By Doris A. and John S.
It was the summer of 2015 when Roger C. told John S. that he planned to retire from posting the Sunday stories at AA Agnostica, something which he had been doing consistently since June of 2011. John was surprised if not shocked to hear this news, but what he heard next was jaw-dropping. Roger went on to ask if John would be willing to create a website to carry on this work. Understanding the magnitude of the responsibility, John set aside his fears and doubts, and he took up the challenge. He told Roger that he would do it.
During their subsequent discussions, John and Roger agreed that the new website, like AA Agnostica, should provide a home to the agnostic, atheist, and freethinker in AA, and it should clearly identify itself as a site created by AA members, for AA members.
Keeping this in mind, John went to work coming up with a name for the new website, and while mulling over some options, he thought about the groups in Toronto from which AA Agnostica was born. He knew that the first agnostic AA group in Canada was named Beyond Belief, and that many secular AA groups have since adopted that name.
“AA Beyond Belief,” he thought. It seemed like a good companion to AA Agnostica and a name befitting a site dedicated to agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in AA. He ran the idea by Roger, who seemed to like it, so that was it, the new site would be called “AA Beyond Belief.”
Early Days and Growth
John worked with Roger over a period of weeks designing the site. After creating various pages and coming up with a format for presenting the articles, AA Beyond Belief was ready to launch, and on Wednesday, September 30, 2015, AA Agnostica emailed its subscribers to announce the new website in a post titled “The Spirt of Rotation.”
In that announcement, readers of AA Agnostica were encouraged to view our first post, “Our Vision for “AA Beyond Belief,” and to subscribe to our mailing list. This gave AA Beyond Belief a starting subscriber list numbering 223 when we posted our first article on Sunday, October 4, 2015— “Platitudes in AA,” by Roger C. Today, we have over 965 subscribers to our mailing list.
Among the early contributors to AA Beyond Belief was Bob K., author of Key Players in AA History. Bob’s help was critical in those early days and weeks. Every Wednesday we posted a chapter from Key Players in AA History, which generated interest in the site. Bob continues to write for us, and with 15 posts he holds the record as our most prolific author.
The site has certainly had its ups and downs, and we struggled a bit as we got out of the gate, but we have been doing well for some time now with readership steadily increasing. During our first full month in October 2015, we had a total of 3,156 visitors and over 10,000 pageviews. In January 2017, we had 12,715 visitors and 22,276 pageviews. Since coming online in September of 2015, we have received close to 200,000 pageviews.
Doris A. once remarked that she sees AA Beyond Belief as “the thinking person’s Grapevine.” This is an apt description. Our stories reflect the experience of agnostic, atheist, and freethinking AA members—an incredibly diverse group. There is no standard, one-size-fits-all formula to our stories.
As a result of this diversity, our goal is to post articles that reflect varying viewpoints and writing styles. Many of us reject the notion of spirituality, while others find it useful. Some of us see value in the 12 Steps and the Big Book, others not so much. Our articles and the posted comments that follow reflect our commonalities as well as our differences. Articles posted on Sunday include personal stories, secular AA news, AA history, and topical essays and book reviews.
After a contributor has submitted their work either through the site or by email, there is a lot of activity that takes place behind the scenes to ready the article for publication. We are lucky to have Mary K. and Galen T. who bring their skills as copy-editors to the site. The degree of editing required before release varies from story to story. Some just need a review of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and others benefit from the editor working with the author to refine the style and content of the piece.
There is also the task of finding images to help illustrate the article. A source of pride has been the original illustrations and photos created by three regular contributors: Cope C., Kathryn F., and Jan A.
We are happy to be posting an increasing number of articles written by women, and we hope to continue this trend. Another goal is to have more articles authored by younger members of AA; currently, a good chunk of our contributors are over 50.
Our comment section continues to be a vibrant part of the posting. It’s a space where readers often share their own very personal experiences or share their agreements and disagreements with the article. Occasionally there are lively discussions between commenters, and between commenters and the author. It’s like the meeting after the meeting.
The latest improvement to our articles is that each one is now in audio form, thanks to the dedicated work of Len R. Along with our podcasts, these recordings are also posted on our YouTube Channel.
By the time this article is published, we will have produced 50 episodes of “AA Beyond Belief the Podcast.” Our podcast emphasizes the sharing of personal stories from agnostics, atheists, and freethinkers in AA, and has been growing in popularity. We hope that as we gain experience with this medium, the production quality will continue to improve. As of the date of this writing, our podcasts have been downloaded over 69,000 times by people from all over the globe.
