Bonus Episode: Secular Ontario AA Roundup

On September 7, 2019, the Secular Ontario AA Roundup will be held at the First Unitarian Church at 170 Dundurn Street South, Hamilton, Ontario. Registration and information can be found at the website In this special bonus episode, I’ll be speaking with Murray J. and Carolyn B. who will go into more detail about what you can expect at the roundup.

Read more about SOAAR at AA Agnostica

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John S: Alright, I’m here with a Murray J and Carolyn B, and we’re here to talk about SOAAR, which is the Secular Ontario AA Roundup, and this is the second SOAAR. How are you all doing?

Carolyn B: We’re good.

Murray J: Very good.

Carolyn B: Thank you for having us.

John S: Oh, it’s nice to have you.

Murray J: Indeed, thanks, John.

John S: Yeah, I’m glad that we can talk about this. I’m actually going to be there this time around, so it’s nice to have a preview, and I hope this helps educate others about what’s going on and encourage people to attend. So, let’s get right into it. First of all, what is SOAAR? 

Carolyn B: I think Murray should take that because he knows the history of it and was really instrumental in putting together the first one that was held Toronto. He has been our guide and mentor during the planning for the 2019 conference. 

John S: Okay.

Carolyn B: So, take it away Murray.

John S: Yeah, what the heck is SOAAR?

Murray J: The Secular Ontario Alcoholics Anonymous Roundup. I can’t even remember who came up with that name. I think we kicked around a whole bunch of different names, but that was the one selected. So, back in 2016, the secular AA community in Ontario had grown to the point where it seemed like it was a good idea to have a regional conference, and so a bunch of people in the secular community in Toronto, I’m not quite in Toronto, I’m in the suburbs, we got together, formed a committee, kicked around a lot of ideas, came up with a venue and we can talk about that later, then we tried to come up with an agenda, what are we going to do, how are we going to do this, how we can get the word out to not just the local secular community, but the community, the secular world because it’s a growing world.

So, we had a communications guy who was trying to go up to different groups and on the Internet to spread the word, and it worked to the extent that we had over 100 people registered and paid. Then we tried to figure out what kind of a day was it going to be. Were we going to have it just like a 9:00 5:00? Somebody said, “Well why don’t we make it a full day, nine in the morning till at ten at night and then in the evening will have entertainment, we will have three meals,” etcetera. So, that what was decided.

In some ways, it was a traditional gathering of AA where we had speakers, and we had panels, and discussions, and then in the evening, like I said, entertainment. It was quite different. But we also ran into problems. One of the things I wanted to do was bring some of my experience from SOAAR 2017 to SOAAR 2019.  I wanted to prevent the new committee from repeating the mistakes of the committee we had in 2017.

Carolyn B: Can I just interrupt here?

John S: Sure.

Murray J: Certainly.

Carolyn B: Now, I didn’t stay for the whole day, I came back and forth on the train. Murray is talking about instrumental things that you have to worry about, but the conference was fabulous. It really was fabulous. It brought together people from all around and we talked about it. So, I’m sorry, Murray, I just don’t want you to get too negative about this because it’s fabulous. The thing for me was, we talked about secular AA, and my goodness, it was a fabulous day. So, I mean of course, I didn’t see all that other stuff going on in the background.

John S: Sure, the planning.

Carolyn B: Yeah, the worry about the money or the venue, and so Murray has helped us with all of this, but it was a fabulous day, just an incredible day of like-minded people coming together. And it was amazing. So, I’m sorry, Murray for interrupting.

Murray J: That was the best…

Carolyn B: I just didn’t want to get too negative here.

Murray J: That was the best interruption possible because you’re absolutely right. I remember going outside at break times, and whatnot and I met people from Texas and California, and I met people from… I think we had somebody from overseas, I can’t remember who, but you’re right, all this diverse fellowship of people from all geographical backgrounds and lengths of sobriety, sexual orientations, I don’t care. What I loved was the diverse aspect of it. Carolyn you’re absolutely right. Thanks for reminding me of the positive. Sometimes when you’re in the trenches in the middle of stuff, you lose perspective.

John S: Yeah, but from that you learned, so you help the new committees start this conference, and you took some of the lessons you learned from the last conference to make this one go a little, hopefully, a bit smoother.

Carolyn B: Absolutely, absolutely.

Murray J: Yeah and Carolyn…

Carolyn B: He’s been amazing.

Murray J: Carolyn’s doing a great job of herding cats at the committee meeting, she’s doing a great job.


