International Conference of Secular AA: An Update from Carol M.

In today’s episode, I’ll be speaking with Carol M., the Host City Chair for the International Conference of Secular AA. Carol will update us about the conference to take place in Toronto, Ontario from August 24th through August 26th at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel.

Podcast Transcript

00:26 John S: In today’s episode, I’ll be speaking with Carol M., the Host City Chair for the International Conference of Secular AA. Carol will update us about the conference to take place in Toronto, Ontario from August 24th through August 26th at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel. Hey, Carol, how are you doing?

00:47 Carol M: I’m great, John. How are you?

00:50 John: Fantastic. Thanks for joining us again to give us an update about the International Conference of Secular AA to take place August 24th through August 26th.

00:58 Carol: That’s right, 76 days from today. But yeah, I think it’s 76 days, about that anyway. Not a lot of days.

01:06 John: Yeah, it’s hard to believe. Well, I know you have some things that you want to talk about, so why don’t you go right at it.

01:16 Carol: Sure. Well, the first thing is the program. As I’ve mentioned I hope last time, but certainly for people who are following the various platforms that we have out there, the theme of the conference is “Inclusion and Diversity.” I’m happy to say that the schedule of the actual workshops and speakers, etcetera, will be up very, very shortly, if not already by the time this podcast is posted. So we’re really, really close, and the schedule will give people a better idea of the kinds of things we’re including.

We’re very proud to say that we’ve got people from all over, and we think people would be very pleased with the range and diversity of the kinds of workshops that we’re presenting. We’re also very happy to say that we’ve got the Friday night program, which is being organized by a couple of members of the Program Committee and it’s going to be held on Friday night from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm. It will be in the form of a coffee shop or talkathon. The theme is, “How you came to Secular AA in your city or country, your experience, strength, and hope?” There’ll be a setup in the big ballroom of the hotel that people can sit around and I’m hoping to have some geographical guide so people can say, “Wow, I’m from this place in… I don’t know, Minnesota, and I like to find somebody else.” because you never know, this might be a great place for people to get to know other people from their area, let alone other countries.

02:49 Carol: I’ve been told that there’s a spike in the number of Secular AA meetings that get started after every conference, and this is may be a great meeting ground for people. It’s really an intense networking situation. We’re going to have two workshops on how to start a Secular AA meeting, one on Saturday, one on Sunday. The  reason for that is, a lot of people say, “Yeah, I’m really interested, but I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know the technicalities. What do I have to do? What do I need?” So, we’ll have some expertise of people who have done it in various areas to give some guidance. So that’s going to be a great thing.

Friday night is going to have light refreshments, coffee, tea, and snacks, and it will be a good setup for the whole weekend. The Saturday and Sunday program starts at 9 o’clock Saturday morning, runs through till 6:00 with a couple of speakers and mostly workshops and panels. Sunday, we’re starting around 8:30 in the morning. There will be breakfast and the business meeting. I know a lot of people groan at that, but there is business to be done. The next board of directors has to be elected, our terms are coming due in… I’m not sure exactly when but anyway, sometime this year.

04:03 Carol: Also, the location for the next conference needs to be decided on. There’s a bid from Washington DC at this point, but we’re still looking for other people to put bids in. It’s a great thing for your area to have the international conference in your city, so I encourage people to get their act together, you got a little under three months to put in the bid. There’s a place on the website,, to put in the bid.

So, Sunday morning is the business meeting to elect the new Board, decide on the next conference, and pass the bylaws. There’s going to be a workshop on the bylaws. They’ll be available by sometime in July, I believe so people who are interested can have a chance to get into them in depth and ask questions, so we’ll have a final product, hopefully by the Sunday morning business meeting to pass. That’s the general outline.

05:02 John: Okay.

05:03 Carol: As I said, the program will be up on this website, if it’s not already. There’s always going to be some last minute switches around things, and there’s a few more spots for workshops. So, if anybody still has a burning desire, as they say, let me know at The other thing I wanted to mention is that our registrations are pretty close to 150 at this point. We’re looking to have a lot more than that, but I know a lot of people make their decisions quite close to the day, right?

