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Drop by most American churches on a mid-week night and one is most likely to find a “12 step” group in session.  The most common type is the original one, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where “recovering” alcoholics meet with persons still afflicted with the addiction for mutual support, encouragement and prayer.  In recent years many other groups have formed using the same 12 step process, focusing on differing problems such as drug addiction, sexual compulsions, food disturbances. etc. Several observers have commented on the fact that these 12 step programs, now ubiquitous throughout the Western World, are one of the great healing innovations of the 20th Century, perhaps rivaling the invention of anti-biotic.[FIND EXUBERANT SOURCE FOR THIS]

Few of those who participate or even lead these 12 step programs know that AA, the grandfather of them all, began as a Christian program, developed from a Christian home fellowship and discipling organization,  “The First Century Christian Fellowship.”  This fellowship was formed by a Lutheran minister, Frank Buchman, who developed a method for spiritual growth and personal holiness that stressed small group fellowship, confession of sins, witnessing, and listening prayer.  His organization had great impact  world-wide in the decades before and after W.W.II.[1]  The final development of the AA was forged by three men, one of whom was one of Frank Buchman’s closest aids,  Fr. Sam Shoemaker.

An Episcopal priest, Shoemaker  (1897-1963)was perhaps the most successful and influential priest of the 20th Century. Besides assisting the birth of AA,  Shoemaker’s legacy included other important accomplishments.  He headed one of the most effective evangelical ministries ever conducted in the Episcopal Church. He promoted a parish organization that was prophetic in its understanding of the empowerment of the laymen, and the necessity for small group fellowship and prayer. His influence in Pittsburgh (his last parish station) was enormous, particularly on the business community. Indeed, Shoemakers’ ministry in Pittsburgh was a major factor in preventing that city from suffering inner city decay that overtook other American cities of our time.[CITE FORTUNE ARTICLE]

Shoemaker’s wife, Helen Smith Shoemaker, served loyally along side him and founded a ministry for teaching prayer which became the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer.  In spite of all this, the Shoemaker name is little recognized among today’s generation.  His accomplishments and views are avoided in the seminaries, for many of his beliefs would today be termed “politically incorrect,” specifically his passionate evangelicalism and unfashionably “low church” inclinations, and his strong sense of patriotism and anti-communism. Rather than becoming a role model for the Episcopal clergy, his legacy has been marginalized and all but ignored.




Sam Shoemaker was born in the closing decade of the 19th Century (Dec. 27, 1897) into a wealthy family from Baltimore.[2]  His grandfather made a fortune in the railroad industry, and his father owned and managed a large dairy.  Sam spent his childhood years in the family dairy farm estate called “Burnside,” ten miles north of Baltimore.

Sam had a pleasant childhood at Burnside, but he certainly was not spoiled.  The household vibrated with an atmosphere of work and duty.  Sam helped raise chickens for the family, and as a boy of eleven bought  a wagon load of sheep and tended them between school work.   His school favorites were history and English.  One day his father caught the young boy on his business typewriter composing stories, and promptly presented him with a new Underwood – which he used for many years.

The Shoemakers were faithful “low-church” Episcopalians, that is the expression of Anglicanism that pays less attention to correct liturgy and ritual.  Sam’s uncle was an Episcopal priest, and his mother was active in parish life, eventually becoming the state director of Episcopal Woman’s Auxiliary, and the local chapter head of the guild of St. Cecelia.  At fourteen Sam was sent to the Episcopal St. George’s boarding school in Rhode Island, which was “high church” and very different from the Church in Maryland.  At St. George’s Sam again excelled in English literature and edited the school yearbook.


Evangelical Stirrings:


During his high school years he attended Christian summer camps where the speakers included some of the great missionaries and evangelists of the era.   Young Sam was particularly impressed by a speaker, Dr. John R. Mott, whose slogan, “The evangelization of the world in this generation!” electrified Victorian America.[3]

Sam went on to Princeton university, and during the early years of World War I (1914-1918). Sam took the position of Christian pacifism.  He wrote an editorial for the Daily Princetonian in March of 1916 against on-campus military drill.  (He later considered that position as part of his youthful immaturity.)   More significantly, he took active part in the Philadelphia Society, the Christian evangelical club at Princeton, and cooperated in several Christian outreaches.

