Finding guidance in AA literature on how to hold a Group Conscience is difficult since groups are entirely free to run themselves as they wish (Tradition Four). However, since this question comes up so often, it’s hoped that the following group conscience suggestions might prove guiding.
A Group Conscience is usually a meeting where group members discuss and decide on matters affecting the group (group business) and discuss and form opinions on matters affecting AA as a whole (such as conference questions).
So what is an informed ‘Group Conscience’?
The group conscience is the collective conscience of the group membership and thus represents substantial unanimity on an issue before definitive action is taken. This is achieved by the group members through the sharing of full information, individual points of view, and the practice of A.A. principles. To be fully informed requires a willingness to listen to minority opinions with an open mind.
On sensitive issues, the group works slowly—discouraging formal motions until a clear sense of its collective view emerges. Placing principles before personalities, the membership is wary of dominant opinions. Its voice is heard when a well-informed group arrives at a decision. The result rests on more than a “yes” or “no” count—precisely because it is the spiritual expression of the group conscience. The term “informed group conscience” implies that pertinent information has been studied and all views have been heard before the group votes.
Almost every group problem can be solved through the process of an informed group conscience,
A.A. principles, and our Twelve Traditions. Some groups find that their G.S.R. or D.C.M. can be helpful. For all involved, a good sense of humor, cooling-off periods, patience, courtesy, willingness to listen and to wait—plus a sense of fairness and trust in a “Power greater than ourselves”—have been found far more effective than legalistic arguments or personal accusations
From the pamphlet ‘The AA Group’.
In order to encourage thoughtful participation some groups issue an agenda to group members a week or more before the Group Conscience meeting. This gives members time to prepare themselves and to consider the matters to be discussed. Equally, simple minutes of these meetings helps to keep a record of group decisions and inform members who were unable to attend.
It is generally found that setting aside time before or after the usual meeting(s) is ideal rather than cutting short a regular meeting or holding an ad-hoc Group Conscience.
Some groups only allow group members (people who call that group their home group) to vote on group matters in order to gain a truly group conscience.
Tradition Two reminds us that:
For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
And to respect tradition two some groups will begin and/or end Group Conscience meetings with prayer and moments of silence to aid members in seeking God’s will.
Well run and timely Group Conscience meetings encourage group member attendance. So having a schedule (3 monthly for example) and announcing dates in advance can be helpful. Holding the meeting to a specified time and rolling on any unfinished business to the next meeting can help to keep them efficient also.
Another interesting question is who ought to run a Group Conscience. Groups (as in most things) are entirely at liberty to decide this for themselves but it is worth noting that our literature doesn’t specifically encourage the GSR to do this task. Consequently some groups ask the secretary to take the meeting.
These suggestions can be summarised in the following bullet points:
- Be careful not to rush to the vote.
- Have a schedule of meetings.
- Issue an agenda before the meeting.
- Issue brief minutes to keep a record and to keep absent members informed.