Annual AA General Service Conference

“Having had the privilege of attending the General Service Conference last year, I got a better understanding of the process. Not only did I get a better understanding of the process, but also of the importance of the meaning of AA’s First Tradition with regards to Unity. I am but a small part of the whole, and I know I have to put any personal desires behind what is best for the Fellowship as a whole. Last year before Conference, Wullie I., a former General Service Board Trustee, wrote the following article about the Conference process, which was published both in ArenA and in AA Service News. We are publishing it again here in advance of this year’s Conference.” – Levey P. 

Every year, Conference happens towards the end of April, from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. Over the years it has been debated: Do we need a longer Conference? Should it be shorter? What about every two years? How do we get better questions more relevant to us?

I have had the pleasure and privilege to serve both as a Conference Delegate and as a member on the Conference Steering Committee (CSC). This is an experience I think everyone interested should try.

The Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Conference has two main purposes. First, so that members, groups, intergroups and regions can ask questions of the Fellowship on subjects pertaining to them on Fellowship matters. And second, so that the General Service Board (GSB) can report to the Fellowship on work undertaken over the past year, thus being accountable to the Fellowship.

The last thing that usually happens at each of the six committees is electing a chair and secretary for the next year. The newly elected chairs, along with the person elected by Conference to chair the next year’s Conference, two GSB Trustees, the General Secretary and the Conference Coordinator from the General Service Office (GSO), make up the CSC for the next year. Then, at end of every Conference, the process starts all over again.

The CSC meets four times in the year to set out terms of reference and decide if the two GSB Trustees should be able to vote. Then start to go through the questions submitted to GSO for next year’s Conference. All submissions need to be at GSO by the last day of August to be considered for the following year.

The CSC sifts through submitted questions, rejects questions not thought to be relevant or those that have already been debated within the last three years, and boils them down to the final questions and topics. They reply to unsuccessful submissions and ask others for more background on the questions that might be worthy of discussion. Not an easy task to be done in four meetings.

This all results in the final questions for Conference. It takes a huge amount of work from all the members, groups, and intergroups of the Fellowship who took the time to submit questions. Work from the Conference Coordinator for coordinating those submissions. And work from the CSC for debating and deliberating, without trying to answer them.

To the groups, intergroups and regions: Thank you for taking the time to debate the questions and topics. To the Conference Delegates: thank you for your service and time to attend Conference on behalf of your region and for coming up with the right answers – every single year.

A very important part of this service concerning Conference questions is the fact that when they are given to the CSC for discussion, no one on the committee (with the exception of the Conference Coordinator) is aware of who made the submission. Once the questions and topics have been selected, the CSC then has the task of notifying the unsuccessful submissions at the proper time, and giving the reasons for this.

But here is the best part: the only people in the entire fellowship who know about all of these goings-on are the CSC members! It is completely kept within this small, closed and confined group! No talking to sponsors, to spouses, to groups or service colleagues. These are huge secrets to keep – and I think a head nod in the direction of the CSC members is well due for this. It cannot be easy to keep this embargo!

Then, through the AA Service News (AASN), the topics and questions are revealed to the Fellowship at the exact same time, not giving any members or service entity an unfair advantage of previewing the topics and question before anyone else. Some people may get their post before others, but the fact is, all envelopes are posted on the same Monday morning. Everyone theoretically has the same chance of reading them at the same time. The questions are then posted to the AA GB website after it is felt that the entire fellowship, near and far, have had ample amount of time to rip open their envelope.

Every year at the beginning of December, we eagerly look forward to receiving the Annual Questions for Conference. Opening our envelopes with “Winter Edition of the AA Service News” headlining “Questions for Conference”.

If we are current Delegates, we head straight to the page with “our” committee on it. What have we gotten to get our teeth into this time? Group consciences all over debating and deliberating the points for and against. Some wondering the value or merit of these topics and questions. Some saying, “Has it really been over three years since we last debated this issue?” Others, “Where do they get these questions from?”

I personally think that this embargo within AA is very important and vital to make sure we are as open and transparent as we can possibly be. Through this embargo, we can gain transparency, openness and fairness.

In the Fellowship of the Spirit,

Wullie I.

This article first appeared in the AA Service News 178 Spring 2019 (pp. 4-6) and has been reprinted here with full written consent of its author, Wullie I.