Al‑Anon’s largest representative group conscience, the World Service Conference (WSC), met in West Harrison, New York, April 16-20. The Conference theme was “Al‑Anon—There Is No Standing Still!” It was Al‑Anon’s 58th annual Conference, which brought together Delegates from 67 Areas in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Bermuda. These Delegates are elected by their Area Assemblies, which include Group Representatives, District Representatives and other Al‑Anon members participating in the activities of their service structure. Although Delegates are elected by the Al‑Anon members in their Areas, their purpose at the World Service Conference is to represent Al‑Anon as a whole.
Other participants in the Conference include members of Al‑Anon’s Board of Trustees and Executive Committee, as well as Al‑Anon members who serve in senior Staff positions at the World Service Office (WSO). In 1985, the WSC voted to make the Conference member ratio two-thirds elected Delegates to one-third WSO Volunteers and Staff.
The 2018 Conference had 92 voting members. More information about how the Conference works is available in the 2018-2021 Al‑Anon/Alateen Service Manual (P-24/27), beginning on page 160.
Celebrating One Day at a Time: Al‑Anon’s International Convention 2018
This update on the upcoming International Convention informed Conference members that (at the time of the presentation) there were 75 days left until the beginning of the 2018 International Convention! Al‑Anon’s Sixth International Convention will be held July 6-8, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. On site-registration will be $195.00.
A countdown clock for the Convention, along with any other information needed about the event, can be found at al-anon.org/al-anon-international-conventions or by calling the WSO.
This year, in the Board’s efforts to address the strategic priorities of the organization, empower the Al‑Anon fellowship and achieve a viable future for Al‑Anon Family Groups, the Board of Trustees invited Conference members into the early phases of conversation between itself and the World Service Office Staff. Their discussions, which took place over three days, centered around the “mega-issue” of how to best address Spanish and French translation needs across the worldwide fellowship.
The conversation started Tuesday, with the Board seeking additional information from Conference members in answer to the five Knowledge-Based Decision-Making questions. From these insights, the translation problem was refined to prepare for brainstorming and prioritization of potential solutions, which occurred Thursday, and identification of the positive benefits and potential risks of the solutions, which wrapped up the week on Friday.
Since the translation mega-issue conversation is still in its infancy, Conference members were reminded that Staff and the Board need time to discuss the details and possible solutions before any conclusions can be reached. Once clear direction is identified, Conference members will be provided this information to share with the members in their Area.
New Conference Approved Literature
During the Conference, members expressed appreciation and excitement upon receiving a copy of Al‑Anon’s newest pamphlet, Hope & Understanding for Parents & Grandparents (P-94). Those who wanted copies in French or Spanish received translated versions as well. The Conference also shared eager anticipation when informed that the new book, Intimacy in Alcoholic Relationships—A Collection of Al‑Anon Recovery Stories (B-33), would be introduced at the Al‑Anon International Convention in Baltimore this July!
During the week, the Conference participated in discussion of a possible new piece of literature. Over a year-and-a-half ago, the Literature Committee began discussing numerous requests from members of the fellowship that the WSO produce a new bookmark similar to the Just for Today (M-12) bookmark, using an article titled “Just for Tonight,” which appeared in the August 2016 issue of The Forum.
After considerable discussion, including completion of the five Knowledge-Based Decision-Making (KBDM) questions, the Committee agreed that such a bookmark could serve as a nightly Tenth Step tool. It unanimously agreed to recommend having a discussion with the Conference about developing such a piece. The Committee felt that the bookmark should be based on the article, but not a direct reprint. In this way, the Committee could fine-tune the wording to be inclusive and reflective of the fellowship as a whole.
Some Conference members had questions regarding the process for developing Conference Approved Literature. Some expressed views from their Areas that a wallet card or other formatting of the material would be more appropriate. Others did not feel another bookmark was necessary or feared that this was somehow intended to replace the Just for Today piece, which it was not. However, the majority of Conference members shared considerable enthusiasm for the idea. Therefore, the Literature Committee presented a motion for conceptual approval to develop a bookmark based on the Forum article, which was carried by the Conference with substantial unanimity.
