“Did You Know” is exerted from a soon to be released book by a South Bend History Professor titled, “Changed by Grace.” In 1934, V.C. Kitchen published a book called, I Was a Pagan describing his discovery of the Oxford Group and the way it changed his life.
This is a short but very useful work for understanding the Oxford Group movement and the origins of many practices found in Alcoholics Anonymous. One nevertheless has to actually read Kitchen’s little book.
Attempting to summarize the connections between the O.G. and A.A. by giving short lists of tenets and principles does not do adequate justice to the linkage. Anyone however who has a first hand acquaintance with A.A., who then reads through I Was a Pagan, will find page after page where it sounds in uncanny fashion almost like a description of Alcoholics Anonymous in operation written by a long-time A.A. member. The Oxford Group was not the same as A.A., but we can see the connection between the two movements in the style and the feeling, just as much as in some of the ideas that A.A. borrowed from the parent group.
V.C. Kitchen was a New York advertising man, with an office at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. He had a great interest in the Calvary Rescue Mission for down-and-outers at 246 East 23rd Street, near Second Avenue, an operation that was supported by Calvary Episcopal Church and run by Oxford Group members.
This was where one of the connections to early A.A. arose. Calvary Episcopal Church itself was located several blocks away on 4th Avenue (now Park Avenue), at 21st Street.
The rector, Father Samuel Shoemaker, had constructed an eight-story parish house called Calvary House next door to the church in 1928. Shoemaker was a devoted friend of Frank Buchman, the founder of the Oxford Group. Under Shoemaker’s leadership, Calvary House became the American headquarters of the movement. In November 1934 Ebby Thacher came to visit Bill Wilson in his kitchen in the second floor apartment at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn, and told him (Bill), about the Oxford Group and its teachings.
As a result Bill visited Calvary Rescue Mission, began learning more about the O.G., and eventually got to know Father Shoemaker. What is so important for the purposes of this present work is that eye-witness account which V.C. Kitchen gives of the Oxford Group at work describes the kind of O.G. practices which existed in the New York City area at the exact time that Bill Wilson first came into contact with the movement.
The Oxford Group, which had arisen during the 1920s, was a Protestant evangelical movement with its own special flavor. Frank Buchman himself was a Lutheran pastor of German-Swiss background, but a man with strong Lutheran Pietistic leanings, which began pulling him towards the evangelicals. The modern Protestant evangelical movement had arisen within the English speaking world, and moved to a very different kind of spirit than was found in orthodox German and Scandinavian Lutheranism. Orthodox Lutheran pastors laid great emphasis upon holding all of the correct doctrines and dogmas that had been laid out in such enormous detail in the Augsburg Confession, the Book of Concord, and other standards of Lutheran orthodoxy. If someone broke the rules, for example, and taught that God and a human being were cooperating efficient causes in bringing about that human being’s salvation that was defined as the damnable heresy of Philippism, associated with the name of Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560). He had been Luther’s best friend and fellow reformer on the University of Whittenberg faculty, but was later on attacked by a number of the German pastors and university professors who eventually joined the reform movement. To be continued…
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