The Pot Belly Stove Group: The Spark of Attraction

After a lifetime of drinking in the small town of Raymond, Alberta, Canada—no easy task since it’s a “dry” town— Gordon L. got sober on May 15, 2000. The only problem was that there were no meetings in Raymond. The nearest one was a 12 and 12 group in the town of Letheridge, twenty miles away.

This didn’t stop Gordon, a local carpenter and builder. “I have made the round trip to that meeting every Sunday and Tuesday for 14 years,” he says. He’s even become the group’s G.S.R. But one Wednesday night in November 2008, he sat in front of the brick-lined 100-year-old pot belly stove in his garage—a stove that radiates so much warmth that it heats the place quite nicely, even in subzero temperatures—and desperately desired a meeting. He called a sponsee, who showed up for “a cup of coffee and some fellowship,” as Gordon puts it, and thus, with two people, the Pot Belly Stove Group began.

The Pot Belly Stove Group provides the perfect example of the principle of attraction, not promotion. “The meeting went from two people to twenty within three weeks,” Gordon says. It began with his (at the time) five sponsees, most  of whom were from neighboring small towns. They spread the word to others in these towns, who in turn spread the word even farther. Gordon went back to the Letheridge meeting and posted a card on their bulletin board announcing the new meeting in Raymond and adding a picture of the pot belly stove.

The group now has 32 regular members, whose ages range from mid-20s to mid-70s. It meets on Wednesdays at 8:00 pm. A fire is built in the  backyard fire pit at 6:30 and people start arriving to stand by the fire and drink coffee and hot chocolate and eat soup, stew, buns baked fresh by a  member, and other delicious food. “People often say to me, I’ll be back next week, I like your soup,” Gordon says. “There is a message in the soup  and the hot chocolate.” Gordon has also built a tree house in the copse of fir trees in back of his house. Before meetings, 12 feet above the ground, he  does Step work there with his nine sponsees. (The flattened top of the tree poking through the floor functions as a convenient table for Fourth  Step inventory lists.)

At 8:00, a cast-iron bell is rung and everyone heads into the garage, where folding chairs are arranged around the stove. The electric lights are  turned off and the only illumination comes from a 17 candle candelabra hanging from a deer pulley and the pot belly stove itself. The meeting kicks off with a reading from As Bill Sees It, then continues with round-robin sharing until 9:00, although often people stick around informally talking for hours afterwards.

Having a meeting like this in your backyard, once a w eek, every week, is no small amount of trouble, but Gordon quotes Bill W. in answer:  “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.” It’s estimated that 3,500 people have attended the Pot Belly Stove meetings  since that November night in 2008. It may be the unusual format of the meeting that  attracts people— or perhaps it’s the soup—but once they arrive, they tend to stay.

“People just kept coming,” Gordon says. “They get the spark.”

As published in

News and Notes from the General Service Office of A.A. ®
Box 459 Vol. 59, No. 3 – Fall 2013

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