By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Index of Chapter 4

Chapter 4:   THE BOOK 4.2 - Publication
4.1 - Its Beginnings and Writing Of 4.3 - The Break From the Oxford Group

Chapter 4.3

The Break From The Oxford Group

He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.

James Allen, As A Man Thinketh (Toronto: The Musson Book Company, Ltd.) p. 57

The dreamers are the saviours of the world. [Ibidem p. 58]

By April of 1939, the Cleveland contingent had grown to eleven and then fourteen "rummies" and also included some of their spouses. All traveled back and forth to the T. Henry and Clarace Williams' home at Akron every Wednesday night.

Unlike New York which had only one Roman Catholic member, the majority of Cleveland contingent was Roman Catholic. And it was said the Catholic Church did not want its members participating in open confession. Clarence remembered that these Catholic members had been warned against confessing their sins, "One to another" without a confession to a priest. Clarence was told by these alcoholics that they were about to be excommunicated from their Roman Catholic Church if they continued to attend Oxford Group meetings.

In her book, Sister Ignatia: Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous, Mary C. Darrah wrote the following as to how these men were discouraged from attending the Oxford Group meetings:

"They returned home and told their parish priest that they had finally found the answer to their drinking problems at a meeting in Akron. But when the priest learned of the Alcoholic Squadron's alignment with the Oxford Group, he forbade the men to return because of the group's suspected Protestant overtones." (p. 31)

Each Wednesday, on the way back from the Akron meetings the "boys" would stop off for ice cream or coffee. They would engage in a critique of that night's meeting and what had transpired there. They expressed to Clarence, with growing concern that they may not be able to continue with going to the meetings due to their Church's objections. And they also feared that without the fellowship afforded to them at the weekly meetings, they might resume their drinking. Probably sooner than later.

This problem caused on-going discussion between Clarence and Doc. Clarence was insisting something had to be done. Doc, however, did not wish to be disrespectful to the very Oxford Group people who had saved his life and stated that nothing at all could, or would be done.

At around this same time, Clarence had arranged for Albert R. "Abby" G. to be placed in Akron City Hospital for his alcoholism. Because Clarence had to go to work the next day and couldn't take the day off, he asked Bill Wilson if Bill could drive Abby down from Cleveland to meet Doc at the hospital. As Clarence remembered it, Bill and Dorothy (Clarence's wife) "packed Abby into a car and hauled him off to meet Doc in Akron."

Consistent with the newly established custom in those early days, when a "rummy" was in the hospital, the members of the group not only visited with the patient, they also visited with his spouse and family members. They took the family member to the Oxford Group meeting in Akron while the alcoholic was still in the hospital.

One particular night, during Abby's hospitalization, as Clarence remembered it, Clarence was visiting with Grace G., Abby's wife. Clarence told Grace he was about to lose all of the Catholic members because they could no longer attend the Oxford Group meetings. Clarence told her their parish priest forbade it.

Clarence said to Grace: "Now that we've got this book here, the Twelve Steps and the Four Absolutes, there was no need to go to the Oxford Group any longer." But the problem was, Clarence told Grace, that Doc refused to leave the Oxford Group and Clarence was in a dilemma about disobeying his sponsor.

Clarence added that many of the early members didn't have jobs or were just beginning to pay off old drinking-induced debts. They couldn't afford to rent any hall or room in Cleveland in which to hold their own and separate meetings. Grace looked at him with a shocked expression on her face. She told Clarence that the Cleveland Group could meet at Abby and Grace's house, free of charge, for as long as they wanted to.

Abby was a prominent Patent Attorney in Cleveland. He represented people who held patents; and he held the rights to numerous patents himself. The G.'s had a very large house; and, ever since their children moved out, the house had seemed empty to them. They would both enjoy having the people around and it would be good to hear the sounds of laughter within its walls once again, Grace told Clarence. She also said that many meetings in their home would be a good way to help insure that her alcoholic husband would remain sober.

Grace G. was beginning to set the stage for a new meeting in Cleveland even while Abby was still "fogged up" and in the hospital. Clarence, through what he felt was an act of Divine intervention, had just found a home for his "boys."

Abby's story ("HE THOUGHT HE COULD DRINK LIKE A GENTLEMAN"), appears in the Second and Third Edition of the Big Book, and Abby recalled, in that story, some of his memories concerning Clarence. He felt Clarence was "touched." He also wrote he had felt that way because Clarence was always chasing him around the place to "fix" him. Clarence often related the story of how Abby was to come into what was to be A.A.

Clarence's sister-in-law, Thalia, a local beautician, was the wife of the man who had thrown Clarence out on the docks in New York. Grace G. was one of Thalia's best clients. One day, Grace appeared to "fall apart" in the beauty shop. In the midst of the hysterics, Grace told Thalia about Abby's drinking and about how it was driving them further apart. Grace told Thalia that Abby's being constantly drunk was going to drive her crazy. Grace continued telling Thalia that Abby's drinking was also hurting his law practice. Grace said that at fifty years old, Abby was acting like a helpless child when he was drunk. At this point, Grace began to sob uncontrollably. She couldn't go on with her story.

