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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29 thoughts on “The history behind reading The Lord’s Prayer at 12 Step meetings

  1. 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. 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.

    • Actually the “Our Father” was a Jewish prayer, recited by a Jew Jesus Christ so we are told. Now when Jesus practiced this prayer there were no Christians yet, I would prefer a non dogmatic moment of silence.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 !!!!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 program.it 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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 !

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. My problem with the “Lord’s Prayer” (Jesus said pray like this not pray this.) is that male influences in my life were anything but good. I consider myself a Christian. I do not pray “The Lord’s prayer because of the negative thoughts that are brought up by praying to a Father figure. This is the only time I have ever spoken out on this issue publicly, but I do know that there are many people to whom “Father” is not a good word. Toleration goes both ways.

  18. Go Sandy! ;) I hope that those concerned about the use (or overuse) of the Lord’s Prayer in meetings are attending steering committee meetings regularly to ask for change. I’m very troubled by a recent trend in our neck of the woods. Fewer meetings ask someone to close the meeting with the prayer of their choice and instead the secretary announces “we will now close the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer”. In one rather absurd instance, it was announced that we would close with the Lord’s Prayer and “Joe” was asked to take us out. Joe started saying the Serenity Prayer. The secretary stopped him and reminded him that it was the Lord’s Prayer. Again Joe started with the Serenity Prayer. At that point, the secretary felt so strongly about following her script that she interrupted him again and began “Our Father…”. But I attend a meeting almost daily and I’ve noticed in the last week that roughly 4 out of 7 were ended with the Lord’s Prayer…the practice of letting members select the prayer of their choice seems to be falling by the wayside. I would not change the book despite the fact that it is rife with Christianity. However, we don’t need to perpetuate this belief that we’re a religious organization with our newcomers by singularly using the Lord’s Prayer (reading the heading above it said they “often” used it based on the principles of the Oxford Group. Well, we all know what happened to the Oxford Group. The book was written by people and people are imperfect creatures. The instructions in the book that tell us we can choose a “higher power of our own understanding” are far smaller than the references to Christianity and a God of creation/the universe. Again, it’s worked for millions and it’s worked for me because I’m able to ignore the Christianity foundation and focus on spirituality. Not everyone can or will do that. Pulled from American Addiction Centers.org:

    Moreover, the people who attend meetings change constantly since people drop out, sometimes after only a few meetings, states Scientific American. In fact, 40 percent of people drop out of AA after the first few meetings.

    Our operating manual (The Big Book) contains plenty of Christian references to scare people off. In an attempt to be attractive and NOT contribute to that, I believe our meetings should be as all inclusive as possible. That means, at minimum, not limiting meetings to the Lord’s Prayer, offering choices and for those of us who believe in the importance of this need to emphasize spirituality and a higher power over God and Christianity, we need to speak up. In the meetings and in our steering committee meetings. WHENEVER, the subject of a higher power comes up and seemingly share after share refers to God/Him, I always raise my hand to point out at least one of the few places in the book that state a power of our own understanding and I refer to mine as my higher power.

  19. I’m Greg and I’m an alcoholic. I believe it would be helpful if we have an open mind and really listen to what our Preamble says. It does not exclude religion. Examine what it says. Alcoholics Anonymous is not affiliated with any sect, denomination such s Lutheran, Catholic or Protestant etc. it does not say anything about religion. Then goes on about Politics , organization or institution. Why does this matter ? Because we extend the right to all who enter the door to turn their will and lives over to the care of God as we understood him. It does not even say a God. It says God. Those words as we understood him are saying whatever our understanding of God at that time is sufficient. I mean no offense to anyone when I say this but there is a lot of homespun bullshit shared in the rooms of AA. I’m not sure if I qualify as a Christian but I take that third step seriously. I’ll be the first to admit that my beliefs regarding many things is ever changing. This applies to my understanding of God as well. Quit kidding yourselves and others, Our steps mention God, not a God. I just want to add this please. With or without any belief or practice of Christianity or Atheism what have you, God is still the higher power the 12 steps refer to. The Lord’s Prayer has been used since I got sober which was coming upon 40 years. There was a time when I wished it was not but I needed to get past the problem of drink and was willing to go to any length to get what the others before me had. They said if I wanted what they had, I’d have to do why they did. I’m sorry but there are a lot of thing I hear share in meetings I’d like to be able to un-hear. I’ll be damned if I’ll let that keep me from taking the part I can use. Keep it simple.

  20. The AA Program is an accept or reject deal. The real purpose of the Big Book is to find a relationship with God. The real purpose of our life is to love and serve God and those about us. Don’t go by what I say you can read all about it in the Big Book. From the start we said we would be willing to go to any lengths for sobriety. Our ideas did not work-the God idea does work. The way of the Twelve Steps removes the character defects from us that separate us or block us off from God. There’s more to Alcoholics Anonymous than at first meets the eyes and mind.

