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The history behind reading The Lord’s Prayer at 12 Step meetings

It is mentioned in Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers that the prayer was used from the very beginning in the Fellowship, at least as early as 1938 and 1939. In those days there was no AA literature, so the early groups relied heavily on existing prayers, and on the Bible and Oxford Group literature, for inspiration and guidance. Bill W. commented several times in his correspondence about the early use of the Lord's Prayer. He wrote a letter to a member in 1959 in which he stated: "This practice probably came from the Oxford Groups who were influential in the early days of A.A. You have probably noted in A.A. Comes of Age what the connection of these people with A.A. really was. I think saying the Lord's Prayer was a custom of theirs following the close of each meeting. Therefore it quite easily got shifted into a general custom among us." Bill also wrote the following in a 1955 letter: "Of course there are always those who seem to be offended by the introduction of any prayer whatever into an ordinary A.A. gathering. Also it is sometimes complained that the Lord's Prayer is a Christian document. Nevertheless, this Prayer is of such widespread use and recognition that the argument of its Christian origin seems to be a little far-fetched. It is also true that most AA's believe in some kind of god and that communication and strength is obtainable through his grace. Since this is the general consensus, it seems only right that at least the Serenity Prayer and the Lord's Prayer be used in connection with our meetings. It does not seem necessary to defer to the feelings of our agnostic and atheist newcomers to the extent of completely hiding 'our light under a bushel.' However, around here, the leader of the meeting usually asks those to join him in the Lord's Prayer who feel that they would care to do so. The worst that happens to the objectors is that they have to listen to it. This is doubtless a salutary exercise in tolerance at their stage of progress." As Bill's 1955 letter indicates, recitation of the Lord's Prayer at meetings has clearly been controversial in some circles almost since the beginning. The GSO has responded to letters on this issue since the 1940s and 1950s. It is continually addressed in articles in Box 459 and the AA Grapevine, and has often been asked about at the General Service Conference. For example, at the 1962 Conference, in one of the Ask-It Basket questions, this subject was broached: "Question: What is the procedure for dealing with individuals who refuse to stand during recitation of the Lord's Prayer? Answer: Participation--or non-participation-in recitals of the Lord's Prayer should be considered a matter of personal conscience and decision."

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17 Responses

  1. glen says:

    Please get rid of the Lord’s Prayer from AA meetings. Just use prayers from the book that doesn’t refer to Our Father. Get rid of any prayer with Our Father in it. Take Higher out of Higher Power and make it A Power. And git rid of the word Him. Something of your own understanding. I’m good with everything else.

  2. Brandon says:

    Not sure which offends me more. The fact that this person assumes only newcomers to 12-Step are agnostic/atheist, the fact that he claims “The Lord’s Prayer” is universally accepted, or the fact that he cites opinions from over half a century ago. I have 5 years plus sobriety and am still bewildered by the fact we can claim to be a spiritual, non-religious program and still expect Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and agnostics to say, or at the very least have to listen to, a Christian prayer. I wonder how many of these Christians who try to impose their will on all could demonstrate “a salutary exercise in tolerance” if I tried to push a Buddhist chant at the close of a meeting.

  3. robert says:

    Those who oppose recital of the Lord’s Prayer in AA meetings want other people to SHUT UP. That’s intolerance!

  4. jethro says:

    Over 30 years sober now, it has been a continuing sadness to witness people leave AA because of this Lords Prayer custom. I never say it, and sometimes leave a few minutes early to avoid the group prayer. I used to stand in silence while the others said it, but one time the guy next to me squeezed my hand repeatedly, staring at me growling: “Say it! Say it! Say it!”… Would a desperate soul who wants to stop drinking find that welcoming?

    It is a hypocrisy to recite the words “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization” at the start of every meeting, and to end every meeting by violating that statement with a quite specific prayer from only one religion. Requiring the sufferer to tolerate such paradoxical impositions and return to them is an absurd practice.

  5. Jay Cody says:

    Dr. bob Smith and Bill Wilson were not of my faith but they somehow through the grace of God found a way to help alcoholics get and stay sober.Can you tell me of another program that has had their success? In the thirties this country was mostly Christian and the prayer was widely accepted in one form or another throughout the United States. Christian churches opened their doors to the the AA program, men and women alike. the word sexiest didn’t exist. Your religion didn’t matter either. My home group is about to ban the Lords Prayer, a group I helped get started many years ago. Will the St.Francis Prayer go next, the Third Step Prayer? Good luck.I’m going some where else, perhaps I might find s similar program in a Temple or a Mosque.

  6. Dan Harris says:

    Using the “Our Father” is a tradition in AA. A few in AA object to any kind of prayer or any reference to God some even object to the use of Higher Power or anything else spiritual in the Big Book. Some would even change or rewrite the entire Big Book including the first 164 pages. This would include elimination of the Serenity Prayer as it was written by a Theologian and Pastor and the eleventh Step Prayer as it was written by a man who many believe was a saint. AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous not Atheists Anonymous or Agnostics Anonymous. Let’s give our founders credit for the way they set up this program. I have been sober over 34 years and never tried to push my religious beliefs on anyone in AA. Please extend the same courtesy to me and keep AA the way it was intended and not take the spirituality out of the program.

  7. Michael says:

    The problem with those who oppose the removal of the Lord Pray is the problem of blind hypocrisy. That blindness includes Bill W. It is a Christian prayer. It is written in the New Testament. For those who seem to be unaware, that is a Christian book. The 11th step pray is Bill W.’s version of that prayer. Also, a Christian pray in a non religious, non denominational pathway to sobriety as written in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. Why there is a controversy? It’s an outside issue — a direct violation Tradition ten. Christianity is an outside issue.