At a YMCA camp in the Summer of 1916 Shoemaker answered an appeal to assist the “Y’s” ministry at an Army training camps in Texas where chaplains were much needed.  After serving there, another call came to assist in a chaplaincy program among British airmen. Sam risked the ocean crossing at the height of German submarine warfare to serve at a training camp near Kent, England.  At that camp a young aviator came to ask Shoemaker for prayer.  The airman had backslidden, but he now felt a need to pray.  Sam led him in prayer, and into a experience of recommitment .  It was Sam’s first evangelical success, and it came naturally: “I just forgot myself and prayed for us two sinners.”[4]


In 1917 America declared war on Germany, but Shoemaker drew a high draft number and could count on not being drafted for a year.  He chose to spend that year with the “Princeton-in- Peking” project.  In this program Princeton men took a year off from their studies to help Christian churches in the Peking area.  (This was a time, unlike today, when Princeton was really a Christian university, as it was founded to be.) Sam arrived on station in October of 1917.  He was given the task of teaching basic doctrine to inquirers. Sam prepared diligently for each class, but class attendance dwindled in three sessions from twenty persons, to twelve, and then to seven.  Shoemaker felt bewildered and disappointed.


Enter Frank Buchman:


Just then the Lutheran priest and itinerant evangelist, the Rev. Frank Buckman,[5] came to Peking with his entourage to train Christian workers in his effective technique of one-to-one evangelization.  Buckman based his “First Century Christian Fellowship,”  on the four standards which he believed was at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.  These were: absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love.[6]

Shoemaker had met Buckman while working for the Philadelphia Society, but it was in Peking that he confronted the four absolutes in his own life.  Naturally he found himself wanting, and a deepening sense of conviction was heightened with a private meeting with Buchman.  Shoemaker asked why he had so little success in proclaiming the Gospel to his Chinese students, Buchman replied “Might be sin.” and went on to relate how his own sin of resentment had blocked his spiritual effectiveness earlier.[7]  Shoemaker recoiled from the suggestion and retired from the interview, offended.  His previous mentors had congratulated him on his spiritual virtues.  The date was January 19, 1918, and as Shoemaker went to his room for “quiet time” with the Lord.


My sins rose up before me straight as tombstones.  If I took this plunge it meant cleaning up all along the line.  It meant confession.  It meant a break with all that had gone before…Without a scrap of emotion, but with what I can only call a great heave of my will, I knelt down to make my submission, to give myself, without reservation, to God…I was sensible only of calm, of a feeling that something needful and right had been done.”[8]


Immediately he sensed a need to witness to his Chinese inquirers, especially the ones who did not return to class.  His method was now one-to-one witnessing. As he sought them out and shared his own conviction and conversion experience he discovered that, even in fractured Chinese, he could effectively proclaim the Gospel and bring inquirers to a decision for Christ.[9]  Shoemaker continued studying with Buchman and his group while they stayed in Peking.

Shoemaker stayed in China until the summer of 1919 when he returned to Princeton, intending to enter its seminary.  Instead, he accepted a temporary assignment as the director of the “Philadelphia Society,” a Princeton Evangelical student group.[10] At Shoemaker’s invitation, Frank Buckman came to give support and teach his evangelization technique to Princeton students.   Buchman’s program brought the inquirer to a personal decision for Christ, then took the new convert into small group fellowship for sharing (including confession), witnessing and encouragement (the major elements of was to become AA).  A major element of Buchman’s teaching was to insist that the Christian must spend some time every day in “quite time” listening to the Lord for direction.  This was both part of a daily discipline, and a practice in prayer meetings where Buchmannites shared and discerned each other’s “direction.”   Unlike Shoemaker, Buchman had become completely disenchanted with Protestant churches.  He believed that with the influence of Liberalism they had abandoned their biblical commission and were doing busy work, not God’s work.[11]




Shoemaker matriculated at New York’s General Theological Seminary (1920) to get further exposure to the Anglo-Episcopal “high church” viewpoint.   He was ordained in June of 1921, after an unusually short interval of formal study. His sponsor,  the bishop of Maryland, encouraged this accelerated process.  Shoemaker, on the other hand, had doubts about his own worthiness. The morning of his ordination, Shoemaker shared his fears with God.  In answer,  “there came distinctly into my mind the verse, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit'”[12]


