Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker,
Jr.’s Apologia For His Life
“So I Stand By The Door”
The Poem, Its Form and Titles
and an Historical Commentary
Samuel Moor Shoemaker, Jr., S.T.D., DD, is known to a few (far too few) members
of Alcoholics Anonymous as a “co-founder” of the Society and the well-spring of
To the religious community, to Episcopalians, and to many citizens, Sam was
known and applauded as one of the 10 greatest preachers in America (along with
Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, and others). From 1925 and for many years
thereafter, Sam was Rector of the Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church in New
York. Later he was called to be Rector of the Calvary Episcopal Church in
Pittsburgh. Sam took a special interest in Alcoholics Anonymous and become a
good friend of co-founder Bill Wilson. In fact, Sam taught Bill Wilson most of
the spiritual principles that were incorporated into A.A.’s basic text
(Alcoholics Anonymous) and in A.A.’s Twelve Steps. Some 200 phrases in A.A. bear
the unmistakable footprints of Sam. And, at one point, Wilson asked Shoemaker to
write the Twelve Steps, but Sam declined – saying they should be written by
Bill. Nonetheless, the Steps (as is the Big Book) are replete with Shoemaker
ideas on how to find God, the “turning point,” the Oxford Group life-changing
steps (Confidence, Confession, Conviction, Conversion, Continuance), Quiet Time,
Spiritual Awakening, prayer, fellowship, conversion and witness, and the need to
“pass it on”—a phrase known to all AAs. Years after the founding of A.A. in
1935, Wilson according Shoemaker the singular honor of addressing the A.A.
International Conventions in 1955 (St. Louis) and 1960 (Long Beach).
Recently, the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Experiment (which Sam
founded) opined to me that Shoemaker’s whole dedication was to opening the door
and showing people how to find God. Shoemaker several times wrote articles
bearing titles like “How To Find God.”
It is not surprising that Shoemaker penned several versions of a poem which most
have titled “So I Stand By The Door.” Actually, at Christmas, 1958, Sam had this
poem and many others privately printed by Calvary Church in Pittsburgh. The poem
has taken several forms and been known by at least two titles. The first title –
apparently the one that Sam himself chose – was “So I Stay Near
The Door—An Apologia For My Life.” This is the title used in the pamphlet
which I found in the Episcopal Church Archives in Austin, Texas. The poem has
been used, modified, reprinted, and retitled elsewhere under the better known
name of “So I Stand By The Door.”
The Poem: “So I Stay Near The Door”
[I have received so many inquiries about the poem, its title, its wording, and
where to find it, that this rendition is made available for your blessing.
Further extensive comments on Sam Shoemaker can be found it my title “New Light
on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A.” (http://www.dickb.com/newlight.shtml)]
“I stay near the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world—
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men.
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it . . .
So I stay near the door.
“The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door—the door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch—the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter—
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it—live because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him . . .
So I stay near the door.
“Go in, great saints, go all the way in—
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics—
In a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in,
Sometimes venture a little farther;
But my place seems closer to the opening . . .
So I stay near the door.
“The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving—preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would like to run away. So for them, too,
I stay near the door.
“I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not even found the door,
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply, and stay in too long,
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him, and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.
Where? Outside the door—
Thousands of them, millions of them.
But—more important for me—
One of them, two of them, ten of them,
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch,
So I shall stay by the door and wait
For those who seek it.
‘I had rather be a door-keeper . . .’
So I stay near the door.”
Epilogue by Dick B.
The poem contains many reminders of the A.A. I found – newcomers crying out for
help in finding God. Hesitant, frightened, even reluctant newcomers—coming in
and out by the thousands each year. Newcomers who seek a guiding hand—only to
hear that “god” can be a light bulb, a radiator, a chair, or “Someone.”
Newcomers who can’t find Shoemaker’s “door” because there is no one leading or
pointing to the right power—Yahweh, the Creator. Newcomers who—amounting to 50%
of those who come in the A.A. door—are out of it within the first year. Back to
drinking. Back to drugs. Back to misery. Back to sure and certain death by one
means or another if they remain “outside” the real door—the door to the power of
How valuable it will be for people to see Shoemaker’s poem today. As we take
“God” out of our Pledge of Allegiance. As we take “God” out of our courtrooms.
And as AAs are adjured to take “God” out of their belief system with a supposed
freedom to choose just “anything at all.”
The A.A. I found, almost twenty years ago, included, among other things, these
(1) “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful! Without
help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God.
May you find Him now!” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 59; and the first
chapter of Shoemaker’s first title, “Realizing Religion,” 1923).
(2) “. . . either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He
isn’t. What was our choice to be?” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 53; and
Shoemaker’s title which preceded A.A., “Confident Faith”).
(3) “Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a
fact as we were.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 55).
(4) “When we drew near to Him, He disclosed Himself to us!” (“Alcoholics
Anonymous,” 4th ed ., p. 57).
(5) “We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with
complete abandon.” (“Alcoholics Anonymous,” 4th ed., p. 59; and many of
Shoemaker’s titles, including his first—“Realizing Religion”).
The early A.A. Pioneers in Akron, Ohio, were not trying to find God. They got
their information, their belief system, and their instructions from the Bible.
They studied the Bible. And they believed that God is (See Hebrews 11:6). So did
Devastated by the ravages of excessive drink, like the Pioneers, I sought to
rebuild my relationship with God—to establish daily fellowship with Him (1 John
1). And to seek His protection and care at every turn, mindful that obedience to
His will was a vital part of the effort. Like early AAs, I was cured of
alcoholism and have not had a drink from the first day in A.A. rooms until
For doubters, unbelievers, and those like Bill Wilson—who was an atheist and
lacked both a relationship and fellowship with God—A.A.’s basic text was written
to show newcomers the steps to take to find God. The very thing Rev. Sam
Shoemaker was teaching to his friend Bill Wilson in New York. They told “how it
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