Thalia then took Grace into the back room and related to her the story of what had happened to Clarence and told her Clarence could "fix" her husband. Grace stopped crying. She thought that this could possibly be the answer to all of her prayers. She invited Thalia over to her home. She asked if Thalia could also bring Clarence with her so that he could speak with her husband about this "cure."

Abby disliked Clarence right from the start. As soon as Clarence and Thalia walked through the door of the G. home, Abby developed a definite attitude. Abby was a college graduate and a well known and formerly respected lawyer. Clarence was a high school dropout and a car salesperson. Clarence said of Abby, "He looked down his nose at me due to my lack of education."

Abby felt that, even though he was still drinking and was about to lose everything, including his marriage and his business, he was still smarter and had "more on the ball" than Clarence.

After being insulted and snubbed, much to the embarrassment of Grace, Thalia and Clarence left. They departed after about spending an hour at Abby's home trying to speak with Abby. Clarence and Thalia made their apologies and told Grace that if she ever needed them for anything she should call. Grace should call they said, even if Abby never decided to get sober. They told Grace they would pray continuously for the both of them. They further explained that, with prayer, Abby didn't stand a chance of staying with his old drinking ways.

When Clarence left the house he was not discouraged about Abby's eventual recovery or about the new meeting place. He had his family, the other members of the Cleveland contingent, and Grace on his side. He knew none of them would stop praying until Abby got better.

Clarence began to chase Abby all over town. He would often show up at the saloons where Abby frequented and "haul" him home. "We kept selling this guy. We went after him constantly," Clarence said. After pursuing this course of action for a period, Clarence almost felt like giving up. But he didn't.

During this period of time Bill Wilson was visiting Cleveland to promote the Big Book. Clarence convinced Bill to go talk with Abby. Clarence said Bill really "didn't want to go, but he did anyway." Clarence knew, from experience, that Bill could throw around a lot of four or five syllable words. He had "a different line of B.S. than I did," said Clarence.

While Bill and Clarence were at Abby's home, and during one particular conversation, Abby challenged Bill "to tell me something about A.A." Clarence recalled that Abby had actually challenged Bill to talk about "this cure, this group of anonymous rummies."

In his story Abby said, "I do recall one other thing: I wanted to know what this was that worked so many wonders, and hanging over the mantel was a picture of Gethsemane; and Bill pointed to it, and said, `There it is.' "

Abby then agreed to go to the hospital the next morning. Clarence had to go to work the next day; so Bill and Dorothy agreed to take him there. They then called Doc on the phone to make arrangements regarding the admission.

The next evening, while at Akron City Hospital, and after visiting with Abby, Clarence held yet another conversation with Doc about the Roman Catholic boys in the Cleveland contingent. Clarence related:

I says, "Doc you know these fellows can't come." I says, "They can't belong to an Oxford Group." I says, "We don't need all this folderol of the Oxford Group. We can eliminate a lot of this stuff. We have a book now with these Twelve Steps, and we have the Four Absolutes, and anyone can live with that." He says, "Well you can't do that,' he says, `you can't break this thing up."

I says, "We're not breaking anything up. All I'm interested in is something with more universality so that anybody can belong whether they have a religion or believe in anything or not. They can come." He says, "Well you can't do that." I says, "We're gonna do something."

And he says, "Like what?"

And I says, "Well we'll see like what!"

At this point in time Clarence was almost fifteen months sober and was telling Doc, his sponsor what to do.

On the way back to Cleveland that night, Clarence and the Cleveland contingent stopped off for another of their critiques. Clarence informed them that Grace G. had offered them the use of her home as a meeting place. He then reviewed why they had to make a break with the Oxford Group so the Roman Catholic members could continue to attend and still stay on good terms with their church.

Clarence went on to say that since they had the book, the Twelve Steps, and even a name - the name from the book - they could do this. There was further discussion, some of it heated.

Even though a few of those present disagreed, the majority was for Clarence's idea. Lloyd T., Charlie J. and Bill J. were the most outspoken against Clarence's idea; and they refused to budge from their position. Even when the break did finally come, these three still considered themselves Oxford Group members. Yet all, except for Bill J., eventually left the Oxford Group and came into A.A.

On Wednesday, May 10, 1939, the Clevelander's went to the Oxford Group meeting at T. Henry and Clarace Williams' home. At the end of the meeting, Clarence announced that this would be "the last time the Cleveland contingent would be down to the Oxford Group as a whole."

He announced the Cleveland Group was going to meet the following night, May 11th. He said, "We're gonna start our own group in Cleveland." He told the Akron fellowship, "This is not gonna be an Oxford Group. It's gonna be known as Alcoholics Anonymous. We're taking the name from the book; and only alcoholics and their families are welcome. Nobody else." He then told all present where the new group - the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting - was going to meet. Clarence announced "We're gonna meet at 2345 Stillman Road, Cleveland Heights at Al and Grace G.'s home."

Doc stood up and said, "You can't do this."

Clarence replied, "There's nothing to talk about."

The meeting almost turned into a riot as the Cleveland Group got up as a whole and walked out. But not as much of a riot as the one which occurred the next day in Cleveland.

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