Shoemaker accepted a call to New York’s Grace Episcopal Church under the rectorship of Dr. Charles Slattery, who had a reputation for hard work and pastoral excellence.  There Shoemaker labored to keep up with Dr. Slattery’s furious pace, making over 100 pastoral visits per month, studying the emerging discipline of psychology, and fulfilling  normal liturgical duties.  That year he had a half day off.  After fulfilling his commitment at Grace, Shoemaker vacationed in England where he joined Frank Buchman for several months on the evangelist’s world tour.  Shoemaker was both assistant and disciple, learning further from Buchman’s insights into evangelism, but already suspicious of Buchman’s autocratic tendencies, as in insisting that his “guidance”  was superior to that of others.[13]


Calvary Church, New York:


At end of 1924, while still on tour with Buchman, Shoemaker was telegrammed a call to be rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown New York, at the edge of Gramacy Park.  He accepted.  The neighborhood was changing from residential to commercial and the congregation was mostly a remnant of elderly members.  He went to work immediately creating a dynamic evangelical congregation.   He began by giving the highest priority  to personal one-to-one evangelical sessions, as in the Buchman model.  The persons he reached often became members of Calvary.  Shoemaker prayerfully assembled an enthusiastic and professional staff that reflected his evangelical viewpoint.  The music ministry was upgraded and expanded.  Public concerts were given at Gramacy Park where Calvary’s laymen witnessed about their new found relationship with the Lord.  A Tuesday night prayer group was begun which was lay led, and centered on laymen witnessing the power of Christ in their lives.[14] All this was a daring innovation at the time. The numbers at attendance at Calvary increased steadily.

A wealthy parishioner offered advertising space on the trolley line.  Shoemaker fashioned the ad which described Calvary Church as offering “personal religion, straight preaching,” and added, “The staff of Calvary Church like to talk with people in search of vital religious experience.”  It was all true.  The numbers kept on increasing.


Early Ministry to Alcoholics:


An unused assets of Calvary was a chapel building on East 23rd Street that had been boarded up.  The neighborhood was populated with many of New York’s derelicts and alcoholics.  Sam visited the facility several times and noted in his diary:


It has always seems to me that a vital church should be reaching, not only the settled working people with homes and families, but those without any place in society, the homeless, friendless, fatherless derelicts who have lost everything.  While we work with people of sufficient privilege to find their way into the rectory and church, what is happening to men in the Gas house  district to the east of us?  I looked at the practically unused chapel at 246 East 23rd Street which we own.  There it is, waiting for a real function, for the right man to open it and minister to the hundreds of men who stand about idle or drunken or quarreling or bewildered, in that neighborhood?[15]


In 1926 Sam had the chapel renovated as a shelter. Clean beds were provided and hot meals served while gospel songs played on piano.  The Lord provided the right person to administer and minister in it, Harry Hadley. He read from the Bible as they drifted in for their meals, and after dinner he prayed one-to-one for many of the men.  They knew there is no judgment in his prayers, as he often recounted his own struggle against the alcoholic addiction.  Here too the principals of the Oxford group were followed, confession was encouraged, as was witnessing about God’s grace.  A person would stand after a hymn and say briefly, “I give thanks for three days without a drink” and sit down again.[16]

Hadley’s modified Buchmanism was proving tremendously successful.  On several occasions he led over a hundred ex-alcoholics to Calvary’s Sunday services. There, instead of the usual sermon, many of these recovered alcoholics proclaimed how Christ had rescued them from the gutter and restored their lives.   An observer recounted:


Men popped up one after the other from all points of the front rows of pews and rattled out their life-stories.  The pathetic tales they told of broken homes mended, of drunkenness cured, of victory over vice, of the new reign of love…would have melted the heart of the most complacent modern Pharisee.

At the end the invitation was given to others to come forward to the altar and dedicate their lives to the service of Christ…there were responses.  In an Episcopalian church![17]


The congregation was electrified.  The numbers continued to grow.