John S: So, this year it’s going to be in Hamilton.

Carolyn B: Yeah, yeah it is. And Murray was talking about the venue. We have a fabulous venue this year. So, I better say that it’s in Hamilton, September the 7th, and it is from 9:00 till 5:30 or five-ish. So, it’s not quite as long. And it’s at the First Unitarian Church, on 170 Dundurn Street, South. For people who are coming from out of town, it’s right off our major highway. The buses and trains take you there. But the church itself is accessible. We have huge rooms. There’s a beautiful garden at the back of the church. And free parking. And it only costs $20 for the whole day.

So, now, Murray’s helped us do all this, right? We found the venue, but he told us… He gave us all this advice. Plus, I just want to thank the committee from last year. I keep saying last year, it feels like last year in 2016… No, 2017, that they also had enough money left over to help us launch. Yeah, it was fabulous, fabulous.

John S: Yeah. So yeah, I’m actually going to be there. I’m going to fly in to Toronto, to the Toronto Airport and I’m going to get a Uber or a Lyft and it’s going to take me to Hamilton where I’m going to have an Airbnb, and I’m going to meet my friend Doris from Champaign Urbana, she’s going to be there.

Carolyn B: Is that right?

John S: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Carolyn B: Can I just tell you, there is a bus service from the airport to Hamilton, which is a lot cheaper than Uber.

John S: Alright, maybe I might do that.

Carolyn B: Yeah, so…

John S: How long do you think it takes?

Carolyn B: It would take the same as an Uber. I’ve got your email, so I’ll look it up and email you.

John S: Okay, I might just do that then, be better than spending money on an Uber. Yeah, I’m trying to make this a cheap trip, as much as I can.

Carolyn B: Yeah, and it’ll be great to see you in person.

John S: Oh yeah, it’s going to be nice to see you and everybody down there, up there.

Carolyn B: Yeah, yeah. Up.

John S: So, let’s talk about the conference itself, what you got planned. Do you want to go through the agenda?

Carolyn B: Murray, let’s share this a bit, shall we?

Murray J: Sure, sure.

Carolyn B: Okay. Do you want me to start?

Murray J: Oh, please do, because I don’t have the agenda in front of me, to be honest with you.

Carolyn B: Okay, so before I talk about the specifics of the agenda, one of the things we tried to… One of the things we are calling this conference is widening the gateway and what we hope to do is include other members of AA who may belong to the non-secular groups, so that we could begin to have a sharing and come together of minds about just working together. And the reason I’m a bit tentative about saying this, is, I announced this at a… Which I would call a non-secular meeting of AA, and they were a little critical of me saying that… Of dividing up the secular and non-secular AA. And I don’t need to do that, but there are times that there are divisions.

And so, we’ve called it Widening the Gateway and we’re trying to include as many people we can at least from this area that belong, what I would call to the more traditional AA. And I’ve been criticized for labeling it that way because some people in the more traditional AA feel that we’re all under one big tent, and so I understand their issues. So, widening the gateway. The major themes of the conference, besides widening the gateway, are recovery, spirituality. We have a panel on service, looking at service locally, provincially, or state-wise and then a member who served on the… I’m not sure exactly what the committee in New York is called, the trustees.

Carolyn B: Yeah, so looking at different aspects of service: Recovery, spirituality, service. And finally, but in no means the least, is taking care of ourselves, looking at different ways in our recovery about how we can take care of ourselves, in addition to what the program offers us.

John S: I’ve been giving that some thought here lately because I’ve been talking to old people that are more interested in diet, their diet, how they eat and so forth like that. And it is kind of interesting if you think about it, that we spend so much time in our recovery focusing on our emotional health, our mental well-being, but we don’t address anything about, “Are we getting enough sleep? Are we getting enough exercise? Are we eating right?” We never address those things, but those things have just as much an impact on our well-being emotionally as anything else.

Carolyn B: Absolutely. Yeah, we have a physician who’s very active in the recovery movement in AA, and actually runs a program here who’s written a book, and I don’t have the name of the book right in front of me, on taking care of your health, nutrition, other things besides the spiritual and an emotional thing. I think it’ll be an incredibly exciting day.

John S: Is that doctor, is it Sickler? Is that how you pronounce that? Do you know?

Carolyn B: Well, Dr. Sickler’s coming, but Dr. Vera Tarman.

John S: Vera Tarman. Okay. Now, I know her.

Carolyn B: Do you know her?

John S: Yeah.

Carolyn B: She’s fabulous.

