The Clarence Snyder Factor
© 2005 All rights reserved,
Clarence H. Snyder got sober in February, 1938,
with the help of his sponsor, A.A. co-founder Dr. Bob. He was one of the
forty Akron Pioneers who established A.A. as a reliable and effective
spiritual program for recovery from, and cure of, alcoholism.
But for the influence and actions of Clarence,
Alcoholics Anonymous might never have grown beyond Akron, nor achieved
nationwide and eventually world-wide recognition as the society to join
if you were really serious about quitting drinking, willing to place
your reliance on the Creator, and do “anything” to overcome the
seemingly hopeless curse of alcoholism. For, in Akron, A.A. became
focused on individual religious deliverance and early hospitalization,
but not upon widespread enlargement of its numbers. In New York, the
Society spurned the religious emphasis of Akron, focused on book sales,
and abstinence, but had little to show in achieving recovery. On the
other hand, the emergence of Clarence Snyder as a young, vigorous,
promoter gave the fledgling fellowship a growth spurt that changed the
Clarence Snyder’s footsteps marked out a path that
deserves revived attention and long-lasting appreciation in the ranks of
dedicated A.A. members today. And the following are some of the
milestones that justify the applause.
Clarence well learned and knew the original Akron
A.A. Christian Fellowship principles and practices. They enabled him to
achieve and maintain continuous sobriety to the date of his death in
1984 and to attain the status of the member with the longest period of
sobriety at that time.
At the very outset of his recovery efforts,
Clarence accepted: (1) A.A.’s original insistence on a belief in
Almighty God, the Creator, (2) the necessity for coming to Him through
His Son Jesus Christ, and (3) the Bible as the main source of all for
religious truth. He also understood and espoused Akron’s emphasis on the
Book of James (the healing book as he called it), the Sermon on the
Mount (which, as stated by Dr. Bob and Bill W., contained the underlying
philosophy of A.A.), and 1 Corinthians 13 – which epitomized A.A.’s
emphasis on love). Nonetheless, Clarence was quick to recognize and
absorb the life-changing ideas of the Oxford Group and its four absolute
standards – honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love.
Clarence was perhaps the first of the A.A.
pioneers to recognize the plight of its early Roman Catholic members who
were enjoined by their Cleveland priest to cease attending the
Protestant-oriented Akron fellowship meetings.
In consequence, he defied his own sponsor’s
refusal to establish a non-Oxford Group meeting for alcoholics only. In
May of 1939, he founded the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – in the
home of a Cleveland Roman Catholic AA. And, in so doing, he opened the
doors of Alcoholics Anonymous to what has become the largest
denominational segment of A.A.’s religious population..
Though A.A.’s Big Book had only just been
published, Clarence fully embraced its contents to the letter. He had
even participated in writing in the story portion of the book. He
mastered its directions for taking the Twelve Steps and in short order
was taking newcomers through their Steps in droves.
Clarence beat the bushes for still suffering
alcoholics in Cleveland and elsewhere. He openly advertised the A.A.
program and freely used his own name and address as a tool for promoting
the recovery program. In one year, largely through Clarence’s efforts,
the Cleveland A.A. groups grew from one to thirty and achieved an
unequalled 93% success rate among the Cleveland members.
The broader Cleveland program was unique in its
non-sectarian character. Yet it taught from the Big Book, the 12 Steps,
the Bible, and the Oxford Group’s Four Absolutes. Its literature was
replete with references to all four, and the masthead of its Central
Bulletin carried the Four Absolutes – Honesty, Purity, Unselfishness,
and Love – prominently at the top of the page. The fellowship there
offered wholesome sports and social activities as well. In the midst of
it all, Clarence never failed in his enthusiasm for, and loyalty to, his
sponsor Dr. Bob Smith and Bob’s wife, Anne Smith.
Clarence had a bent for fellowship organization.
It had a lasting effect on what have become some of A.A.’s strong points
– belief in and reliance on God, rotating leadership, and the informed
sponsorship of newcomers. He also saw the importance of continuing
Akron’s emphasis on early hospitalization to save the lives of
newcomers. And he never flagged in giving proper credit to the Bible as
the foundation of A.A.’s basic ideas.
The service of this man to alcoholics and A.A. was
life-long. It was given without charge or profit and without financial
gain. He sponsored thousands—many still alive and sober today. He
established spiritual retreats for AAs and their families, and these
continue to this very day. His marriage to Grace Moore added a new
dimension to his influential ministry. And Grace worked at his side,
learning how to sponsor and how to conduct and lead the retreats with
Clarence. She carried them forward after his death and led them until
the date of her death. See That Amazing Grace (http://www.dickb.com/amazgrace.shtml)
The Snyder factor in today’s A.A. probably
represents its strongest force for retaining belief in God, respect for
religion, disciplined use of the Big Book, guided instruction in taking
the 12 Steps the original way, and recognizing A.A.’s everlasting debt
to the Good Book and to the Oxford Group.
further information on early A.A. history, see
For more on Clarence’s specific contributions, see
“Our A.A. Legacy to the Faith Community: A Twelve-Step Guide for Those
Who Want to Believe” (http://www.cametobelieve.org),
Clarence’s three pamphlets – “Going Through the Steps,” “My Higher
Power, the Lightbulb,” and “Sponsorship.” A good biography can be found
in Mitch K.’s “How It Worked.”