Westboro Big Book Study Group

About the Westboro Big Book Study Group

      The idea of an Ottawa meeting based on the Joe and Charlie Big Book tapes came from Mary-Anne B. She thought the format would work as well in Ottawa as it did in London, Ont., where she first heard the folksy and traditional lectures by the two famous Americans. So in the fall of 2001 she approached All Saints Church and arranged to rent a room on Saturday morning.

      The first meeting of the Westboro Big Book Study Meeting was held at 9 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2002. Six people attended: Mary-Anne, who chaired; Ginny, who made coffee; Dave B., Brian L., Ed W. and Sharon W. (Sharon passed away at age 40 on Jan. 8, 2005).

      The initial meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer, the Preamble and the reading of the Twelve Steps, a format that is still followed. After that, the group listened to the opening segment of tape (about 20 minutes long) from an 11-hour series of lectures recorded by Joe McQuany and Charlie Parnham at Laughlin, Nevada, in August 1998.

      It was just one of many weekend presentations by the two men during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to AA audiences across North American and beyond – but a memorable one. The weekend was taped and their message been heard since that time by thousands of AA members around the world. In essence, Joe and Charlie teach the 12 Steps of recovery the old fashioned way, exactly as outlined in the Big Book by AA’s founders, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. They also do it with such an easy and good humour that they demystify the Big Book in the process and make it easy for everyone to understand.

      At the Westboro meeting, the message becomes even easier to absorb because the group also provides a written transcript each week, allowing members to see the words – and make notes if they wish – while listening to the tapes. Anyone who wants can take the transcripts home for personal use. Some group members have collected the entire set.

      The Laughlin weekend was broken down initially into 39 sessions, lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Each segment was played in sequence, taking about nine months of meetings to complete. The laborious job of producing transcripts was undertaken by Mary-Anne and Gabriela B., who also became an early member of the group. It took them several months. Later, some of the longer weekly sessions were divided again, expanding the total number of sessions to 47 – and extending the cycle of meetings needed to hear them all to almost 11 months.

      The group attracted a small but loyal initial following of five to 10 members. After it being listed in the Ottawa Area Meeting Directory, attendance rose to a dozen or more each week, with 15 present at the first anniversary in January 2003. Over the second year attendance doubled again to about 30 members a week, sometimes more. Thirty-five members were on hand for the second anniversary in January 2004, and attendance stabilized in the range of 30 to 40 over the next 18 months. Then, in the last half of 2005, it swung upward again. Approximately 60 members celebrated the fourth in 2006. Since that time attendance has topped 70 members on occasion, filling the meeting room to virtual capacity.

      A discussion period follows the playing of each weekly tape. Initially, there was only one discussion group but as attendance increased members divided into two, three and then four separate groups. Discussion continues until approximately 9:50 a.m. when members reconvene for announcements and a circle of hands – for those who wish. The meeting closes with the Responsibility Pledge and Lord’s Prayer.

      All members are welcome to celebrate birthdays at the group. Initially, the group maintained the its normal format even when birthdays were celebrated, varying the routine only to allow for special readings and the presentation of cards and medallions at the conclusion of the meeting. More recently, it has decided to give members the option of celebrating birthdays with a speaker meeting if they wish.

      In 2008, thanks to Harry B., the group established its own website and is in the process of making all the tapes and transcripts available as on online resource to the AA community at large. The address is: http://www.westborobigbook.com/

      Note: Since January 2006 a second Big Book meeting has been established in the city, again by Mary-Anne B. It meets at 5 p.m. on Friday in the east end of the city and follows the same format as the west end group. [July 2008].

      Note: On June 9th, 2008, the New Day meeting was formed, meeting at 7:30 a.m. in the West End on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The Wednesday meeting follows the same Joe & Charlie format. 

About the Joe & Charlie Sessions

     Joe McQ and Charlie P met in 1973 when Joe introduced Charlie as the AA speaker at an ALAnon convention. Joe had wondered if Charlie P might be the country singer Charlie Pride. "he wasn't even the right color," Joe laments.

     They instantly discovered their mutual fascinations with AA's basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous commonly called "The Big Book". What interested them mostly was that The Big Book was written in a particular sequence to convey certain ideas. That interest became close friendship, which has lasted over 20 years.

     They would frequently meet to discuss The Big Book, often driving 225 miles to meet in each other's homes. Soon they were planning meetings in hotel rooms at AA conventions in Oklahoma and Arkansas and, within a few years, the meetings grew in popularity.

     In 1977, some AA members met in a Tulsa, Oklahoma hotel room for a discussion on The Big Book. One member asked Joe and Charlie to come to his home group to present a program on The Big Book. A taping of that presentation was made and called "The Big Book Study". Through the circulation of these audio tapes throughout the Fellowship, Joe and Charlie received invitations to present the Study at AA conventions, roundups and special events. By 1980, there were about eight studies offered each year.

     At the AA International Convention in New Orleans in 1980, Wesley P, an impassioned AA "Big Booker" from Pompano Beach, Florida, organized a lunch for 1,500 AA members from all over the world and gave away 100 Joe & Charlie tape sets as door prizes. Invitations exploded, and within a couple of years Joe & Charlie were presenting about 36 seminars a year worldwide.

     These seminars struck a deep chord within the AA members ... for the reaffirmation of "this message" as written April 1939 with the publication of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. Big Book Studies presented by Joe & Charlie have been given in all 50 states as well as most Canadian provinces in addition to Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland,Iceland,Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Holland.

     The original Joe, Joe McQ, has had to cut back his traveling in recent years. Oddly enough, another Joe - Joe McC (who was active in the study group since the beginning) has been able to pick up the slack. "where God guides, God provides", as some members say.

     Joe & Charlie are not paid for their services. In fact, the only financial compensation they receive are their travel expenses, meals, and lodging which are paid for by the independent host committee sponsoring the Big Book Studies. Further, this is in accordance with the AA Guidelines of Conferences & Conventions (MG4), published by the General Service Office.

     In the past 24 years, an estimated 200,000 members of various 12 step programs have experienced the spiritual benefits of these collective seminars. One of their stops was at the Melville Marriot in Melville - Long Island NY over the weekend of June 19 - 21. 1998. I was privileged to be amongst the 400+ people who were there. They start at the chapter - The Doctors Opinion, and over the course of the next 2 days take us all the way through to the final words of the chapter - A Vision for You - "We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. May God bless you and keep you - until then." (Page 164).

     In between they show us how simple and uncomplicated it can be to complete a Fourth Step Inventory, as well as allowing us to hear the experience, strength, and hope that they have been fortunate to enjoy in many, many years of spiritual sobriety. They both showed all of us that It works - It really works ! all we have to do is follow the directions given to us by the first 68 members of AA who spent time with Bill Wilson and gave the world Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book) in 1939.

     Joe McQ. from Little Rock, Arkansas, of the original Joe and Charlie Big Book Studies, moved on to another life October 25, 2007.

     Not much is known about Charlie P. - we think he values his anonymity. 

About AA:

Our only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

If you think you have a problem with alcohol, you are welcome to attend our meeting.