General Service

 By John S. 

The District

My experience with General Service began when I attended my first District Committee Meeting as the General Service Representative for my group. One of the interesting aspects of helping found an AA group, is that you get to wear a lot of different hats during the group’s early life, so in addition to representing our group at Central Office, I was also acting as the GSR, and as such, I would need to attend District Committee Meetings.

StructureOfTheConference I believe it was in January of 2015 when I attended my first District Meeting as a GSR, and I must confess that I walked into the room under the assumption that people would object to a special purpose group for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers. I couldn’t have been more wrong! They greeted me warmly with open arms, and I’ve experienced nothing but love and acceptance ever since.

The AA service structure is described as “the upside down triangle of AA“. The graphic on the left illustrates how it all works. Everything in AA begins at the group level. Every group is autonomous and is governed by it’s own group conscience, and if there’s an issue outside the group that they would like to address, their General Service Representative or GSR will bring their concern to the District Committee.

AA groups are organized within geographical areas called Districts. My group is located within District 6, which consists of groups located in the central core of Kansas City, Missouri. The district meetings are chaired by the District Committee Member or DCM, and groups work together at the district level to further the primary purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous in their community.

The first project I became involved with was helping the District host our Area’s “Institutions Weekend”, which was an event that helps AA in our area cooperate with the professional community such as treatment centers, judges and probation officers. I didn’t do too much, but I got there early to help set up, and my group supplied paper plates and plastic forks. I participated in the event and helped to clean up  when it ended.

Doing this was a good experience for me personally, as I got to know and appreciate the people who serve the District, and they also got to know me. Additionally, it was good for my group because we rolled up our sleeves to do the work of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was appreciated by the other groups in the District. The truth of the matter though, is that I received far more than I gave which is always the case when I get involved with service work in AA. Whether I am going on a 12th step call, pouring coffee at a meeting or attending a District Committee meeting, I always come away feeling better about myself and Alcoholics Anonymous.

As GSR, in addition to attending District meetings, I also represent my group at the Area Assembly four times per year. The Area Assembly consists of all the groups and all the districts within a geographical area, often a state or province. In the case of Missouri, there are two Areas, and my group and District are in Area 39, the Western Area of Missouri.

I was excited about the first Area Assembly because I knew that I would be meeting people from all over Western Missouri, and I wanted to make them aware of secular AA groups. I may have been a little concerned that other groups in the state may not be as accepting of us as are the groups from my District, but again this was a false assumption. While, there may have been a few people who were somewhat wary of me and my group, the overwhelming majority were very friendly and accepting. I have found that in AA, at least where I come from, it’s all about being inclusive and never exclusive.

I didn’t quite understand what was going on at that first Area Assembly, but I made some friends and overall I enjoyed myself. I have since been to three Area Assemblies and I think I’m beginning to get a better idea of what’s going on.

The Delegate

The Area Assembly’s main responsibility is to elect a Delegate to represent them at the General Service Conference in New York, which is where the group conscience of all the groups in North America is heard. The Area Delegates vote on agenda items that are established by the General Service Board. These agenda items can originate from individual AA members, groups or the entire Assembly.

It was during my third Area Assembly when I caught the bug for General Service. Prior to this Assembly, I brought a concern from my group to the attention of my DCM at the District Committee Meeting. I mentioned that we are concerned as agnostics, atheists and freethinkers that the AA Grapevine has not produced a book of stories written by agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA. The Grapevine has published books for other special purpose groups in AA, but whenever a request is made for a book for agnostics and atheists, it is declined without explanation. I told the District that I wanted to propose to our Delegate that the General Service Conference recommend that the AA Grapevine publish a book of stories by agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA. I know of two Area Assemblies that have voted in favor of this, and I was hoping that our’s would join them.

The members of my District suggested that I approach the Grapevine Committee at the next Area Assembly. I did this and the committee voted unanimously to ask our Delegate to recommend at the General Service Conference that the Grapevine publish such a book. I spoke with our Delegate, who just happens to be the Chair of the Grapevine Committee at the General Service Conference, and he will be attending the General Service Board in January 2016. He said that he will work to get my group’s request for the Grapevine book listed as an agenda item at the next General Service Conference.

I was grateful and at that moment I felt that the upside down triangle does indeed work. I have no idea how our Delegate feels about agnostics and atheists in AA. If he knew how I felt about the Big Book, I have a feeling it would give him great pause, but regardless he is a Trusted Servant and he fulfills that role admirably. I had the sense that he was genuinely interested in my group’s concern, and that he would make sure we were well represented at the General Service Conference.

Get Involved

I think it’s critically important for agnostic AA groups to be actively involved in General Service. Every group must have a GSR, and that GSR must attend Area Assembly and vote for a Delegate to the General Service Conference. Furthermore the GSRs need to communicate to their Districts, Areas and even directly to their Delegate any concerns voiced by their groups.

When we roll up our sleeves and do the work of AA, our groups will become much more accepted by the rest of the fellowship, and the greater AA community will become more informed about the problems and challenges faced by nonbelievers in the rooms of AA.

AA will change as all things must, and it is our obligation in the words of Joe C. to “act as proper stewards”, and help guide AA through this change. I am convinced that this is best done through General Service, and I challenge all Agnostic AA groups to get involved, and to participate in General Service and help guide AA through what remains of the 21st Century.


About the Author: John S.

John S. lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Susan, two cats, Phoebe and Luna, and a very sweet Wheaten Terrier, Gabby. John has been sober since July 20, 1988 and his home group is the We Agnostics Group which has been meeting since August 2014.

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joe C

The Grapevine will be featuring atheists & agnostics in a 2016 issue. May is the deadline sonic anyone here would like to be included “you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. Let’s make sue they have a wealth of stories to choose from. Like any organization, AA has our share of armchair quarterbacks but the work is left to the few. The neat thing about AA is if you want change, bring it to your group. Everyone gets their say but alas, not everyone gets their way. That leads to a few new meetings starting, if… Read more »

life-j
life-j

John, thanks – for your optimism. Indeed our GSR group was made up by mostly welcoming, or accepting folks, I did go to a number of meetings around that time, both as a representative for our general local fellowship, and for our freethinkers group. Our delegate was also positive. I can see an issue with the issue of oversight: On the one hand I would like some oversight of our Intergroup – someone telling them they don’t have the authority to not list us in the schedule. On the other hand, if such a check was in place,  I can… Read more »

Pat N.
Pat N.

Great reminder. I haven’t done general service in years, and intend to get back into it next year and give our present GSR a break.

I used to really like jail work as well, although now I would work to make the meetings merely informative, rather than like a standard meeting. That would reduce pressure for How It Works to be read.

Don G
Don G

FYI, Area 47 in New York State voted similarly two months ago (Oct. ’15). It was my pleasure to vote for it, and even more so, as I, an atheist DCM, was voting on a measure introduced by a believer. Coincidentally,  our Delegate is also on the Grapevine Committee.