Friday, 23 November 2012

Worried about AA? Run a good home group

'In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems.'

'The very practical approach to his problems, the absence of intolerance of any kind, the informality, the genuine democracy, the uncanny understanding which these people had were irresistible.'

(Alcoholics Anonymous, 'A Vision For You')

Tradition IX. AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

Concept I. Final responsibility and the ultimate authority for AA world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole fellowship.

Concept IX. Good service leadership at all levels is indispensable for our future functioning and safety. Primary world service leadership, once exercised by the founders, must necessarily be assumed by the trustees.

Concept XI. The trustees should always have the best possible committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs, and consultants. Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.

* * * * *

My home group looks and feels pretty relaxed. We like the passages set out above from the Big Book—some of us have experienced very militaristic groups, and prefer the very informality of our gatherings.

There are some matters, however, that are important, in fact vital, for the group to run effectively.

The doors need to be open a good time before the meeting (we are never open later than half an hour before we start). Tea and coffee need to be available and ready to roll for when people start to arrive. Literature needs to be ordered and set out (especially meeting listings and plenty of copies of the Big Book). The group meetings need to be furnished with watertight scripts. The business meetings need to be held regularly, with a circulated agenda, and an up-to-date list of who has taken on service assignments and when they are rotating out, with contact details so that we can contact each other should something untoward arise between meetings.

Very importantly, we have an alternate system. This means that, if someone cannot fulfil his or her commitment, there is either a designated stand-in, or the service member reverts to a list of general alternates who have agreed to make themselves available to stand in for any service assignment. The list of general alternates needs to be ample to ensure that all commitments are covered at all times.

If these basic housekeeping measures are in place, which are largely invisible to those not involved in the running of the group, the group can then function smoothly, and everyone can relax.

What can go wrong?

'Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.' (Concept XI)

This principle is important. We need to make sure, when appointing people, that we choose the right man or woman for the job.

For example, someone who has a chaotic, irregular schedule should not be the key-holder for the group. Someone who can definitely commit to being there every week, come rain or shine, should hold the keys for the meeting (and there should always be a back-up plan with a second set of keys or another means of accessing the venue for when that person is late for whatever reason). The treasurer should be good with handling money and preferably not be clipping coupons. The secretary (in our group the person who maintains records, draws up agendas, keeps lists of service members up to date, and maintains the scripts for the group meetings, business meetings, and group consciences) should be someone who is good with computers, ruthlessly efficient, and proactive.

It is the group's responsibility to ensure that, when someone is inducted into a role, all of the knowledge and wisdom acquired by the previous incumbent is passed on. Sometimes this will concern general traditions about how the group operates; sometimes this will concern specific information about the venue. In any case, such knowledge and wisdom will often need to be written down not to be lost.

Lastly, duties should be well-defined. It is good for all jobs in AA (from tea-maker through to board trustee) to have job descriptions, even if the job description is a couple of lines long, to make sure incoming service members are clear on what the job entails. This saves a lot of argument later.

'Good service leadership at all levels is indispensable for our future functioning and safety' (Concept IX)

'Final responsibility and the ultimate authority for AA world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole fellowship.' (Concept I)

What happens when service members are not fulfilling their duties properly? Even in the best groups, this sometimes happens, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the incumbent is spiritually off-beam; sometimes he or she has other distractions; sometimes he or she has not been properly inducted; the reasons are countless.

Whatever the reason, the responsibility for the group lies with all of the members. When things go wrong (the tea is not ready on time; the group runs out of Big Books; the scripts go missing), everyone is affected, and the ultimate responsibility and authority lies with all group members. However, practically speaking, group members look to the service members to be custodians of the group.

Although each service member has 'right of decision' (Concept III) over doing his or her job, it is up to the remaining service members to be aware of whether the various disciplines are functioning properly and to step up to the plate collectively to solve problems that arise. One cannot simply blame the treasurer, for instance, and walk off, muttering under one's breath that things are going to hell in a handcart.

Service leadership can often mean gently bringing up problems in business meetings, preferably with helpful (rather than critical) suggestions about how things could be done better or differently. These should not be personal (Tradition XII) but concern what the role requires, and solutions then become incorporated into how each role is designed, so that the improvements are passed on to the next incumbent.

It is very common for alcoholics to snipe and gripe but not take any action. It is also common for alcoholics to take charge rather than letting others get on with their jobs. Wisdom suggests a balance between these extremes is what is most effective.

As a home group member, I am chiefly responsible for discharging my duties, whether as GSR, tea-maker, or secretary. But I am also responsible for helping and supporting other service members, and watching for whether people need help or guidance. Under Concept I, I retain, along with everyone else, joint responsibility and authority for the group as a whole.

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