In addition to personal stories, the podcast covers such topics as the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, AA service work, alternatives to AA, and news and announcements. Going forward, we hope to include interviews with authors in the recovery community, as well as professionals in the field of alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
If you have an idea for a podcast episode or if you would like to participate as a guest, or host a podcast on our site, please send an email to email@example.com, and we will be in touch with you.
All podcasts are also posted on Sound Cloud and YouTube, and delivered through all the major distribution channels including iTunes. It’s gratifying to hear from our listeners, particularly those who have never before heard an AA story from the perspective of an agnostic, atheist, or freethinker.
Should you be so inclined, and if you enjoy the podcast, please leave us a review on iTunes as a way to get the word out.
An important part of our mission at AA Beyond Belief is to serve as a platform for you to showcase your talent and to share your recovery through artistic expression. Please submit short stories, essays, poetry, photography, video, music, or whatever art form you prefer as a means of reaching others.
To help fulfill this mission, we will soon be introducing a new feature to the site that we call “Beyond Words.” It will be a section devoted to original artwork and photography, with or without commentary from the artist. We hope this will become a favorite feature, and that it will provide more people with an opportunity to participate.
Finances and Organizational Structure
AA Beyond Belief belongs to you, and to assure that its survival will never be dependent upon a single individual or a small group of people, AA Beyond Belief became a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. As a nonprofit, we have a rotating Board of Directors responsible for assuring that the bills are paid, and the site is up and running.
To be completely open and transparent, we publish our bank statements and PayPal statements online for your review. You can see for yourself, how your financial contributions are used. At one time, we were paying close to $300 per month for expenses, but recently we reduced spending by cutting down on the number of podcast transcripts. We have been purchasing podcast transcripts from a company called Scribie at the cost of over $40 per episode. By reducing this expense, our monthly expenditure will be within a more reasonable $100 to $150 per month.
AA Beyond Belief is organized by two distinct and separate Boards. There is a Board of Directors who serve on the nonprofit, and there is the Editorial Board.
The Board of Directors
The Board of Directors exists solely for the purpose of assuring that the site is operating and the bills are paid. They manage the finances and report on the financial status of the organization. The Board of Directors does not have any input into, nor can they interfere with, editorial decisions or the creative process. Those who serve on the Board, serve two-year terms, and we will elect a new Board of Directors sometime in 2018, with voting to be conducted online. Presently, the Board of Directors consists of the founding members: Doris A., President; Thomas B., Secretary; John S., Treasurer.
We are currently in the process of drafting a set of bylaws to ensure that the site will be passed on from generation to generation and that the creative process remains free and unhindered by any single person or any agenda.
The Editorial Board
Managing the website requires more time than any one person is capable of spending, so we created an Editorial Board to get the work done. Today, the Board consists of the following individuals: Doris A., Chief Editor; Bob K., Editor; Galen T., Editor; John L., Editor; Mary K., Editor; Thomas B., Editor; Cope C., Art and Photography; Jan A., Art and Photography; Kathryn F., Art and Photography; Len R., Audio Stories; Benn B., Podcasting; John S., Podcasting and Website Maintenance; and Roger C., Advisor.
The Editorial Board is made up of a group of volunteers with the talent and skills necessary to showcase your stories and your art. The Chief Editor, chosen by the Editorial Board, is responsible for managing the production of articles and makes all final editorial decisions.
Everyone who works at AA Beyond Belief is an unpaid volunteer.
Our immediate plans include improving the speed and security of the site. In the coming months, we will be moving from a shared server to a virtual private server. We may also begin using the .org domain as our primary address once we transfer to the new server. Currently, the site can be accessed at the .org, .net and .com domains. This will always be the case, the only difference is that the primary domain will be .org, which is more fitting for a nonprofit organization.
We hope that AA Beyond Belief will serve our community far into the future and that we will continue to grow and adapt to new technology and mediums of communication. This is all about sharing our experience that recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous is open to anyone regardless of belief or lack of belief.
About the Authors:
John S. lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Susan and two cats, Phoebe and Luna. His home group is We Agnostics.
Doris A. currently lives in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. She is an enthusiastic home group member of Many Paths, which recently celebrated its second anniversary.
The audio version of this article was recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his community. If you would like to join him, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org