Shoemaker’s tenure went forward so well that in 1928 Calvary House, a new seven story rectory and parish center, was built.  It had apartments for the staff at Calvary on the top floors and office space for the management of church matters in the lower levels.  Room was set aside to serve as headquarters for Buchman’s group, recently renamed “The Oxford Group.”[18]  There were small apartments for visiting clergymen who stayed for weeks or months to observe Calvary’s revolutionary evangelistic ministries.  Yearly clergy conferences were held to teach Shoemaker’s (and Buchman’s) methods of revitalizing parish life through evangelistic outreach.  By the 1930s Shoemaker had led Calvary to become the most influential Episcopal church in America.

One of the volunteer staff members at Calvary house was a beautiful young woman named Helen Smith.  Shoemaker noticed her at several Oxford Group meeting and invited her to join his volunteer staff at Calvary House.  After a brief courtship they were married, April  1930.  Helen moved to the upstairs apartment and began her life as wife to Sam, mother to his children (two daughters) and equally important prayer leader and intercessor.


Shoemaker and the Oxford Group:


By 1930 Shoemaker had become Frank Buchman’s number one man in America, overseeing the North American operations when Buchman was on tour.  In 1932 the vestry of Calvary gave Shoemaker a six months sabbatical to go on tour of cities in the US and Canada for the Oxford Group. It was the beginning of the Great Depression, and many felt a sense of deep despair.  Shoemaker brought along successful businessmen from the Oxford Group who witnessed how the Lord was guiding them through the difficult times.[19]  By March of 1933, Shoemaker was back at Calvary, pastoring his parish and as giving himself to personal evangelization.  During this period he never saw fewer than three people a day for one-to-one evangelistic talks.

The 1930’s were the glory days for the Oxford Group. It was perhaps the most important “para-church” organization of the decade.  It chief evanngelistic tool was the “house party.”   A core group of experienced members would find an attractive and comfortable place, often the country home of one of its members, and invite others already committed to the Movement, but also others who are merely curious.  A day long session would follow centered on witnessing of how unmanageable life was “B.C.,” before conversion, and what a difference total dedication to the Lord meant.  The leaders and new members shared their experiences with hearing God’s direction, as well as their failures, sins and shortcomings (James 5: 15-16).  The inquirers were challenged, encouraged and led into making a full commitment to Christ.[20]

Public controversy over the Oxford movement swirled about two areas: the idea of “guidance” from God, and the practice of mutual confession.  The former seemed ludicrous and invitation to delusion by secular observers. In age when Freudianism was just beginning its impact on the public, confession, especially of sexual sins seemed an indecency and dangerous innovation even to many Christians.

A Christian psychiatrist, writing in the highly respected journal The Churchman, saw the Oxford movement and its cell groups as menacing.  He believed the groups were “Emotional orgies dealing with sex, which might become almost a verbal form of sex perversion by “sharing” them with others..” and he added: “A sustained indulgence in such emotionalism as may produce ultimately emotional exhaustion and still further warp the personality of the individual.”[21]

With historical hindsight we can dismiss this critique.  Oxford movement was ultimately ruined in by its politics (see below), not by its sharing and confession policy.  Shoemaker and Buchman, both coming from churches with liturgical traditions, understood the value of confessing sins one to another (James 5: 13-14), for it is humbling.  The Oxford Group created a  fellowship of sinners who understood that the Christian life was a walk in humility.


Shoemaker and the Founding of AA:


The AA was founded in 1935 by meeting on Mother’s Day between Dr. Robert H. Smith and Bill Wilson (known in the AA literature as “Dr. Bob” and “Bill W”).  Both men had been associated with the Oxford Group, and had learned much from its pattern of Christian spirituality.  Bill Wilson had been brought to the Oxford Group at Calvary Mission where he made a decision for Christ, and then went to Towns hospital to detoxify.  In the hospital room he had a further spiritual experience which ended any further desire for drink.[22] After his release from Towns Wilson joined the Oxford Group at Calvary House and learned their principals of spiritual growth.

Dr. Smith encountered the Oxford group in Akron, Ohio.  The group there had formed under the sponsorship of Harvey Firestone, the tire magnate.  His alcoholic son had providentially met Sam Shoemaker on a train trip, and been converted and miraculously detoxified through Sam’s prayers on the train.  Dr. Smith’s recovery was not quite as quick.   Anne Smith, his wife, dragged the doctor to his first Oxford Group meeting, but he returned on his own to learn their message and read their recommended readings.  This included the books written by Sam Shoemaker – nine had been published by 1935.