Stepping Stones Visit
Visiting Stepping Stones—the birthplace of the Al‑Anon Clearing House as we know it today and the home of Lois and Bill W. (cofounders of Al‑Anon and A.A. respectively)—is often the highlight of the Conference. Since the World Service Office’s move from New York to Virginia in 1996, Conference members have continued to visit Stepping Stones once per term. The trip affords Conference members the opportunity to reflect on our beginnings and to appreciate the incredible effort which went into ensuring the fellowship would continue. This year, all Conference members visited Stepping Stones in Katonah, New York, on Wednesday, April 18th.
Task Force Report: Celebrating Our Differences and Our Common Purpose
This Task Force was charged with developing a workshop for a District or Area. The workshop included ways and ideas for group members to welcome and give comfort to newcomers from all communities, cultures and beliefs while keeping the focus on Al‑Anon’s primary purpose of helping friends and families of alcoholics. The Task Force consisted of Delegates from Panels 55-57 as well as WSO Staff and Volunteer members.
During the Conference, the Task Force presented an overview of perceived biases in order to examine how this affects our ability to welcome new members to Al‑Anon. A mock “phone meeting” was presented to demonstrate how members use alternative meetings to share experience, strength and hope. It was followed by a skit about the same members of the phone meeting deciding to meet face-to-face at Al‑Anon’s International Convention. Members of the Task Force took on a variety of roles, including those of younger, older, gay, adult child, Spanish-speaking and foreign-born Al‑Anon members. The skit portrayed how our misperceptions of each other can affect our interactions as a group.
Following the skit, everyone participated in a “Facing our Biases” inventory exercise. This session gave Conference members an opportunity to share their reactions on the inventory sheet that was provided and recognize the insidiousness of bias in how we welcome newcomers to the Al‑Anon meeting.
Overall feedback from the Conference members was positive, as members took the opportunity to share honestly about what is happening at the local levels, and about challenges brought on by bias in how we welcome anyone affected by the family disease of alcoholism. Conversation included awareness that bias can also extend to members of other Twelve Step recovery programs and people with visible and non-visible disabilities (with respect to perception of their eligibility for membership in Al‑Anon).
The Conference members recommended that the WSO create a service tool to incorporate the “Facing our Biases” inventory sheet to encourage ongoing conversation at District and Area levels on this topic.
Work Group Report: Electronic/Virtual Meetings
Electronic/virtual meetings are a means of connecting and sharing the Al‑Anon program regardless of members’ locations. These meetings have been registering with the WSO since 2001 but are not yet a defined part of the service structure. In 2017, the Policy Committee established an Electronic/Virtual Meetings Work Group in the hope of starting a new conversation. The Work Group includes members of the Board of Trustees and World Service Office (WSO) Staff, who reached out to members of a variety of electronic/virtual meetings for their insights and input. This year’s World Service Conference (WSC) included a brief report on their work, followed by a discussion on the Conference floor.
The discussion focused on three questions, shown below with selected responses. All responses were beneficial. Prior to the WSC, the Work Group discussed these questions amongst themselves. During the Conference discussion, Staff and Trustees from the Work Group shared some of their own thoughts and insights as well as those of members who attend electronic/virtual meetings. This is the first time the Conference has heard comments from those who participate in these meetings.
What do we know?
- Many members who attend electronic/virtual meetings also attend face-to-face meetings and are represented, at least in part, by the existing service structure.
- Electronic/virtual meetings are very helpful for members who have family obligations, live with active alcoholism, travel frequently, live in remote areas, or live in areas where meetings are small or sparse.
- Tens of thousands of members are already participating in electronic/virtual meetings.
What do we wish we knew?
- Do electronic/virtual meetings attract younger members?
- How many potential members have not yet tried Al‑Anon because they do not have access to a face-to-face meeting or don’t know about the existence of electronic/virtual meetings?
How can electronic/virtual meetings fit into the WSC Service Structure?
- Many electronic/virtual meetings are international in nature. How could a service representative be selected?
- Electronic/virtual meetings are here to stay and have a desire to share the Al‑Anon program. There is an equal desire to make sure these members have all of the benefits of the Al‑Anon program, including opportunities for service beyond the group level.
- Areas might be able to adopt an electronic/virtual meeting and allow it to participate remotely.
This was only the beginning of the conversation, but the contributions of the Conference members were extremely helpful to the Work Group. Their task is ongoing!
For a more detailed account of the 2018 World Service Conference, see the Conference Summary (P-46), available in July 2018.