward the Unknown, and then that he say exactly what he felt- not pretending anything he didn't believe but exposing himself to whatever creative force runs through existence. . . . He got down on his knees . . . and said "O God, if there be a God, send me help now, because I need it. . . .” I suggested he read a chapter in the Bible that night before he went to bed-perhaps the third chapter of St. John; and another when he woke up next day-maybe the 12th chapter of St. Luke. I suggested that he come to church Sunday and see whether he could catch anything from the faith of other people. Also that he keep praying. "Keep saying whatever is honest about yourself and your situation to whatever is the Truth behind all creation. I think you'll feel you are being answered." He tried it - intermittently at first, fighting almost every step of the way. But he kept on with the experiment-his need prodded him. . . . And at last he had to admit that something was helping him, for he began sleeping without barbiturates, and his business slowly began to come back. The skeptic was baptized and confirmed, and later became a vestryman of my church. How did this man "get religion?" By acting as if he had faith-until, indeed, there was an opening for God to come through."
The reader can find much more about the close relationship with, and impact of his friendship from Shoemaker, in Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism, 2d ed., www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml.
God Bless, www.dickb.com