John S: Yeah, she is. I followed her on Facebook, she has a Facebook group and I had her on a podcast here. Yeah, in fact, I look forward to seeing her because I’m doing the… I’m off sugar and flour, have been now for a couple of weeks. I hope that I will remain that way when I see her.

Carolyn B: Yeah. To be honest with you, I’m off sugar and flour.

John S: Are you really?

Carolyn B: So, we may have a group of us there.

Murray J: That makes three of us.

John S: You too. Oh my God.

Carolyn B: We’re into a physical recovery, too.

Murray J: Absolutely.

John S: Well, I really like Dr. Vera, and that podcast I did with her. Oh man, she’s just awesome. And she went through the whole science of sugar ingestion and how it works. And I completely understood, and I said “Yes, I get it, I get it. You’re right, it’s a horrible thing.” I didn’t change anything. It took all this time later, where I finally decided, you know what?

Carolyn B: Yeah. Now she did a book, and we’re going to be selling her book at the conference. So yeah, yeah. She’s remarkable.

John S: Yeah, yeah, she also… She spoke at ICSAA. And we got her… We got the recording of her talk on our site, AA Beyond Belief. Yeah, I like her a lot.

Carolyn B: She’s fabulous.

John S: Yeah, she is.

Carolyn B: Now, we have other people who are coming that have written their stories or their personal stories of recovery. That’s part of the recovery panel that we’re going to be talking about it, and they’re selling their books as well. So, we are absolutely so excited about yeah, I think it’s going to be fabulous.

John S: I am, too. Joe C, is he going to be the main speaker?

Carolyn B: No, he’s one of the speakers. Joe’s going to talk about secular AA. And of course, he’s written his book, but he’s just about setting up secular AA groups and yeah. Yeah.

John S: I want to mention… Do you know that in a couple of weeks after he speaks there, he’s going to come down to Kansas City and speak to us?

Carolyn B: Fabulous, fabulous.

John S: Yeah. I hope we…

Carolyn B: He’s an amaze…

Murray J: Joe kicks off the day, he’s the keynote speaker in the morning. Yeah.

John S: Yeah, he’s a good speaker. There’s no doubt about it.

Murray J: Yes, he is. Yes, he is.

John S: And then you’re having the personal introductions. Is this for everybody that’s attending the conference will do these introductions? How does that work?

Carolyn B: Well, everybody who would like to. In it’s more on a focus about what was important to them in recovery, in addition to being in AA and the 12 steps, but just to have us focus in on what’s important to different people. And like you said, some of us are beginning to realize that exercise and nutrition, all of that is…

John S: Sure. Took me 30 years but I kind of got it now.

Carolyn B: Yeah. The other is the… Taking time to… And I’m not sure exactly when it is on the program, but to look at meditation as well.

John S: That’s quite a big topic.

Carolyn B: Yeah, so looking at the kind of benefits of… Physical benefits in addition to as spiritual and emotional benefits of meditation. We hope we’re covering issues that are important for everybody.

John S: And there’s going to be one fantastic panel that Roger C is putting on, that I’m actually going to be on.

Carolyn B: Yes, now, tell us about that panel.

John S: I have no idea. It’s going to… I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to talk about the 12 Steps. I guess, a secular interpretation of the steps. And I got to tell you, I kind of feel like the pupil talking to the teacher, because everything I know about the steps and interpreting the steps secularly, I learned from everybody up there, and the Greater Toronto Area anyway.

Carolyn B: Yeah, but there’s been recent… There’s a new book out. Oh, my goodness, oh dear, dear, dear, dear, dear.

John S: Well, are you talking about Staying Sober Without God, that’s the newest one, and then the…

Carolyn B: Yeah, Yeah, yeah. And the 12 steps that he writes in that. We’ve got in our group in Hamilton here, we have… We have a choice for each meeting to read different secular 12-steps. So that book I think will be on sale as well. So yeah, so it’s exciting, it’s just exciting to hear different versions of how people interpret it.

John S: It is interesting, actually I find it interesting.

Carolyn B: Oh, it’s fabulous.

John S: That’s actually what I like about the steps is how my understanding of them has really evolved over time.

Carolyn B: Yes.

John S: And so, whatever, however, I understand them today will be different five years from now for sure. But yeah, I do look forward to that. I do look forward to that.

Carolyn B: Yeah, good. Well, it’s good you’re coming. And there are other people coming from the United States. I’m just not sure where. There are people coming from across Ontario, and…

John S: Well I know a friend of mine from Kansas City is coming up, Greg O. He is the chair, well no, he’s the host committee for the Washington DC ICSAA.

