What was Surrender in Early AA?

What Was a Surrender in Early A.A.?

In the original A.A. “Christian fellowship” program founded in Akron in June 1935, pioneer newcomers had a very clear idea of A.A.’s requirement that they surrender.

The Surrender at Akron City Hospital

First, at the close of the usually-required, initial hospitalization in Akron City Hospital, there was a ceremony that involved only A.A. cofounder Dr. Bob and the newcomer with whom he had been working. It soon involved two events:
(1) The question Dr. Bob asked the newcomer:

    “Young feller, do you believe in God? Not a God, but God!”1 [emphasis in original]

(2) Then the requirement that the newcomer get out of bed, get down on his knees, and pray — with Dr. Bob leading the prayer.2

    The “Real” or “Full” Surrender Upstairs at the Regular Wednesday Meeting

Old-timer Bob E. described the hospital surrender.3 Then he pointed to the required surrender at the regular meeting. He said, “We called that surrender. They demanded it. You couldn’t go to a meeting until you did it. If by accident you didn’t make it in the hospital, you had to make it in the upstairs bedroom over at the Williamses’ house.”4

Old-timer Clarence Snyder’s wife, Dorothy, called these upstairs ceremonies a “real” surrender.5

Dr. Bob said, in Clarence’s case, that — even though Clarence had surrendered at the hospital — it was “about time you make your ‘full’ surrender.”6 Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Ripley Smith, spoke of “a real 100% surrender” and said “Surrender is a complete handing over of our wills to God, reckless abandon of ourselves, all that we think, that we are, everything we hold dear, to God to do what he likes with.”7

T. Henry Williams — in whose home the regular meetings and the surrenders took place, and who usually was one of those who went upstairs for the ceremony — said:

    After the meeting, we might take the new man upstairs, and a group of men would ask him to surrender his life to God and start in to really live up to the four absolutes and also to go out and help other men who needed it. This was in the form of a prayer group. Several of the boys would pray together, and the new man would make his own prayer, asking God to take alcohol out of his life, and when he was through, he would say, ‘Thank you, God, for taking it out of my life.’ During the prayer he usually made a declaration of his willingness to turn his life over to God.8

Frank Amos, an agent of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., rendered a report to Rockefeller concerning his visit to Akron in February 1938 to investigate the early A.A. program. Amos succinctly summarized the original Akron A.A. “Christian fellowship” program as containing seven “techniques” and described “the system followed.” He numbered the techniques. And Number 2 read as follows:

    He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope.9

Four Eyewitness Descriptions of What Happened in the Real Surrenders Made Upstairs

A.A. old-timer Ed Andy told me [Dick B.] in a telephone conversation:

    They would not let you in unless you surrendered to Jesus Christ on your knees.”10

Larry B., another old-timer, wrote me a letter dated September 18, 1992. He described what happened at his surrender upstairs:

    They took me upstairs to be a born again human being and be God’s helper to alcoholics.11

J. D. Holmes, an old-timer who had a relapse and then returned to sobriety, is quoted extensively in A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature. He had apparently had his problems with “the spiritual part” of the alcoholics’ program. J.D. told Bill Wilson how Ernie G. and Paul S. were at his house one day trying to explain it to him, when Ernie said, “Why Jesus Christ is sitting right on the arm of that chair by you. . . . He wants to help you if you just reach out your hand.” J.D. said. “Then I got to thinking about it — ‘Maybe the guy is right.’ And I began to give this thing a great deal of spiritual thought after that.” The quotes appear with descriptions of the surrenders that were required.12

Clarence Snyder — whose sobriety date was February 11, 1938, who stayed sober throughout the rest of his life, and who sponsored hundreds in their recoveries — was very explicit about Jesus Christ and the surrenders. His biographer wrote:

    These people introduced Clarence to Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. They explained to Clarence that this was First Century Christianity. Then they prayed for a healing and removal of Clarence’s sins, especially his alcoholism. When he arose, said Clarence, he once again felt like a new man.13

Describing both his surrender in the hospital and his real surrender upstairs, Clarence quoted the specific prayers that he remembered Dr. Bob uttering:

    Jesus! This is Clarence Snyder. He’s a drunk. Clarence! This is Jesus. Ask Him to come into your life. Ask Him to remove your drinking problem, and pray that He manage your life because you are unable to manage it yourself.14

Dr. Bob’s Wife Anne and the “Manage Me” Surrender Prayer

Both Oxford Group founder, Dr. Frank Buchman, and his chief American lieutenant, Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., utilized what some called the “Manage Me” prayer in connection with a surrender. In his “Victor’s story,” Frank Buchman described it as follows: “O Lord, manage me, for I cannot manage myself.”15 Shoemaker’s Calvary Episcopal Church described it as “Charlie’s Prayer,” which concluded: “God, manage me, ‘cause I can’t manage myself.”16

In the journal she shared with Bill W., Dr. Bob, the early AAs, and their families, Dr. Bob’s wife described the surrender prayer in two different ways: (1) “Oh God, manage me because I cannot manage myself.” (2) “O Lord manage me, for I cannot manage myself.”17

1 Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1991, 1997), 57. See also: DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980), 144.

2 DR. BOB, 101, 104, 118, 144.

3 DR. BOB, 101.

4 DR. BOB, 101.

5 DR. BOB, 101.

6 Mitchell K, How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1999), 70.

7 Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939: A.A.’s Principles of Success, 3rd ed, (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 28.

8 DR. BOB, 139.

9 DR. BOB, 131.

10 Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A.: God, the Pioneers, and Real Spirituality, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2000), 31. Phone conversation on January 9, 1994 at the home of Danny Whitmore in Lancaster, California.

11 Dick B., The Golden Text of A.A., 32.

12 DR. BOB, 140-141.

13 Mitchell K., How It Worked, 70.

14 Mitchell K., How It Worked, 58; Dick B., That Amazing Grace: The Role of Clarence and Grace S. in Alcoholics Anonymous (San Rafael, CA: Paradise Research Publications, 1996), 27; Three Clarence Snyder Sponsee Old-timers and Their Wives Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those Who Want to Believe, comp and ed. Dick B. (Winter Park, FL: Came to Believe Publications, 2005), 22, 25-27, 42-43.

15 A.J. Russell, For Sinners Only (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1932), 79.

16 Irving Harris, The Breeze of the Spirit: Sam Shoemaker and the Story of Faith at Work (NY: The Seabury Press, 1978), 10.

17 Dick B., Anne Smith’s Journal 1933-1939, 20-21.