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Are They With Us to Stay?
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., April 1947
club idea has become part of A.A. life. Scores of these
hospitable havens can report years of useful service; new
ones are being started monthly. Were a vote taken tomorrow
on the desirability of clubs a sizable majority of A.A.'s
would record a resounding "yes." There would be
thousands who would testify that they might have had a harder
time staying sober in their first months of A.A. without
clubs and that in any case, they would always wish for the
easy contacts and warm friendships which clubs afford.
the majority view, we might suppose that a blanket endorsement
for clubs; we might think we couldn't get along without
them. We might conceive them as a central A.A. institution-a
sort of "Thirteenth Step" of our recovery program
without which the other Twelve Steps wouldn't work. At times
club enthusiasts will act as though they really believed
we could handle our alcoholic problems by club life alone.
They are apt to depend upon clubs rather than upon the A.A.
we have A.A.'s, rather a strong minority, too, who want
no part of clubs. Not only, they assert, does the social
life of a club often divert the attentions of members from
the program, they claim that clubs are an actual drag on
A.A., progress. They point to the danger of clubs degenerating
into mere hangouts, even joints ; they stress the bickerings
that do arise over questions of money, management, and personal
authority; they are afraid of "incidents" that
might give us unfavorable publicity. In short, they "view
with alarm." Thumbs down on clubs, they say.
a middle ground, for several years now, we have been feeling
our way. Despite alarms it is quite settled that A.A.'s
who need and want clubs ought to have them. So the real
concern is not whether we shall have clubs. It is how we
shall enhance them as assets, how we may diminish their
known liabilities; how we shall be sure, in the long future,
that their liabilities do not exceed their assets.
published in The A.A. Grapevine.
our four largest A.A. centers, two are clubminded and two
are not. I happen to live in one which is. The very first
A.A. club was started in New York. Though our experience
here may not have been the best, it is the one I know. So,
by way of portraying the principles and problems we need
to discuss, I shall use it, as an average illustration of
club evolution, rather than as a model setup.
A.A. was very young we met in homes. People came miles,
not only for the A.A. meeting itself, but to sit hours afterward
at coffee, cake, and eager, intimate talk Alcoholics and
their families had been lonely too long.
homes became too small. We couldn't bear to break up into
many little meetings, so we looked for a larger place. We
lodged first in the workshop of a tailoring establishment,
then in a rented room at Steinway Hall. This kept us together
during the meeting hour. Afterward we held forth at a cafeteria,
but something was missing. It was the home atmosphere: a
restaurant didn't have enough of it. Let's have a club,
we had a club. We took over an interesting place, the former
Artists and Illustrators Club on West 24th Street. What
excitement! A couple of older members signed the lease.
We painted and we scrubbed. We had a home. Wonderful memories
of days and nights at that first club will always linger.
it must be admitted, not all those memories are ecstatic.
Growth brought headaches: growing pains, we call them now.
How serious they seemed then! "Dictators" ran
amuck; drunks fell on the floor or disturbed the meetings;
"steering committees" tried to nominate their
friends to succeed them and found to their dismay that even
sober drunks couldn't be "steered." Sometimes
we could scarcely get up the rent; card players were impervious
to any suggestion that they talk to new people (nowadays,
most clubs have abandoned card playing altogether); lady
secretaries got in each other's hair. A corporation was
formed to take over the clubroom lease so we then had "officials."
Should these "directors" run the club or would
it be the A.A. rotating committee?
were our problems. We found the use of money, the need for
a certain amount of club organization, and the crowded intimacy
of the place created situations we hadn't anticipated. Club
life still had great joys. But it had liabilities too, that
was for sure. Was it worth all the risk and trouble? The
answer was "yes," for the 24th Street Club kept
right on going, and is today occupied by the A.A. seamen.
We have, besides, three more clubs in this area; a fourth
first club was known, of course, as an "A.A. clubhouse."
The corporation holding its lease was titled "Alcoholics
Anonymous of New York, Inc." Only later did we realize
we had incorporated the whole of New York State, a mistake
recently rectified. Of course our incorporation should have
covered "24th Street" only. Throughout the country
most clubs have started like ours did. At first we regarded
them as central A.A. institutions. But later experience
invariably brings a shift in their status. A shift much
to be desired, we now think.
example, the early Manhattan A.A. club had members from
every section of the metropolitan area, including New Jersey.
After a while dozens of groups sprang up in our suburban
districts. They got themselves more convenient meeting places.