  8. PAT says:

    you nuts are the same ones that took the prayer out of schools since then we have seen a lot of children dying . Lift the hand of GOD and u Lift the protection I say to the people that don’t want to pray the our father BYE BYE start your own groups and when u see it doesn’t work with out GOD well then we will welcome u back with open arms . Its what works GOD PROTECTS US !!!!

  9. Glynis says:

    If the grace of god keeps me sober why would I not give god my highest praise gods place in A.A. is the cornerstone dont mess with that gratitude is necessary to know what I have and nourish it not grumble about what its called that’s controversy and I for one don’t stay sober on controversy when its not broke don’t fix it how did u people come to aa as for me i came as a last resort if Bill Wilson called it any thing other than god an still got sobriety then that’s what it would have been but as it is God an only God is who I pray to.

  10. Sandy W. says:

    Reply to Robert:

    I just had my 10th birthday WITHOUT the help of “god”. I don’t want to “shut anybody up,” but I think it only fair that the Lord’s Prayer be said silently. NO ONE is taking away your prayer. If your faith is strong, you can say it silently. Will your God get angry? If so, better go up to the rooftop and shout it to him.

    A Moment of Silence is tolerant of ALL beliefs/non beliefs. What are you so afraid of? AA is supposed to be inclusive of all. With the Lord’s Prayer it’s not, and should be listed as a Catholic or Christian meeting.

  11. Sandy W. says:

    Reply to Robert:

    I don’t want to “shut anybody up,” but I think it only fair that the Lord’s Prayer be said silently. NO ONE is taking away your prayer. If your faith is strong, you can say it silently. Will your God get angry? If so, better go up to the rooftop and shout it to him.

    A Moment of Silence is tolerant of ALL beliefs/non beliefs. What are you so afraid of? AA is supposed to be inclusive of all. With the Lord’s Prayer it’s not, and should be listed as a Catholic or Christian meeting.

    I’ve been sober for 10 years w/o a god. I don’t want to stand in a circle and stand out like a sore thumb because I’m the only one not praying.

  12. Sandy W. says:

    Reply to Dan Harris:

    Slavery was a tradition in the old south. Tradition doesn’t make it right. I’ve been going to meetings for 10 years and have NEVER felt like I truly belong. I’ve had people yell (after I’ve spoken about troubles with a Higher Power), IF YOU DON’T HAVE GOD YOU’LL GET DRUNK! People DO proselytize at supposedly “non Christian” meetings. A Moment of Silence would be inclusive of all. I’d LOVE to see god removed from everything, and a SHE in the Big Book would be nice once in a while, but all I’m asking for is people to pray to themselves.

  13. Todd says:

    Tradition 2:
    For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as
    He may express Himself in our group conscience (which I am doing). Our leaders are but
    trusted servants; they do not govern.

    There would be no A.A. without the guidance and inspiration of God to the founders of A.A. I believe it is possible to accrue abstinence from alcohol for life one day at a time, by what one would believe to be the power of the mind or will or what one would believe came from-what ever , and by well intended people who do good deeds for others, and are thoughtful, helpful and caring etc. I hope that whatever anyone believes in they don’t have to EVER go through the H*** of being drunk again. But, there would be no A.A. and no Groups, no unity in common, no fellowship in Recovery without what “they” found, God. it would have been another failed self-help is not required for membership to say the Lords prayer, I have been to meetings where we say the “I am responsible” pledge. I choose not to say that one out loud… We as individuals have the power of choice to stay tuned or turn the channel.

  14. Q Nice says:

    We are in AA to get sober not to worry about the words “Our Father” lol Continue to read the steps and go to meetings.

  15. William DeJean says:

    I believe in God and am not an atheist. I pray to God everyday and I see Gods handiwork and “coincidences” routinely. My God is the universe. I shouldn’t have to find another meeting because this is not a Christian program!! All the prayers are fine except that damn Lord’s Prayer ! It scares off newcomers on a regular basis so if you selfish people want to worship a person who’s been dead for 2000 years, do it on your own time and don’t pretend to care about newcomers when you know your selfish choice of prayers sends people back out there to possibly die! This just in. Did it ever occur to you that if you were raised Jewish that’s what you’d believe? In China a Buddhist ! So unless you are admitted sheep that can’t think for yourself, why would you think that your religion out of the 4200!on earth is the right one you stupid narcissist !

  16. Martha says:

    I was raised in Southern Kentucky and was exposed to AA at at early age. When I was 19, two AA women visited me in the hospital where I had been suffering a bout of anxiety and depression, symptoms I would later learn were from alcoholism. They brought me the book Came to Believe and encouraged me to come to as many meetings as I could. I did just that, and everyone of them closed with the Lord’s Prayer. Many of them have closed with the Lord’s Prayer since then. While some folks have found the prayer to be offensive, I associate it with a Fellowship that is Spiritual and that without that Fellowship, I would not be alive today. For those of you who may be intolerant of it, I suggest you read page 90 of the 12 and 12 and know that no one or no thing can take anything away from you that God has already given you.

  17. Sandy W says:

    So… if we are in AA to get sober and not to worry about the words “Our Father”, then, lol, YOU GET RID OF IT. IT’S CHRISTIAN, NOT SPIRITUAL. NO people of color, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Buddhists or Pagans are included in that prayer. And certainly not females.

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