Visit to an AA Meeting

Surrender to God and public confession are key



On my regular walks each evening, I pass by a public building where meetings are held almost every night. Two ladies stood outside chatting at 8:25 PM, and I approached them.

“What is this meeting about, and is it open to the public?” I asked.

“Come and see,” the younger one answered. “We’re on a break.”

I followed close behind. She pointed to an empty chair, so I sat there. On the wall facing us I saw a large poster explaining that AA was founded in 1935 as a fellowship of alcoholics working together to overcome their drinking problems. It offered a set of spiritual and character development guidelines, from Twelve Steps, that has not changed much. Another poster right beside it listed those steps.

As I read them, I mentally replaced alcohol addiction with other behaviors that enslave people today, like drugs, gambling, overeating, pornography, and smoking. Alcoholism is stigmatized because it often harms or kills innocent bystanders.

But what if these addictions all stem from the same spiritual disease? To those who would harshly judge the alcoholic, Christ would likely say, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). Who can boast of not having any enslaving addictions?

A heavyset man stood at a podium, dressed in a black suit and tie, and called the meeting to order. He asked people at random to come up and tell their testimonies. He knew them all by name. This large group of about 70 people knew one another from weekly attendance. They packed a small room, some sitting on the floor, others standing.

Speakers first had to say their name and then confess, “I’m an alcoholic.” With that, the entire gathering loudly acknowledged his or her confession. It sounded like “Amen.” One speaker told us her esophagus had deteriorated from alcohol abuse that had “aged her innards 20 years.” She managed to inject humor so that listeners laughed as she wondered why people argued with her, knowing that they were always wrong and she was absolutely and positively right, despite all facts to the contrary. Another speaker confessed that he woke up in prison more times than he could count, not knowing how he even got there. AA rescued him and he’s been “sober now 62 days.” Everyone clapped for him. “The devil sneaks up on you, and you don’t know you’re its slave until you’re drinking all day long and stay drunk, every day, for years,” he said.

In this honest and truthful manner, the speakers shared vignettes of their struggles to overcome alcohol addiction. I had no idea how horrific the consequences can be, devastating health, family relationships, careers, and finally, the victim’s soul.

I wasn’t surprised that surrendering to a Higher Power and public confession to others are keys to AA’s success. It’s what Roman Christians did during the 1st century AD in home-based chapels, with a painful public humiliation in sackcloth and ashes. Private confessions lack that gut-wrenching punch, which is still delivered by AA protocol.

After 9:00 PM, the moderator nodded for a collection, and people slipped donations into a collection dish passed around. Then everyone stood and held hands in a big circle, praying for safe deliverance from their demons. It seemed to me the whole place shook.

I was impressed with their spiritual intimacy and sincerity, as compared to many Mass congregations. Here there is no cathedral upkeep, no bishop’s ring to kiss, no altar ritual, no gilded robe, no “hellfire and brimstone.” Yet, I felt intoxicated by the real presence of Christ as I stood amidst this endearing, hopeful fellowship of humbled souls, worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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