||This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2011)|
Sam Moor Shoemaker, III DD, STD (1893–1963), was a priest of the Episcopal Church. He was the rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in New York City, the United States headquarters of the Oxford Group during the 1930s. Sam Shoemaker and Oxford Group were significant influences for the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Wilson attended Oxford Group meetings at the Calvary Church, and Sam Shoemaker also helped start an Oxford Group chapter in Akron, Ohio, where Dr. Bob Smith became involved.
Shoemaker's contributions and service to Alcoholics Anonymous have had a worldwide effect. The philosophy that Shoemaker codified, in conjunction with Bill Wilson, is used in almost every country around the world to treat alcoholism.
Serious disagreements with Oxford Group founder Frank Buchman led Shoemaker to separate from Buchman in 1941. Sam Shoemaker and his followers later formed "Faith At Work" as a continuation of his conference and publication projects.
His wife, Helen Smith Shoemaker, was an author, sculptor and also a church leader.
Shoemaker is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America on January 31.
In 1917, Sam Shoemaker was sent to China to start a branch of the YMCA and to teach at the Princeton-in-China Program. In 1918, while in China, he first met Frank Buchman who told him of four absolutes: honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. Shoemaker later spoke of this as a major influence on his decision to let God guide his life.
In 1920, Shoemaker was ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church. He then spent a year at General Theological Seminary. In June, 1921, he was ordained priest. He served as assistant at Grace Church in New York for a year. He then returned to his earlier post at Princeton through the school year, 1922-23, maintaining a close association with the Oxford Group. Buchman himself made frequent visits to Princeton.
The return of Sam to the Princeton campus seems not to have been an entirely happy experience for him. There was some hardening of opposition to the type of personal evangelism he represented and some growing fear of the implications of Frank Buchman's style and procedure. We recall that Buchman had started his "First Century Christian Fellowship" at Oxford and Cambridge in England in 1921. By the time Sam returned to Princeton in 1922, the movement had begun to gather both friends and foes in England as well as America.
In 1924, Shoemaker began a twenty six year (1925-1951) ministry at Calvary Church in New York. His ministry at Calvary was influenced directly by the dynamic and process of "A First Century Christian Fellowship," or the Oxford Group, as it came to be called. Sam was too balanced a churchman to ignore the institutional and sacramental aspects of the church's life, but he was too powerfully moved by his personal faith and by his association with the Oxford Group not to let that emphasis affect nearly all aspects of his ministry at Calvary.
It speaks well for Sam and Helen Shoemaker's churchmanship, charisma, devotion and flexibility that they managed so well to combine the diverse interests of Calvary Church with the life style and program of the Oxford Group for the next eleven years. For one senses that not all of Calvary's members could have been committed to the radical life style and "hot gospelling" of the Oxford Group.
Bill Wilson credited Sam Shoemaker as a key source of the ideas underpinning Alcoholics Anonymous:
"It was from Sam Shoemaker that we absorbed most of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, steps that express the heart of AA's way of life. Dr. Silkworth gave us the needed knowledge of our illness, but Sam Shoemaker had given us the concrete knowledge of what we could do about it, he passed on the spiritual keys by which we were liberated. The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Group and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else."
Although Bill Wilson later said in an address about Rev Shoemaker at the St Louis AA convention in 1955 Along side Father Ed.
"It is through Sam, that most of our principles have come, that is he has been the connecting link for them, it is what Ebby learned from Sam and what Ebby told me that makes up the linkage between Sam the man of religion, and ourselves. How well I remember that first day I caught sight of Sam, it was a Sunday service in his church. I was still rather gun-shy and diffident about churches. I can still see him standing there before the lectern, and Sam's utter honesty, his tremendous forthrightness, his almost terrible sincerity struck me deep. I shall never forget it."