Carolyn B: Oh, great.

John S: Yeah, so he’s going to be… He’ll be there.

Murray J: Yeah. I saw that registration go through and I recognized the name. Yeah, there it is. Yeah, cool, that’s pretty good.

John S: He’s a good guy, he’s flying into Buffalo, then he’s driving into Hamilton. I was going to go with him, but I actually found it was easier just to fly straight into Toronto, and cheaper for me to do it that way.

Carolyn B: So, I’m just writing down what I have to tell you how to get from Toronto on the cheaper bus service.

John S: So, this one’s going to go from 9:00 to 5:00 then?

Carolyn B: Yeah.

Murray J: Yeah.

Carolyn B: At the end of the day, there are other people in Ontario who are interested in hosting the next, I call it a conference, I know but… And so, it may go a little past 5:00, just because we thought we’d all get together and talk about next steps, but yeah, the more formal agenda, yeah.

John S: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see where it goes next time around. I get to meet some people there too; Lena R is coming down from… Where does she…

Murray J: North Bay.

John S: Yeah.

Carolyn B: North Bay. She’s fabulous.

John S: Yeah, I did a podcast with her not too long ago, it was like four episodes ago or five episodes ago or whatever, yeah.

John S: Yeah, she is amazing.

Murray J: She is amazing, absolutely amazing. I met her at SOAAR 2017, unbelievable what a force in this world, wow.

Carolyn B: Yeah, yeah.

John S: Well it’s so funny that because of our connections online that I know a lot of people, I feel like I know a lot of people up there, and like…

Carolyn B: Well, it sounds like you do, it sounds like you know more than I do [laughter]

John S: Okay, so then afterward that’s going to be like a business meeting, I guess, where you figure out where the next place is going to be.

Carolyn B: Yeah, that’ll end the day. But anyone can attend, just to talk about their ideas about, well whoever has it, what do you think we should do? What’s the next step for us?

John S: So, what else should we cover about this thing that we haven’t covered?

Carolyn B: That is an excellent question, I’m just trying to think. So, I know I mentioned the venue in the beginning. So, I’ve been going, attending this venue for my weekly, oh no way, we meet twice a week, for the past two years. And so, in being involved in the conference, we asked for a tour and they were showing us what we needed to do.

But the thing I hadn’t seen is the garden behind the facility, and if you’re going to talk about recovery or just being at peace and in nature, the garden, it’s in the middle of the city, it’s just beautiful. So, I thought I’d add that because I think people will enjoy just sitting out there, they can take their lunch out there, they can meet out there, and the venue itself, we’ve got lots and lots of space. So, I just thought I’d toss that in again because I was really impressed with this beautiful garden.

John S: I think these Unitarian Universalist churches are really nice.

Carolyn B: Oh, they’re fantastic.

John S: The ones that I’ve seen and it’s nice that you’ve got the entire, I guess you got the entire building.

Carolyn B: We have the whole church, the whole parking lot everything.

John S: Isn’t that great that you could do that?

Carolyn B: Yeah, they’re amazing people there.

Murray J: Hey, they just paved the parking lot too. [laughter]

Carolyn B: Yeah, I know, that’s what they said. We’re paving the parking lot for you guys.

John S: So, do you go to the… Do you go to the Hamilton group?

Carolyn B: I do.

John S: You do, okay.

Carolyn B: I’m a member of the We Agnostics in Hamilton and we meet Mondays and Thursdays.

John S: Right in that building?

Carolyn B: Right in that building. We were initially just meeting on the Thursdays, but it became very popular and so now we have two meetings a week, which is great.

John S: I know Murray does it, Murray is from Mississauga. Mississauga, I can never pronounce that.

Murray J: Mississauga, yeah.

John S: Mississauga.

Carolyn B: Mississauga.

John S: Mississauga.

Carolyn B: But he comes…

Murray J: But I do, I do occasionally go to the meeting because well, I will have the SOAAR committee meeting right after the regular meeting, so I go for that, and I’ve got a sponsee who goes out and he participates, and I’ll be there next week with somebody who’s mobility challenged right now. He broke his foot. So, I’ll bring him over for the meeting, so.

Carolyn B: So, we can check it out. Make sure…

Murray J: Bingo.

Carolyn B: It’s perfect for everybody.

John S: Okay, so I guess people can still register right?

