Virtual AA Meetings—A New Frontier or an International Clubhouse?

In Continental Europe, English language meetings are easy to find in large cities, but outside of these cities they can be few and far between. There are many AA members who do not have access to English meetings on a regular basis—perhaps because they are geographically isolated, because they are homebound, because there are no English meetings in their area or because the meetings in their area in the host nation language do not follow the AA program as we know it. Young people’s meetings are even more rare.

The First164yp group started as an online Skype meeting for young people in AA. After a few months, attendance dropped off and the technical host made the meeting known to all of AA in Continental Europe. From there it quickly grew beyond its beginnings as a young people’s meeting. As attendance grew, the meeting became a group, elected officers and affiliated with the Continental European Region of AA. Other meetings were started so that now our group has five meetings every week, and business meetings every 4-6 weeks.

Although we have participants from all over the world, our group was organized to serve English speaking AA members in Continental Europe. As mentioned above, English meetings outside of large cities can be difficult to find. In Eastern Europe, AA has not taken hold to the extent it has in Western Europe and there are many English speaking members (both native speakers and those who speak English as a second language) who do not have access to meetings. Some of our members are on ships or oil rigs and can’t get to meetings. Others travel extensively or are housebound. We also have participants who are serving in the armed forces–not only in Europe but also in Afghanistan and Iraq. For some of them, living in a war zone means that crossing town to get to a meeting is difficult or impossible.

How does it work?

Meetings  At the beginning all of our meetings took place within the framework of a conference call on Skype. Like any meeting, ours needs someone to ‘open the door and set up the meeting room’. This person is the technical host, who signs onto the Skype account about 30 minutes before the meeting to do any ‘housework’ that needs to be done and to start the meeting. A few minutes before the meeting is to start, the technical host establishes a conference call and adds any members who have indicated by chat messages that they would like to join the meeting on that date. After the meeting has started the technical host adds members who come late, inserts meeting-related information in the chat box, and calls back into the meeting anyone who has dropped out. We have developed guidelines for new technical hosts and provide some training so that they can take over a meeting with confidence.

In order to join a meeting a member has to add our group as a contact on Skype. Then they come online about 10 or 15 minutes before the meeting and send a chat message asking to join the meeting. The technical host responds to these requests and starts the conference call about 5 minutes before the meeting time, adding those who have asked to be included. As participants are added, they say “hello” (unless the meeting has already started) and mute their microphones. It’s important that participants do not turn on their video, as video decreases the bandwidth available to us and severely limits the number of participants who can be on the call. For the same reason we ask that participants not use the animated emoticons (i.e. ‘clapping hands’) available on Skype.

From that point the meeting proceeds as with face-to-face meetings, with participants sharing their experience, strength, and hope.  Like face-to-face meetings, each of ours has a chair who conducts the meeting (with the help of a written format) and introduces a topic. Participants share on that topic or any other topic they wish related to alcoholism and recovery. At the end of each meeting we make any AA related announcements and ask who would like to chair the following week. Our meetings end with the Serenity prayer.

Contact requests Our members join our group by sending a contact request to our Skype contact. If they mention AA or meetings we automatically accept them as contacts (and therefore as members of the group). However, we get a lot of people wanting to convert us to their religion or men looking for women or vice-versa. We also get a fair number of random contact requests. If they don’t say anything that lets us know they are in AA, we ask ‘do you have a home group?” or some other question to let them show us that they know we’re AA If they don’t respond after three months we delete their contact request.

If you have any questions or if we can help you to start your own meetings, please contact us at first164yp@nullgmail.com.

We wish you luck and we hope to see you as we trudge the road of happy destiny.

Kate M., Belgium

Note from the editor:  This article has been edited for brevity and space.  For a copy of the full article, including how service positions and 7th tradition contributions are handled, please email the ArenA Newsletter editor at arena@nullalcoholics-anonymous.eu for a emailed copy. This article has also been published in accordance with our ArenA Editorial Policy.