Rev. Shoemaker also addressed an AA group in Charlotte,NC June 17,1962 saying:
To set the record straight, that there has gotten going in AA, a kind of rumor,that I had a lot to do with the 12 steps. I didn't have anymore to do with those 12 steps other than that book had, those twelve steps, I believe came to Bill by himself, I think he told me they came to him in about 40 minutes and I think its one of the great instances of direct inspiration that I know in human history, inspiration which doesn't only bring material straight down outta heaven, but brings rather I think from God the ability to interpret human experience in such a way that you distill it down into transmissible principles, I compare it to Moses going up on a mountain and bringing down Ten tables of the Law, I don't think that's the first time Moses ever thought about righteousness, but I'm glad he went up there and got those ten and brought em down and gave em to us. And I'm glad Bill got quiet for those 40 minutes, until he finished off these 12 steps and I believe they have only been changed by about one word. Bill said at the end of this talk "Who invented AA?, It was God almighty that invented AA, but this is the story of how we learned to be Free." And he closed by saying "God grant that AA and the program of recovery,and unity,and service be a story that continues into the future as long as God needs it." Praise be to God for it, and for the life of that fellow and all those who where with him in the beginnings of this incredible movement.
Sam Shoemaker and Faith at Work by Karl Olsson
There was nevertheless enough trust in the rector and his wife and enough awareness of the new life and strength pumped into the aging parish since Sam's coming to quiet most of the unrest. The Vestry was strongly behind their rector and evidenced their support of him and his involvement with the Oxford Group by allowing him an extended leave of absence in 1932, for the purpose of bringing the Group's ministry to ever widening circles. The Vestry's letter to the congregation on this question helps us to understand where matters lay in 1932:
"We must all realize that the work which has been characteristic of Calvary Parish for the past few years is part of a much larger movement which is making a tremendous spiritual contribution in many countries today. A First Century Christian Fellowship or the Oxford Group has been called by ArchbishopWilliam Temple of York one of the main movements of the Spirit in our time. "The evident need of our country in the world of spiritual awakening lays a special obligation upon us all at Calvary to share with others what has helped us. "When therefore the Rector asked us to come to a special meeting of the vestry on June 15, and proposed to us that he be released for a six month sabbatical leave during which time he would devote himself entirely to the furtherance of this important work, (with the International Team of the Oxford Group) throughout America, we felt that this was a call which neither he nor we should disregard. Further we wanted him to go as our representative."
Through Sam Shoemaker's ingenious fusion of orderly parish life with personal charisma as well as the dynamics of the Oxford Group, a whole range of new thrusts emerged both at Calvary Church, New York, and later at Calvary in Pittsburgh.
Faith at Work Begins
Faith at Work, or LUMUNOS as it is now known, seems to have begun as early as 1926 in a mission at Calvary in which lay persons both presented their witness of their life as Christians in the workaday world and were trained to witness to that world. These meetings, which were continued on Thursday evenings from 1926 to 1936 and were well attended, were resumed after the break with the Oxford Group in 1941.
In an earlier chapter we have indicated that the Oxford Group was to reach its peak just before World War Il. Encouraged by the strong response of intellectual and political leaders to his call for a new kind of revolution and troubled by the growing world crisis, Frank Buchman felt led to push his movement beyond the Christian limits within which it had functioned. The name of the Oxford Group was changed to Moral Re-Armament, probably in 1938.
Much in the new thrust for peace and justice seems to have spoken to Sam Shoemaker, and he participated publicly in the activities of the MRA down through 1939, although with increasing reservations. Two concerns helped to bring about the rupture:
• The first was the new direction which MRA was taking which seemed more and more to dissociate it from the Christian churches and a New Testament orientation. • The second was a gradual take-over of the facilities of Calvary House in New York by MRA and the placing of major leadership responsibilities for the American operation on Sam Shoemaker. Both of these latter actions were not direct or in any way ill-mannered. They just happened and courtesy and good will and long friendly associations provided no effective counter-strategy.
Despite Sam's strong attachment to Frank Buchman and the Group and his commitment to evangelism, his genuine devotion to the Church of Christ in general and to the Episcopal Church in particular led him in the mid-thirties to examine his priorities. He tried to share his anxiety about these priorities with the Group but appears not to have been heard. Efforts to work through these concerns in 1940 and 1941 proved fruitless.