Our Jersey friends secured a club of their own. So these
outlying groups originally spawned from the Manhattan clubhouse
began to acquire hundreds of members who were not tied to
Manhattan either by convenience, inclination, or old-time
sentiment. They had their own local A.A. friends, their
own convenient gathering places. They weren't interested
irked New Yorkers not a little. Since we had nurtured them,
why shouldn't they be interested? We were puzzled why they
refused to consider the Manhattan club the A.A. center for
the metropolitan area. Wasn't the club running a central
meeting with speakers from other groups? Didn't we maintain
a paid secretary who sat in the New York clubhouse taking
telephone calls for assistance and making hospital arrangements
for all groups in the area? Of course, we thought, our outlying
groups ought financially to support the Manhattan club;
dutiful children should look after their "parents."
But our parental pleas were of no use. Though many outlying
A.A. members personally contributed to the 24th Street Club,
nary a cent did their respective groups ever send in.
we took another tack. If the outlying groups would not support
the club, they at least might want to pay the salary of
its secretary. She
situation soon changed; New York has not been "club-minded"
for more than 40 years.
building was later torn down.
really doing an "area" job. Surely this was a
reasonable request. But it never got anywhere. They just
couldn't mentally separate the "area secretary from
the Manhattan club. So. for a long time, our area needs,
our common A.A. problem, and our club management were tied
into a trying financial and psychological snarl.
tangle slowly commenced to unravel, as we began to get the
idea that clubs ought to be strictly the business of those
individuals who specially want clubs, and who are willing
to pay for them. We began to see that club management is
a large business proposition which ought to be separately
incorporated under another name-for example; that the "directors"
of a club corporation ought to look after club business
only; that an A.A. group, as such, should never get into
active management of a business project. Hectic experience
has since taught us that if an A.A. rotating committee tries
to boss the club corporation or if the corporation tries
to run the A.A. affairs of those groups who may meet at
the club, there is difficulty at once. The only way we have
found to cure this is to separate the material from the
spiritual. If an A.A. group wishes to use a given club,
let them pay rent or split the meeting take with the club
management. To a small group opening its first clubroom,
this procedure may seem silly because, for the moment, the
group members will also be club members. Nevertheless separation
by early incorporation is recommended because it will save
much confusion later on as other groups start forming in
are often asked: "Who elects the business directors
of a club?" "Does club membership differ from
A.A. membership?" "How are clubs supported and
financed?" As practices vary, we don't quite know the
answers yet. The most reasonable suggestions seem these:
any A.A. member ought to feel free to enjoy the ordinary
privileges of an A.A. club whether he makes a regular voluntary
contribution or not. If he contributes regularly, he should,
in addition, be entitled to vote in the business meetings
which elect the business directors of his club corporation.
This would open all clubs to all A.A.'s. But it would limit
their business conduct to those interested enough to contribute
regularly. In this connection, we might re-
No longer appropriate, because of potential confusion with
Al-Anon Family Groups (formed about five years after this
ourselves that in A.A. we have no fees or compulsory dues.
But it ought to be added, of course, that since clubs are
becoming separate and private ventures, they can be run
on other lines if their members insist.
of large sums from any source to buy, build, or finance
clubs almost invariably leads to later headaches. Public
solicitation is, of course, extremely dangerous. Complete
self-support of clubs and everything else connected with
A.A. is becoming our universal practice.
evolution is also telling us this: in none but small communities
are clubs likely to remain the principal centers of A.A.
activity. Originally starting as the main center of a city,
many a club moves to larger and larger quarters thinking
to retain the central meeting for its area within its own
walls. Finally, however, circumstances defeat this purpose.
number one is that the growing A.A. will burst the walls
of any clubhouse. Sooner or later the principal or central
meeting has to be moved into a larger auditorium. The club
can't hold it. This is a fact which ought to be soberly
contemplated whenever we think of buying or building large
clubhouses. A second circumstance seems sure to leave most
clubs in an "off center" position, especially
in large cities. That is our strong tendency toward central
or intergroup committee management of the common A.A. problems
of metropolitan areas. Every area, sooner or later, realizes
that such concerns as intergroup meetings, hospital arrangements.
local public relations, a central office for interviews
and information, are things in which every A.A. is interested,
whether he has any use for clubs or not. These being strictly
A.A. matters, a central or intergroup committee has to be
elected and financed to look after them. The groups of an
area will usually support with group funds these truly central
activities. Even though the club is still large enough for
inter-group meetings and these meetings are still held,
the center of gravity for the area will continue to shift
to the intergroup committee and its central activities.
The club is left definitely offside -- where, in the opinion
of many, it should be. Actively supported and managed by
those who want clubs, they can be "taken or left alone."
these principles be fully applied to our clubs, we shall
have placed ourselves in a position to enjoy their warmth
yet drop any that get too hot. We shall then realize that
a club is but a valuable social aid. And, more important
still, we shall always preserve the simple AA group as that
primary spiritual entity whence issues our greatest strength.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., April 1947
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