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1908 FRANK BUCHMAN’S “CONVERSION”

Buchman, a Lutheran minister, has a powerfully transformative religious experience, which leads him to eventually form the Oxford Group. This experience of Buchman’s contains all of the elements that would later be codified as the Twelve Steps.

After he is forced to resign from the children’s hospice, which he founded, Buchman harbors deep resentments against the hospice Board. During this time, Buchman suffers from stress related illness, and decides to have a holiday in Europe to recuperate.

While in Britan attending the Keswick Convention, an annual gathering of evangelical Christians, Buchman drops in for Sunday morning at a small chapel. The sermon is on Christ’s Crucifixion and is so moving that it leads Buchman to examine his own sin. He describes the experience as follows:

  I saw the look of sorrow and infinite suffering in His face. I knew that I had wounded Him, that there was a great distance between myself and Him…my sin, my pride, my selfishness and my ill will had eclipsed me from God in Christ…I asked God to change me and He told me to put things right with [the hospice Board].

On the Tail of a Comet
by Gareth Lean

Buchman is elated by this experience, and he writes a letter to each member of the Board, asking their forgiveness. After he relates his experience that afternoon to his companions at tea, Buchman is approached by a young man who asks if he may talk more with Buchman. The two walk around a lake together, and the young man makes a surrender similar to Buchman’s. Buchman later says of the experience:

  That was the first man that I ever brought face to face with the central experience of Christianity.   

On the Tail of a Comet
by Gareth Lean

It is not difficult to see the seed of the 12 Steps in Buchman’s experience. The sermon on the Crucifixion gives Buchman the chance to take a moral inventory (step 4). Realizing his powerlessness over his sin (step 1), he fully believes that God can change him (step 2), and so Buchman surrenders himself to God (step 3) and asks God to remove his shortcomings (steps 6&7). Buchman then asks for and recieves God’s guidance (step 11). When God tells him to make things right with the hospice Board, Buchman becomes willing to make amends to the Board, and then does so by writing the letters (steps 8&9). Buchman shares the whole experience with his companions at tea (step 5), and then helps a young man to have a similar experience of his own (step 12).

If the comparison of Buchman’s converison experience to the Steps feels jumbled and awkward, it is because Buchman’s experience is the type of spontaneous event that the Steps are meant to systematically reproduce. Buchman was not intentional about his conversion, nor did he follow any predetermined formula. In a sense, the Steps are an attempt to make an experience like Buchman’s available to any one who desires one and is willing to work through the necessary tasks.

In the years that follow his conversion, Buchman’s work in bringing others to “the central experience of Christianity” will help to refine the practices that in turn become the formula of the Twelve Steps.

 

 


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