Clergyman's key role in AA noted

April 30, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

The key but little-known role of a famed Baltimore preacher, the Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker Jr., in the development of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s was described at the Episcopal cathedral yesterday by "Dick B.," an anonymous AA historian from Hawaii.

On hand for a reception at the cathedral complex on University Parkway for the author and introduction of his new history of the alcoholic recovery program were the late Dr. Shoemaker's daughters, Canon Sally Shoemaker Robinson of the Maryland Episcopal Diocese staff and Nickie Shoemaker Haggart, a social worker from Florida.

Dr. Shoemaker was named "one of the 10 greatest preachers in the United States" by Newsweek magazine before his death in his native Baltimore in 1963. He was rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York from 1925 to 1952.

During that period, Dr. Shoemaker was "the wellspring of most of AA's spiritual ideas," including the Twelve Steps, said Dick B., a retired lawyer. A member of AA himself, the author conforms to the organization's rule of anonymity in his writings.

The Twelve Steps begin with an admission of an alcoholic's powerlessness over alcohol and conclude with a desire to carry AA's "spiritual awakening" to other alcoholics.

Ms. Robinson, who lives at Burnside, the Shoemaker family home in Greenspring Valley, recalled as a child hearing discussions of the early formulation of the AA principles of confession, friendship and support.

"I used to listen over a balcony to the stories until daddy found out what I was doing," she said. "We have a sofa where the Twelve Steps were written -- according to family lore."

Dick B.'s book, "New Light on Alcoholism: The A.A. Legacy from Sam Shoemaker," is available at the Episcopal Diocesan Center, 4 E. University Parkway.

The author said he hoped the book will persuade readers that a return to an emphasis on the spiritual ideas behind AA could revive the success rate of the program.

"In early AA, there was a 50 percent success rate among alcoholics who really tried, and another 25 percent recovered after relapse," the author said. "But there is nothing like that rate of success among the thousands who are coming to Twelve Step programs today."

Referring to himself as "a drunk," the author said he has not had a drink since April 21, 1986.

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