The end of the matter was not happy, but it was inevitable. The final rupture came in the closing months of 1941 when Calvary Church asked MRA to vacate the premises of Calvary House. The Thursday evening sessions already alluded to, which were devoted to lay witnesses, provided models for subsequent Faith at Work programs. In it can be traced the lineaments of the "witnesses," still a part of the Faith at Work Conference ministry and of the spate of personal witness articles which appeared in the Calvary Evangel, and the Evangel and have continued in the pages of Faith At Work magazine. The "Lay Witness Missions," now conducted under other auspices than Faith at Work, also had their beginnings in the Thursday evening meetings. The Thursday night "witness" sessions were paralleled by an activity which began in the Calvary House boiler room when the janitor, Herbie Lantau, witnessed to a painter named Bill Levine. They were later joined by Ralston Young, Red Cap #42, from Grand Central Station. Ralston did his witnessing to the people whose baggage he handled and later to groups that gathered for prayer in a car placed in a siding, on Track 13, at Grand Central.
This small group joined some others who were disenfranchised when the split came with MRA in 1942. They and many others met with Irving Harris whose work at the Calvary Evangel and later with its successors covered a period of over three decades. Irving gave structure to the Thursday evening services and was later the enabler of the Monday groups. These were to continue in one form or another until Faith at Work moved to Columbia, Maryland, in 1971.
According to Helen Shoemaker, Sam believed that "small group action ... always started with personal counseling" and then continued in the group. This is probably a carry-over from Sam's work in the Oxford Group where conversion or change was the starting point and the group sharing followed. Sam's often repeated triad, "Get changed, get together, and get going" also reflects this order. We shall have occasion to return to the topic in a subsequent section. An activity related to the Thursday night "witness" services was the work of "Alcoholics Anonymous." AA began under Sam's inspiration and meetings were held every Tuesday night in the Great Hall of Calvary House. The starting points of Faith at Work and AA were similar, although the latter obviously addressed itself to a more particular audience.
The first week-end conference of Faith at Work, the progenitor of hundreds of such conferences to be conducted all over the country, in subsequent years was held at Calvary House in 1943. The means and methods adopted for the conference included:
1) the Conversion of Individuals to Christ; 2) Listening to God; 3) Loyalty to the Church and the Bible; 4) Fellowship, Prayer, and Training Groups; 5) Literature; 6) Impact on Situations; 7) Cooperation between Christian Groups and People. Of these methods, the first, second, and fourth have strong affinities with the procedures of the Oxford Group.
A Meeting in Print
Faith at Work would probably never have come into existence as an independent movement if it had not been for the growing influence of The Calvary Evangel, later called The Evangel, a magazine of Faith at Work, and still later simply Faith at Work. The Calvary Evangel started out as the monthly church publication of Calvary Church providing both parish information and fairly traditional inspiration from the time of its inception in 1888 until it was taken over by Sam Shoemaker and his friends in 1925. In 1930, Irving Harris became the editor of The Evangel on a part-time basis and from that time until Sam Shoemaker's departure for Pittsburgh at the end of 1951, it reflected faithfully the life style and point of view of its leadership. In 1942, the editor spoke of The Evangel as "a magazine for life changing and spiritual continuance and a regular means of keeping in touch with one another." A superficial analysis of the contents of The Evangel in the period 1925-51 suggests that in addition to serving as a newsletter, the magazine provided two kinds of input:
• stories or witnesses of particular personal experiences of Christ and His power to change lives, and • practical but more general and professional input on how to live the Christian life in a more formal and practical way. Sam Shoemaker's description of the Faith at Work magazine is apt for this period of the organization's life: Faith at Work is not a popular "how to get ahead" manual. It is not concerned with offering faith as the key to wealth, popularity, and success. It makes no attempt to prove that through faith life can be made easy; rather it tries to make clear that through faith at work life can be made great. Faith at Work is a meeting in print."
Shoemaker wrote over thirty books, about half of which were circulating before A.A.’s 12 Steps were first published in the Big Book in 1939. Shoemaker's books were circulated in New York, Akron, and the Oxford Group.
- "Calvary Episcopal Church". American Guild of Organists, New York City Chapter. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
- Mel B., "New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle," pp. 64-69, 1991, Hazelden, ISBN 0-89486-772-5
- Helen Smith Shoemaker, "I Stand By the Door: The Life of Sam Shoemaker," p. 50, 1978, Word Books
- Bill Pittman, "AA , the way it began",p.117 1988, Glen Abbey Books, ISBN,
- AA History website, accessed 2007-06-03