Sam Shoemaker 1957.

Sam Shoemaker 1957.

Samuel Moor Shoemaker was born on December 27, 1893, in Baltimore, Maryland. He attended St. George’s, an Episcopal boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island, and later attended Princeton University starting in 1912. In 1917, he went to China to start a branch of the YMCA and teach business courses. While there, he met Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group. After his time in China, Sam returned to Princeton in 1919. From 1922 to 1933 he was visited frequently by Buchman and later travelled with Buchman in Europe, the Middle East and India, performing missionary work similar to their time in China. In 1925, he married Helen Smith.

During the winter of 1923 and 1924, while still on his trip with Buchman, Sam was contacted by Calvary Church in New York. They were seeking a young and energetic new rector and believed he could fill that role. Through Sam’s efforts, attendance grew considerably over his first few years. He also recognized that the buildings of Calvary Church were old and in need of an update. Between 1927 and 1928, he sold some of the Church property, razed the old rectory, and built Calvary House, a multipurpose building which housed church facilities. It opened in 1928.  

In 1951, Sam was contacted by Calvary Church in Pittsburgh to become the rector there. The Bishop for that church personally called Sam to convince him to accept the position. He accepted, and in 1952 became the rector of that church. After ten years at Calvary Church in Pittsburgh, Sam retired as the rector there on January 1, 1962. The following year, on October 31, 1963, he passed away in Maryland.

Sam Shoemaker: Friend of A.A.

Bill W. once wrote in the A.A. Grapevine that “Dr. Sam Shoemaker was one of A.A.’s indispensables. Had it not been for his ministry to us in our early time, our Fellowship would not be in existence today.” His help for A.A. was tangible even before the Fellowship began to exist. As the head of Calvary Church, Sam built Calvary House, which served as a hostel where Ebby T. stayed for a time. Sam also ran Calvary Mission, a place for “the down-and-out,” which Bill W. visited in 1934 near the end of his drinking.

Sam was also an early member of the Oxford Group, having met Frank Buchman in 1918 in China. The close association of early A.A. to the Oxford Group ensured Sam’s association with the Fellowship and Bill W. Initially, he was unhappy with the decision by Bill and other alcoholics to hold meetings independent of the Oxford Group. Later, after Sam left that Group in 1941, he apologized to Bill W. for the disapproval of the Oxford Group and the fact that it gave little encouragement to A.A.

Bill W. made it clear that Sam Shoemaker “passed on the spiritual keys by which we were liberated.” The first three Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, the starting point for sobriety in the A.A. program, were inspired in part by Shoemaker. Bill further explained that “the early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker, their former leader in America, and from nowhere else.”

Dr. Shoemaker helped A.A. in fundamental ways. Physically, he provided refuge for alcoholics in New York though Calvary Church. Of greater importance was his spiritual aid, which directly influenced the Twelve Steps and the nature of A.A.’s program of recovery. His long and close friendship with Bill W. provided support to the co-founder, and helped the Fellowship weather its fledgling years.

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