Sedona Mago AA History Symposium

February 21-23, 2014

Sedona Mago Retreat Center in Arizona

As you stand in the Mago Retreat Center, you can look out over the high desert surrounding the center and see beautiful mountain vistas in every direction.

Sedona Mago Retreat Center in Arizona

You can walk around or just sit and meditate on the banks of the little manmade lake in the middle of the complex.

The Schedule of the Conference


Greetings from the conference's organizers - Jay Stinnett (who is on the staff at the Sedona Retreat Center) & William Schaberg


Welcome and Introductions - Glenn Chesnut, Moderator of the AAHistoryLovers web group.

Kenote address: A Reverence for History - Ernie Kurtz in a video interview

Uncovering the True Story of Rowland Hazard & Dr. Jung - Cora Finch

Whatever Happened to the Oxford Group? - Jay Stinnett
The century-long history of the Oxford Group. How it began (the Keswick Convention in 1908 and what followed), and how the OG transformed itself into Moral Re-Armament in 1938, and into Initiatives of Change in 2001.

What Did They Really Say: Early AA Recordings - early audio wire recordings and tape recordings collected by Mike Fitzpatrick
Mike, from Phoenix, Arizona, has created an audio archive which is possibly the world’s largest collection of recordings of the Twelve Step pioneers and their legacy over the decades.

What Were Those Early AA Meetings Like? Snashots from 1937& 1938 - Gail Lacroix, Glenn Chesnut, and William Schaberg

In from the Cold: Bill's Meeting with Father Dowling - Glenn Chesnut
Glenn Chesnut -- from South Bend, Indiana (near Chicago) and Fremont, California (across the Bay from San Francisco) -- is currently working on a book on the Roman Catholic contribution to early AA, with major sections of Father Ed Dowling (Bill Wilson's long term sponsor) and Father Ralph Pfau (who under the pen name of Father John Doe, wrote the Golden Books).

Eight Years of Detective Work: The Making of Bill W. - Kevin Hanlon & Dan Carracino
Kevin Hanlon from New York City and Dan Carracino from Laguna Beach, California, director/producers of the wonderful feature-length documentary film Bill W.

Bill W. - Video Excerpts from the Cutting Room Floor - Kevin Hanlon & Dan Carracino

Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona

Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona


Jim Burwell - "The New York Atheist" - Our Most Unreliable AA Historian - William Schaberg
Bill Schaberg, a rare book dealer from Fairfield, Connecticut, and an expert on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, is currently writing a book called “The Big Book: The Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous.” He is known to many as the author of one of the essays at the beginning of the printed version of the original manuscript "The Book that Started It All."

The Akron Pamphlets: Ohio's Response to th Big Book - Gail Lacroix
Gail founded the Arkron AA Archives at the behest of Nell Wing, and also started the first of the National AA Archives Workshops in Akron in 1996.

Show Me the Money! Tall Tales about Bill Wilson and AA Finances - Kevin Hanlon

Exploring Our Archival Treasurs - Paul Cleary & Sally Corbett
Paul Cleary is a Past Trustee, and was Chairman of the Archives Committee -- he is currently working on a book on young people in AA. He is a therapist - LCSW and MSW - from San Diego.
Sally Corbett is the new Executive Director at The Stepping Stones Foundation and is in charge of their archives. She did a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Art History at the State University of New York at Albany.

Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona

Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona


The talks given this weekend were intended to give us some good examples of the best professional level historical research. As Ernie Kurtz puts it:

We must emphasize above all the importance and benefits of "getting the story right"… without serving some private agenda.
We got to hear some examples of the value of asking probing questions on occasion about the accuracy of the received AA records.
We got to explore some of the challenges of uncovering and dealing with primary sources.
And perhaps some of us may well have discovered areas in AA history which need more attention from scholarly researchers.

Collegiality? This gathering was intended to be a whole lot more than just sitting and listening to talks. In fact, the most important part of the whole weekend may well have been the opportunity to just sit and talk with our colleagues, making use of this occasion to meet and chat with people personally whom we had only known previously from their writings and from e-mails -- and to meet new people too, including young people just starting out and the whole range of people who love to read about and talk about various aspects of AA history and the broader 12-step heritage.

The great east Asian Mother Goddess Mago

The great east Asian Mother Goddess Mago


As Glenn Chesnut said in his introduction at the beginning of the conference: On Dec. 11, 1934 Bill Wilson had his last drink and checked himself into Towns Hospital in New York City. Then on Dec. 14, he had a profound spiritual experience -- a vision of the divine light -- and on the next day, two Oxford Group members, Ebby Thacher and Shep Cornell, visited him and brought him two books to read: William James' Varieties of Religious Experience and The Little Flowers of St. Francis.

The first was in fact a book of stories, stories about hundreds of people. The second was a book telling the story of one extraordinary spiritual figure.

Ebby and Shep were simply following a suggestion given in a book called Soul-Surgery, written by H. A. Walter, which laid out what the Oxford Group called the 5 C’s. Walter said on pp. 127-128:

"Conversion is a matter both of the heart and the will, and if there is anything we can do to assist him to make the great venture of faith .... it is, first of all, to give him autobiographical writings like those of St. Augustine, Brother Lawrence and Tolstoy ...."

The people in this gathering in Sedona are important because they are some of the ones who tell and preserve and cherish the stories that show men and women how to turn their lives around.

It is also important to express our enormous gratitutde to Jay Stinnett and THE MAGO RETREAT CENTER for giving us such a beautiful place to hold this symposium. Spirituality lies at the heart of the 12 step program, and this retreat center, with ancient Korean Taoist spirituality at its heart, is set in a part of North America where the spiritual dimension breaks through the surface of the material world in often spectacular fashion. This goes back centuries, to the Anasazi and perhaps even before. We should not be surprised if we have personal spiritual experiences of one sort or another before this weekend is over.

And in light of that, it seems appropriate that -- here at the beginning of this symposium -- we all say a prayer in our hearts for Ernie Kurz, whose health did not permit him to be here this weekend, but who sent a videotape, and will be in all of our minds throughout the weekend. Numerous people at this retreat -- myself included -- have been the recipients of countless acts of kindness and generosity from that kind and good man.

The great east Asian Mother Goddess Mago

The great east Asian Mother Goddess Mago

Sedona Mago Retreat Center assembly hall

A photo of the center's assembly hall, taken at a previous gathering. The AA History Symposium had many more people than this group: 150 attendees.

Sedona Mago Retreat Center visitors bedrooms

The guest rooms had beds and bathroom facilities, but no telephones or televisions, so that the attendees could have a quiet place to rest or meditate whenever they wished.

Click here for index of all photos