Carolyn B: Oh, yes, please, register. It’s not that, we can accommodate a lot of people in that church, but it’s the catering. So, if people are listening to this, please go online and register just so that we can make sure we have enough food for everybody. I mean, we’ll have enough food, even at the last minute, we’ll do it.

John S: I didn’t even ask about the food. What are you all doing? What are you doing for food?

Carolyn B: Oh, we’re just for 20 bucks a day, for the whole conference. So, we’re just keeping it very simple, a simple lunch, vegetarian stuff, and fruits…

John S: Hopefully a lot of sugar-free.

Carolyn B: Yeah, a lot of sugar-free, but sugar for the sugar addicts.

John S: Oh yeah, yeah [chuckle]

Carolyn B: And coffee of course.

John S: Yes.


Murray J: Barrels of it. Yeah.

Carolyn B: Yeah.


Carolyn B: The other thing I think if anyone has any questions about if they’re coming, and where to stay, they can contact us, and we will help find them someplace, or any questions about anything. The conference details are online, but you didn’t know there was a bus from the airport to Hamilton.

John S: Who would have known?


Carolyn B: And it’s reasonable.

John S: Yeah.

Carolyn B: Yeah.

John S: I’m going to tell Doris about that because she was going to take an Uber.

Carolyn B: No, it’s too expensive. It’s so much cheaper. But I’ll get it to you, and then you can get it to Doris. So, accommodation. Any questions? And the other thing is other things to do and see in the area.

John S: Yeah. You can draw some people from around the province, don’t you? From around…

Carolyn B: Yes.

John S: And of course, I know you get some people from the States, too. Yeah. And you had about 100 people last time.

Carolyn B: Yeah. Murray, you had about 100 people?

Murray J: Yeah. I think it was just over 100 people registered.

Carolyn B: Yeah.

Murray J: And I wanted to mention something else about the registration. Carolyn is absolutely right. If people are unable to pay currently, but they’re going to attend and pay at the door, of course, they can do that, but we just ask that…

Carolyn B: Oh that’s… Yeah.

Murray J: We just ask that they register because Carolyn’s got a point. We need to let the caterer know… Three to four or five days.

John S: How many people?

Murray J: How many people? We want to guess. We need a fairly good guess. So, can you pay at the door? Absolutely. Absolutely.

Carolyn B: Yeah. And I think the other thing is if there are some people who would like to attend and can’t afford the $20, we have a fund set aside for people who would like to come.

John S: That’s nice.

Carolyn B: Yeah. Well, it’s not a lot.

John S: Yeah.

Carolyn B: But some people can’t afford the $20.

John S: That’s right. Yeah.

Carolyn B: And so, we have some money put aside for people who would like to come but can’t afford it.

John S: Good. I know that last time you were able to record some of the sessions. And I’m sure that you’re going to be doing that again this time, too.

Carolyn B: Yeah. So, we’re going to tape it all. And Murray, you’re kind of more in-tune with all of that. But we are going to tape it all.

Murray J: Yeah, the church is providing its audiovisual. I’m not…

John S: Oh my God.

Murray J: The audio engineer who set up the entire sound system for the church.

John S: Oh my God.

Murray J: So, he’s going to be recording everything.

John S: That is fantastic.

Murray J: It should be of professional quality.

John S: Wow. That is fantastic because that would cost a tremendous amount of money. Otherwise, that’s wonderful.

Carolyn B: Yeah. Yeah.

Murray J: We’re paying extra for it, but it’s not outrageous.

John S: Okay. Well, that is fantastic. I’m really glad to hear that because I do love the audio. And then, of course, I’ll post it on AA Beyond Belief. If you go to AA Beyond Belief, you won’t believe all the audio we have up there. It’s so crazy. Anyway. Alright. Well, you think we’ve covered it? I think we might have.


Murray J: Well, one last thing…

John S: One last thing. Okay.

Murray J: If I could mention it. If you want to register, go to That’s S-O-A-A-R.C-A.


Carolyn B: And I must say it’s been wonderful to meet you over the video.

[background conversation]

John S: Well, that concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief. Thank you for listening. If you would like to support our site and podcast, there are a couple of ways you can help out. You can post a review on iTunes, hopefully, a favorable one. You can help us out financially with either a recurring or one-time contribution. You can do this by setting up a small recurring contribution at our Patreon page, which you can find at, or through PayPal at And you can always just visit our site, and click on the donate button. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back again real soon with another episode of AA Beyond Belief.

Read more about SOAAR at AA Agnostica