Every Thursday when the Los Angeles Freeways choke onrushing motorists coming home from work, some grateful men trickle into Helm’s Hall, home of the WLA Men’s Stag Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. The meeting is located on the 2nd Floor of the United Methodist Church at the North East corner of Wilshire and Warner near Westwood Village. Usually, the chef for the evening’s meal is first to arrive followed by the set-up crew. Others arrive to converge in the kitchen, help out with the cooking or just to hang around the hall and share the day’s events with each other. There is safety here. At 7:00 p.m. the men break bread and at 7:25 a Barker announces that the meeting is about to begin. The meeting runs from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.
Like any other meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous all over the world, the Group’s primary purpose is to share their experience, strength and hope with each other, to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety.
The Group’s Founder is Clint Hodges (Sobriety Date: August 14, 1966), a longtime member of the Pacific Group. While speaking at the Music City Roundup in Nashville, Tennessee in 1990, Clint ran into a man who changed his life: Don Pritts of Aurora, Colorado. Don had found Alcoholics Anonymous while an inmate at the Colorado State Penitentiary. After his release, he joined the Denver Young People’s Group and subsequently met a man named Mac Cheeter from Winnipeg, Canada at the AA International Conference in Denver in 1975. Mac’s group was known as the Golden Slippers. The Golden Slippers were comprised of people who were seemingly unable to stay sober and the outcasts of their AA community, until they landed on the idea that since nothing else had worked, perhaps they should try working the Steps as they were outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Don quickly adopted this idea and broadened it into what we ascribe to in the WLA Men’s Stag today: “working the Steps as outlined in the Book”.
Another man, Joe Hawk, who was sponsored by Don and had approximately 6 years of sobriety, also happened to be speaking at the Music City Roundup as well. The message Clint heard in Joe’s talk reverberated down into his soul. Later and into that night, Don and Joe sat around and talked with Clint; At 23 years sober his wheels had come off and Clint was ripe to absorb everything these men had to say. As it turned out, Joe was coming to California so Don assigned Joe the task of taking Clint through the Steps. Ego was dead. There were but two alternatives: Clint, at 23 years of sobriety, could try to blot out his “bedevilments” to the bitter end or “accept spiritual help.”
He of course chose the latter and then, fully armed with this remarkable life-changing experience, Clint set out to share what had been so freely given to him. He organized a meeting for his sponsees. Word got around. Something different was afloat. Something fabulous was happening. Others joined in our journey and personal evolution. The first meeting of the WLA Men’s Stag was held in the basement of St. Augustine Church in Culver City. There were 25 to 30 men in attendance. In 1994 the Group moved to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. It was about this time that the meeting became listed for the first time in the LA Central Office Directory. From St. John’s, the Group moved to the Clare Foundation and stayed for 6 months. In August of 1994, the Group moved into the United Methodist Church where it is today. Skip M, an ex-Marine and member of the Church, was instrumental in securing the location. Great snacks became an integral part of the meeting. Hamid M, was the owner of a popular restaurant in Westwood and brought chicken wings prepared in the inimitable Persian style. Gradually, we added bread and other accoutrements: homemade cookies by Luther Wood, treats, several different types of designer coffees and additives. Charles Parsons was the first true chef. His meals were works of art. We flourished. Life was good! During Allen King’s secretary-ship it was decided to create a separate fund for the food; food was costing a lot, and most of the 7th Tradition went for food. WE LOVE GOOD FOOD, but the Group thought that we should contribute more to Central Office, New York, etc.
In the beginning, the Leader ran the meeting entirely and called on the participants. At a point, Clint thought that he didn’t need to “always be called on and ‘sum’ up the meeting at the end”. So, random lottery ticket selection was born to the Group so that the sharing would be varied and more people would get to talk on a regular basis. Today the Group still uses the lottery system for sharing, but we have always had the policy that if someone has a “dire need to share” all they have to do is raise their hand. The meeting celebrates birthdays with a cake and the Leader gives the cake.
The Group started going on Retreat in 1994. All alcoholic men everywhere are invited to attend; it is currently held at Serra Retreat Center, 3401 Serra Road, Malibu, CA 90265, around Easter.
A distinct element in the format is uncommon to most AA meetings: The leader reads, “Each one of us is very aware of his personal responsibility to see to it that what is said here remains here. We each know that it is inconsistent with that responsibility to repeat what is heard here to another just because that person is a sponsor, a spouse or good friend. Our experience also makes it clear that even a general reference to what is said in the meeting quickly becomes specific and serves no good purpose. This is true even if the person you’re speaking to was also at the meeting. Can we all agree to make no general or specific reference outside the meeting to anything said here?”
The Secretary reiterates at the close of the meeting, “One of the hallmarks of this meeting is the vow we declare to keep confidential all that is said here in the meeting. We do not discuss anything said in the meeting with your sponsor, spouse or friends.”