Frank Buchman and the Oxford Group

Frank Buchman and the Oxford Group By bob k for AA Agnostics

The founder of the Oxford movement – a Christian evangelical movement and the birthplace of AA – Frank Nathaniel Daniel Buchman was born in the small town (pop. 1,200) of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, on June 4th, 1878, fourteen months earlier than AA’s future co-founder, Bob Smith. Pennsburg’s population was almost exclusively German, morally conservative, “where the only permissible vice was overeating”.  (Frank Buchman – A Life, Garth Lean, p. 3)

Buchman’s mother was a devout Lutheran, with grand ambitions for her son. His father was entrepreneurial, operating first a General Store, and later a railroad inn with a restaurant and bar. Pennsburg had no high school which prompted the family to move to nearby Allentown, which was larger (pop. 18,000) and rapidly growing.

In Allentown, Frank attended high school and his father became a wholesale liquor distributor. The teenager was no more than an average student. Nonetheless, he moved on to Muhlenberg College and Mount Airy Seminary, and was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1902.  Accurately seen as ambitious by his fellow students, Buchman had aspirations of being called to an important city church. When instead he was offered an unprestigious posting in the Pennsylvania suburb of Overbrook, a new parish lacking even a building, he accepted, possibly to evidence his humility.  With diligent effort, he arranged rental of an old storefront with living quarters for himself above.

“Within three years he had built up the vigor and life of the church, and had established a hospice for young men. Differences (over finances) arose between him and the official board of the hospice, however, and he resigned his position.” (Roots Of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Pittman, p. 114)

Exhausted and depressed, Buchman embarked on an extensive holiday abroad. Seething with resentment over his unjust treatment at the hands of bureaucrats, Buchman flitted about Europe for several month’s at his parents’ expense. The elder Buchmans were frustrated by their son’s seeming contentment with this leisurely lifestyle, but relented in furnishing him additional funds to go to the 1908 Keswick Convention.

The Birth of AA’s Steps 4 to 9

The Keswick Convention was an annual gathering of evangelical Christians in Cumbria, England. In a small, half-empty chapel, he was deeply moved by the preaching of Jessie Penn-Lewis.

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