05:38 John: Yes.

05:39 Carol: It would help us out if people would register early so we can make decisions on food and such arrangements. It’s easier if  you registered early. A couple of things to know because we’ve had a few questions about this. In the period of up to two weeks before the conference, which is August 10th, cancellations will be accepted. Obviously people might run into a problem, a personal or family issue, or whatever.

06:05 John: Sure.

06:06 Carol: There would be a total refund minus a $10 processing fee up to two weeks before the conference. So keep that in mind. After that point, we are not be able to refund anything. However, your registration could be transferred to someone else. If something unforeseen happens, your registration can go to someone else who’s in need. That’s a great point of information for people to know. 

The second thing is that the price is going to go up. It’s currently $125 Canadian for the three days. It’s going to go up to $150 after July 24th. So again, get your registrations in before July 24 if you can. 

The last thing I wanted to mention, John, is that we need volunteers. I know John, you and Joe C. are working on the recording of the entire conference. I’m not a technical person so you might want to jump in here, but we need people, I believe to sit in every room and press a button, is that what it is?

07:06 John: Yeah. I was going to ask you, how many rooms again are going simultaneously?

07:11 Carol: Six.

07:12 John: Six. Wow! Okay. Okay. Well, we can do it. It’s actually pretty easy. The people at the Widening the Gateway Conference, they recorded their conference with excellent quality just using cellphones.

07:26 Carol: Yeah. Oh!

07:27 John: And it depends on the size of the room and everything like that, but I’ve got some good digital recorders, and I know Joe has some too. I think we can get enough to cover all six rooms to go simultaneously.

07:37 Carol: Oh, that’s great.

07:38 John: Yeah. That’s awesome. Fantastic. I’m very encouraged about it, especially after hearing the Widening the Gateway Conference. The quality of that audio was absolutely amazing. John H from Washington DC, did a panel discussion that we put on AA Beyond Belief last week. All he did was use his iPhone, and that’s all he used.

08:00 Carol: Wow!

08:01 John: I couldn’t believe how good the quality was. It was amazing. So yeah.


08:06 Carol: So, we’re not back in the old days of big double reel recording with devices or anything crazy like that.

08:11 John: No! It’s amazing.

08:12 Carol: Yeah.

08:13 John: It’s amazing.

08:14 Carol: I wanted to mention that because we are going to need people to sit in the rooms and nobody wants to sit in a bunch of rooms, they want to go to the other workshops and panels or whatever.

08:24 John: Sure.

08:25 Carol: So, I’m going to give you the address. We’re setting up a link on the website for volunteering. But at the moment if someone’s interested, send again me an email to We have a Volunteer Coordinator, but I haven’t got an email address for him yet, so I will be forwarding that. I really encourage people to get involved in this, it’s a great thing to do for Secular AA. Also, I believe, John, you’re going to be trying to do a live podcast as well?

08:58 John: Yeah.

09:00 Carol: From the conference.

09:00 John: Yeah.

09:01 Carol: Is that still in the works?

09:02 John: Yeah. I’ve never done it before. Now at the last conference, Joe, with the Since Right Now Podcast, they actually did a live stream from one of their workshops, which was really, really nice.

09:13 Carol: Wow!

09:15 John: So, we could probably figure out how to do that. I’m bringing all of my podcasting equipment. I know that we’re going to have a table for AA Beyond Belief, so I’m going to have my stuff there because I’m thinking there might be some people at the conference who I might just want to interview for a podcast since there are going to be a lot of people around. I might want to just go up and talk to people and see what their experiences with the conference is like, and that kind of thing for history’s sake. I want to be able to preserve that. I think that we should be able to incorporate some sort of a live stream or something for people who would be interested in checking in through Facebook or YouTube. So, that’s kind of fun.

10:00 Carol: Yeah. Oh, yeah, it’d be fabulous. Maybe one of the speakers or one of the big panels?