  21. Seeing that so many have a strong opinion on the God issue tells me that even though aa says that aa is not allied with any sect or denomination it clearly is. When it comes to Christianity ( which most in aa are) are they tolerant of other faiths? In my area that doesn’t seem to be the case. I have for years been looked at differently and treated differently simply because I am an atheist. I still found a way to work the steps without God and to those who scoff at that, I have been sober over 28 years. So it can be done. I simply go into meetings listening for the similarities and not the differences. I realize that our program came about in the 30’s but it is now 2018 and the world is much different now. In our big book says ” we still yet know little and that more will be revealed” AA has to change as does everything. The only constant in our world is change. The whole program is about change, change in our behavior and how we think. Therefore the process of doing so will also change as we change. I personally do not want to take God out of AA or ask anyone to follow my beliefs but also, I don’t want to be subject to comforming to anyone’s concept of a higher power. I love the idea of a moment of silence. It doesn’t take anyone’s faith away, just makes aa more inclusive.

  22. My name is David and I AM a alcoholic. By reading the Big Book and attending quite a few meetings I have a few observations that I will share. First none of us commenting on this really have right to, the Big Book tells us that we have to quit fighting anyone and everything. We are no longer on the debate team. The 12 steps tell us this is how they done it..meaning Bill W ,and the it …achieved sobriety.We also know that in those early meetings they ended with the Lord’s Prayer. Do any of us have a better answer than the tried and tru A A plan for achieving sobriety, if so post it here and we can see how it stacks up. Until then I am going to follow the suggestions and follow the lead of our founders and gladly say the Lord’s Prayer at the end of every meeting that God blesses me with,and I will do it sober thanks to the same God I am praying to.

  23. I am new to Al-Anon and am still learning about the program. I was completely taken aback and off-guard when this terrible patriarchal prayer was recited at the end of a meeting a couple of weeks ago as our group was holding hands, and clearly, I was supposed to go along with it. This prayer revives traumatic memories from my childhood in an abusive alcoholic home. I am not a Christian, and I found out recently that I should have been raised as a Jew. This prayer has an extremely controversial history, and in these days and times, it should be dropped. A moment of silence is preferable, rather than ramming down the throats of non-Christians a Christian prayer that is highly offensive. As people recite it today, it comes straight from Henry VIII, a historical personage with whom I do not want to align myself. I can see enough good in the program not to give up yet; I have been in therapy for years and have read countless books on just what may be wrong with me. Never have I identified so much with any text as I have with Al-Anon literature. It’s fine that this started out as a Christian enterprise. But if you want to avoid excluding newcomers who may be traumatized (and not just offended) by patriarchal, Christian prayers like this one, change! Otherwise, you give the impression that the only way to heal is to believe in Protestant, American White Jesus (a fabrication if there ever was one). I don’t and I won’t. Is there room for me in this fellowship? Some of you seem to say that people like me can just go to hell.

    • There is what we call, “Group Conscience,” in Tradition Two. If you don’t like it, make your case for an alternative at the Group’s business meeting. Moreover, far better and more effective than playing the victim to your past, would be to inventory your resentment. By analyzing your resentment and see your part in it, you can move beyond that to a “position of neutrality” and that’s a most powerful promise that our recovery solution offers.

  24. With regards to using the “Our Father” as the closing prayer, my main bias in favor of it has nothing to do with being raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition.(Jesus was an orthodox Jew). It is a collective prayer, unlike the Serenity Prayer. Perhaps we could say Us and We instead of me and I…mark

  25. Kudos to William Dejean. I am a hard line atheist. I just changed my home group which is the room I got sober in because of that prayer. It was introduce to our group without a group conscious vote. But William is right. IT SCARES OFF NEW COMERS. My brother is head of Chapin services for a major hospital in Ill. and is very familiar with the 12 step program thru his work in the hospitals alcohol ward.He agrees whole heartedly. there is no place in the program for the lords Prayer. I live in Salt Lake so our meetings already reek of Mormon influences. The lords prayer is just another form of disrespect for the non believers. Please for the sake of the new comers. take it out of your meetings.

  26. I attended an Al-Anon meeting 30 years ago and the words “deliver us from evil” came to me a few days later at a moment when nothing else would have delivered me from the temptation I was facing. I recently started attending Al-Anon and it occurred to me we don’t say that prayer anymore and wondered why and so that’s how I came upon this site and I just read all (every one) of your comments.

    I wish the Lord’s prayer was said, but I sympathize with those who find it offensive. I’m just glad it helped me when I needed it. I hope AA can be a model of how to resolve this issue. The flippant self-righteousness, the venom and injury and bitterness sound a lot like our political rancor today. We all just want to be sane and sober. I see the words of that prayer as non-denominational but I understand why they don’t seem so to others. I’d be glad to do a Jewish prayer or any traditional religious prayer. Thank you all for sharing, now I am empowered to participate in our group conscience and will bring it up. Whatever is decided is okay with me. I doubt it will be used but I love our group and the 12 steps for helping me find serenity today.

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