It was in 1935 that Bill Wilson went to Akron and met with Dr. Smith to exchange views on alcoholism. Dr. Smith explained the medical theory that alcoholism was a “disease.” Wilson stressed that the key to recover was witnessing and serving others, and the two went on a mini-crusade to “oxidizing” their alcoholic acquaintances using the Oxford Group methods of evangelization, confession and confrontation.  Between the two of them they had successfully ministered to some forty persons by 1938.  At this point the group decided it was time to write about their success. Bill Wilson began writing he classic “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous.  He wrote it in New York under the influence and encouragement of Shoemaker and Oxford Group staff at Calvary House.

Bill’s first draft was a specifically Christian work, with “God” and “Jesus” plainly named as the source of healing and transforming power.  Bill decided that Jews and other non-Christians should not be excluded from the wonderful opportunity of recovering from alcoholism and substituted more ambiguous phrases such as “God as you understand Him” and “higher power.”  Shoemaker suggested some of these changes partly because it was his experience that persons could make a commitment to Christ in sages, first by believing in God, then entering Christian fellowship, and then making a more complete commitment to Christ at a later stage.  Shoemaker believed he had biblical warrant for this progressive conversion from John 17:3.[23]

When the “Big Book” came out it was but a matter of time for a formal; separation between the Oxford Group and the followers of Wilson and Dr. Smith.  There were fundamentally different groups united by common origins and assumptions.  Wilson and Smith wanted to produce sober persons regardless of their religious faith.  The Oxford Group aimed a  Christian disciples, as was Shoemaker’s vocation.  Wilson especially was suspicious of the clergy, calling them “sky pilots” and found no use for the established Church (in this he had some similarities with Buchman).  Thus the temporary alliance and syncretism between the Oxford Group, Shoemaker and the alcoholics group began to unravel.   It was not a “nasty divorce,” rather a polite parting of the ways as each part of the triangle followed their separate goals.[24]   Alcoholics Anonymous began its steady drift towards secularization and quickly lost its concern for worship.  It became a fellowship with an indefinite God.[25]  As the body of AA membership drifted into secularization, its recovery rate declined.  The original Oxford Fellowship of alcoholics had a long-term recovery rate of about 50%, but within two decades this had declined to half that percentage.[26]


Shoemaker’s Separation from the Oxford Group:


The formative years of Alcoholics Anonymous were also years  of enormous growth for the Oxford Group.  A rally held in Hollywood, California in 1939 drew 30,000 persons.  In 1938 Buchman renamed his group the “Moral Re-Armament” movement (MRA).  He believed that the West was in a deep spiritual crisis and that communism and Stalinism were in ascendancy precisely because of the Church’s spiritual weakness.  He called Christians to an active anti-Communist stand. He also berated the denominational churches in his public addresses, believing they were incapable of bringing true revival.

These developments troubled Shoemaker.  Although politically conservative, and certainly anti-Communist, he was troubled by the politicization of the group. Buchman’s authoritarian control of the group was also disturbing.  Most distressing of all, Buchman pressed Shoemaker to leave the Episcopal Church and dedicate his exclusive efforts to the MRA.  Shoemaker recoiled at this, and came to understand he had to choose the Episcopal Church or MRA.  In 1941 he made that choice.  He asked Buchman and the MRA staff to leave the Calvary House and find offices elsewhere.  He would be a priest of the Episcopal Church, and work through the Church for spiritual and moral revival.

