This week’s “Did You Know” is excerpted from a South Bend history professor’s soon to be released book, Changed by Grace:


In 1934, Victor Constant Kitchen (1891-1975), published a book titled, I Was a Pagan, describing his discovery of the Oxford Group and the way it changed his life.

In November 1934, Ebby Thacher came to visit Bill Wilson in his kitchen on the second floor apartment at 182 Clinton Street in Brooklyn, and told him about the Oxford Group and its teachings. As a result Bill visited Calvary Rescue Mission, began learning more about the Oxford Group, and eventually (after his vision of the light in Towns Hospital) began attending the O.G. meetings at Calvary House, where he also got to know Father Samuel Shoemaker.

What is so important for the purpose of this work is the eye-witness account which V. C. Kitchen gives of the O.G. and describes the kind of practices which existed in the New York area at the exact time Bill Wilson first came into contact with the movement.

He and Bill were both members of the same O.G. businessman’s group during the period around 1935-1936, and became good friends. The two of them were close to the same age, so they could relate to one another easily.

In 1934—which was the year Ebby visited Bill in his apartment and told him about the O.G, and the year that Kitchen’s book, I was a Pagan was published—Bill turned 39 years old and Kitchen was 43. There was also a connection between Kitchen and Dr. Bob Smith, although it was indirect. In 1933, a wealthy rubber baron Harvey Firestone, Sr. (president of the Firestone Rubber and Tire Company) brought sixty O.G. members to Akron, Ohio, paying all their expenses, so that they could get an O.G. group started in that city. Kitchen was one of the members of that team, which meant that he was one of founders of the O.G. fellowship in that city. Dr. Bob Smith’s wife Anne was the one who persuaded the doctor to start attending these new O.G. meetings early in 1933, shortly after they were begun.

Now it should be noted that Dr. Bob was not able to get sober just by joining the O.G., but it created a link which allowed him to meet Bill Wilson, two years later, in May, 1935. It also gave him enough knowledge of O.G. principles to allow him and Bill Wilson to start talking together productively from the very start, and begin creating the Alcoholics Anonymous movement by modifying and adapting those O.G. principles.

So, Kitchen had connections of one sort or another with both founders of Alcoholics Anonymous: with Bill Wilson directly, but indirectly with Dr. Bob, too. This is another part of what makes Kitchen’s book, “I was a Pagan” so important for understanding early A.A. The O.G. which had arisen during the 1920s was a Protestant evangelical movement led by Frank Buchman who was a Lutheran pastor of German-Swiss background. But they insisted, just as strongly as any Roman Catholic, on the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the elements of the communion service, and attacked skeptics like the followers of the radical Swiss Protestant reformer Zwingli who said that the bread and wine were only symbols intended to remind us of the sacrifice which Christ made for us. The correct way of describing the Eucharist, the orthodox Lutherans declared, was to say that the body and blood of Christ were truly present “in, with and under” the bread and wine. If an orthodox Lutheran pastor refused to use those precise words—including the precise prepositions “in, with and under” or allowed any member of his congregation to adopt any other theories, —that pastor was soon going to be in enormous trouble.

The Waynedale News Staff
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