10:06 John: Yeah.

10:06 Carol: Yeah, that would be wonderful.

10:06 John: So, you’ve got the speakers too. You’ve got Deirdre?

10:09 Carol: Yes. We’ve got on Saturday our lunchtime speaker is Dr. Vera Tarman. She runs an addiction treatment center in Toronto.

10:24 John: That’s right. I think Roger told me about her.

10:28 Carol: Yes, and Deirdre S. from New York is speaking Saturday afternoon. She as people are aware, ran the meeting list for forever, I guess until it was incorporated into Secular AA. Then on Sunday we have another doctor, Dr. Ray Baker from British Columbia, who I believe spoke at the Tacoma Regional Conference.

10:50 John: He did.

10:51 Carol: He was very well received, and we’re pretty excited to have him come. He’s going to be speaking on Sunday as well as giving a workshop on Saturday.

10:58 John: Oh, that’s great.

11:00 Carol: So those people would be something that people really should be looking forward to.

11:03 John: Well, I know Deirdre and I know Dr. Baker, and they’re both fantastic. Deirdre spoke in Austin and did an amazing job. In fact, we’re going to post her talk on AA Beyond Belief, and we will include a transcript.

11:16 Carol: Oh, that’s great.

11:17 John: She spoke about the history of special purpose groups in AA, and how we fit in with that history. It was really, really very interesting and very well delivered. We also posted Dr. Baker’s talk from Tacoma, and I did a podcast with him that we’re going to post the week after this. He is amazing. If you want to talk to an expert in addiction, Dr. Baker would be it. He helped put together the Life In Recovery Survey for Canada. He designed it, he analyzed it, he knows his stuff. He’s a very nice guy too. What’s interesting about him is that he knows addiction from a professional angle as a doctor, but also as an addict himself.

12:05 Carol: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. I’m looking forward to meeting him. I’ve heard great stuff about what he’s going to add to the conference. The other thing I wanted to mention, which is very interesting, is that we’re having Jon Witherspoon who is the editor of the AA Grapevine.

12:19 John: That’s right.

12:21 Carol: He’s going to attend the conference. I’m not sure of the timing yet as some details are currently being worked out, but he is going to do two things for us. One is to help you record your story, which there’ll be all sorts of things set up so that people can sign up, and also how to write your story. Those things can then be, I assume, published in the Grapevine.

12:45 John: Yeah.

12:46 Carol: We’re going to set up a system where people can make appointments, because I don’t know if there’s going to be a crash of people who want to do this or not, but that’s going to be set up.

12:52 John: That is really an amazing opportunity to have the Senior Editor of the Grapevine there to give a workshop on writing stories for the Grapevine. That’s something that more of us should be doing anyway, because the Grapevine can only publish stories that they receive. The more stories they get from our community, the more likely you’re going to see those stories published in the Grapevine. I look forward to meeting him.

13:15 Carol: That’s right.

13:17 John: I was talking to Sam about the book that Grapevine is publishing for agnostics and atheists, is Jon bringing those books? I know they’re going to be available at the conference.

13:28 Carol: They are going to be available. Quite frankly, John, I’ve lost track who is actually bringing them. It’s possible that the Toronto Intergroup is bringing them.

13:37 John: That’s right. I think it is. Can you imagine that? The Toronto Intergroup is bringing them.

13:41 Carol: Yeah, I know. We all know the history of the Toronto Intergroup. There’s going to be a workshop on that, by the way, yet various people thought they had different explanations with their real goal.

13:52 John: And they’re bringing the Grapevine book for atheists and agnostics.

13:55 Carol: I know. Yeah, Joe C. reached out to them. I guess, at the Toronto, Ontario Regional Conference in March and said, “You know, we could make a table available to sell this book.” And through various phone conversations, it’s finally come together. So, that’s going to be available.

14:15 John: I’m so glad.

14:16 Carol: It’s going to be wonderful. Yeah.

14:17 John: I’m so glad. Well, that’s great.

14:18 Carol: Yeah, I think that they’ll record your story and tell your story. It’s going to be unique opportunity for us. So I’m really looking forward to that.

14:25 John: Yeah, it’s definitely something to take advantage of. Nice of him to do that.

14:28 Carol: Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to mention that there’s a lot of people coming early, which is wonderful for us. They are coming in on Thursday. The Conference doesn’t start till 7 o’clock on Friday night, but we’re organizing activities for the day on Friday. There’s a committee working on that, and there’ll be more information as we get closer to it. There’s possibly going to be a website where you can sign up for a boat tour of the harbor or you can go to Niagara Falls possibly. Those details are coming shortly. I hate keep having to say that, but a lot of things are still in the works.

15:05 John: Yeah. No, I understand.

15:05 Carol: It’s a great city, and I don’t know whether you’ve been here, John, but if you haven’t been to Toronto in August it’s going to be wonderful. I’m really looking forward to welcoming people.

15:15 John: I’m looking forward to it. I have never been there, and I’m looking forward to it. We’re driving actually from Kansas City to Toronto.

15:21 Carol: Oh, fabulous.

15:22 John: Is there going to be a hospitality suite?

15:24 Carol: Yes, there’s going to be a big hospitality suite in the name of ICSAA so people can come and hang out there. The facilities are set up, so there’s a ballroom on one side and the living rooms on the other. It’s  a big central sort of foyer with lots of seating.

I know there’s a lot of people, or maybe some people, who come to meet other people. The content of the conference is secondary for them. They come here to meet the people who they know online, to see their old friends and make new friends, so we’re wanting to make it very hospitable, if you like, for people to really, really do that. That’s the reason for the Friday night is really to network like crazy.

16:07 John: I thought that was an excellent idea. I was reading on the website about how Friday night’s going to be a talkathon set up. so that it gives you an opportunity to interact and meet people and get to know people and exchange ideas and experiences and so forth. I think that’s really, really smart. I’m one of those people who goes for the conversations that happen in between the workshops and the panels. I enjoy those.

16:29 Carol: That’s right.

16:30 John: Yeah. I’ve gotten more out of that. I’ve made some great friends from past conferences. Yeah, it’s a great experience.

16:37 Carol: Yeah, good. Well, I’ve gone through my list, John. If you have any other questions for me?

16:42 John: I think we pretty much got it covered. I know the main thing is getting people to register early, that’s really important. Having 150 is good, but we need a lot more. They had 136 not long ago, and they wanted to double that number by the end of June. We still have a little ways to go.

17:03 Carol: Yes, we do. We have the whole month. Yeah, we really like to get those numbers up. So again, is where to register. For people who are on Facebook, check the Secular AA Coffee Shop. There’s always updates there that are posted by various people. Your website, of course, John, and there’s the AA Beyond Belief Facebook page as well. So there’s a lot of places to check for updates. Yeah, we’re getting excited.

17:33 John: Yeah, I am. Well, thank you, Carol. I appreciate it. This is some good information and we’ll be getting it out to everybody. Again, be sure folks to register as soon as you can for the conference.

17:43 Carol: Thank you very much, John.

17:44 John: Thank you, Carol. It was good.

17:45 Carol: See you in August.

17:46 John: Yeah. Alright.

17:48 Carol: See you in August. Bye-bye.


17:56 John: That concludes another episode of AA Beyond Belief the Podcast. Thanks for listening everybody. Shortly after recording this podcast, the host committee of ICSAA has published the official schedule on the website. Just go to and click on the link for conference schedule. That’s


International Conference of Secular AA

Conference Program Schedule

Carol’s Email Address

AA Agnostica Post About Growth in Secular AA

John H. Panel at Widening Our Gateway Conference 

Since Right Now Podcast

AA Beyond Belief YouTube Channel

AA Beyond Belief Facebook Page

Deirdre’s Talk in Austin

Dr. Baker’s talk from Tacoma

Podcast About Toronto Intergroup Lawsuit

Visit Toronto