The split cost much pain and confusion for the Calvary parishioners, the staff of MRA were so entwined in the life of the parish.  But Shoemaker’s decision was ultimately vindicated.  The MRA became increasingly an anti-communist organization and decreasingly a Christian one.  Conversion no longer became its focus, rather mobilizing all religions  around its four ethical absolute (absolute purity, unselfishness, honesty and love) as a tool against the communist menace.  In truth, the Buchman and the MRA made important spiritual and political contributions in its remaining years of the organizations existence.  The MRA had many followers in Europe and, for example, MRA groups served as the core of the Norwegian anti-Nazi resistance during the World War II years.  Later, Buchman and a core of German associates were largely responsible for preventing the Communist Party from winning West Germany’s first post-War election.[27]  Because of the anti, anti-Communist prejudices of most contemporary American and European intellectuals, these substantive achievements of the MRA have been largely ignored.[28]

However from purely spiritual perspective, MRA declined rapidly, a case study of how a group that disdains the organized church looses its scriptural balance and original anointing.  For example, John Wesley, another great reformer who also depended much on God’s guidance, loved the Church and sought its best thorough interior reformation. Buchman only had disdain for  all denominations.  Again, unlike Methodism, the MRA developed without a doctrinal base and little enthusiasm for bible study.   With those lacks and with its emphasis on personal “guidance,” its decline into a quasi-Christian cult was practically foreordained.[29]


Shoemaker’s Continued Evangelization: Triumphs and Frustrations:


Shoemaker continued to exercise his vocation as evangelist regardless of other projects and circumstances in his life (2 Tim 4:2).  He loved one-to-one witnessing, but he was a master also of the “media.”  His radio programs, begun locally in 1945, was broadened when he was invited to contribute to the popular program of the 1950s and 1960s, “Protestant Hour.”  He also did pioneer Television work to get his basic evangelical message to the public.

Evangelization gave him his greatest sense of joy and accomplishment, but it also led to several periods of deep frustration. From the beginnings of his ministry he was aware of the problem of non-believing Episcopalian; that is, persons who attended and were committed to the Episcopal Church, but who had made no real commitment to Jesus.  For many of these, confirmation was a disguise for the adult conversion experience, not an expression of it.[30] Like the famous revivalist (and Anglican priest) of the Great Awakening, George Whitfield, Shoemaker understood that the real crises of the Church was that many of the clergy were either unconverted or insufficiently dedicated to the Lord.[31]  They could not lead further that were they were spiritually.  This was demonstrated in the New York revival of 1950.

For several years Shoemaker and other evangelical Episcopalians had been talking about an large, revival-like event for the New York area.  Finally, December 1950 was chosen as the target date for a week long revival at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in mid-town Manhattan.   Cannon Bryan Green was chosen as main evangelist and the Shoemakers designated as prayer leaders.  Sam directed a weekly series of lay and clergy prayer meetings for the success of the revival.  Helen mobilized her intercessory groups to pray to the same end.

The Monday in December came: a rainy, cold, sleety day, and the organizers feared few would come.  When the doors opened for the first session, St. John’s began to fill, and fill, and fill…  Extra chairs had to be brought in.  About 5,000 came the first night, and the crowds never let up.  The last night 10,000 packed the cathedral for a special young people’ session.  Well over two thousand came forward for the alter call.  About 42,000 persons had attended the eight night series.

Tragically, the Episcopal church did not know what to do with these new converts.  At the time few Episcopal clergyman other than Shoemaker understood the importance of lay ministry.   Most drifted away to other churches or out of church altogether.  Shoemaker reflected on the failure:


Some of us hoped and prayed deeply…that this might have been the beginning of spiritual awakening that could have swept the Episcopal Church….Why didn’t it?  Because the effort at follow-up consisted mainly in a clergy “committee” which, after a while, just stopped meeting at all…Our leadership was too timid, too easily deflected back into the uninspired channels, too ready to think that the only purpose of a mission was to increase the number of Confirmation candidates.[32]


An similar triumphant and tragic revival took place in Shoemaker’s alma mater, Princeton University, the very next year.  The revival started slowly among several prayer groups meeting on campus, including the home group that met at Helen Shoemaker’s parents home.  Sam was called in to help and encourage the flow of revival.  The university’s Presbyterian Education Board took interest. It made funding available for several revival leaders to labor full time at spreading the fire.  The whole student body was affected, and conversions and rededications to the Lord were taking place on a large scale.  Naturally there was opposition.  The revival was disruptive to the normal academic routine, and some in the faculty protested that it was causing “contention” in the student body.  Indeed it was, radical commitments to Christ among nominal Christians is likely to produce contention and hurt feelings (Matt. 10:34-35).  The Presbyterian Board withdrew it support, and unfortunately Shoemaker had too many other commitments to return full time to Princeton.   The revival subsided into normal church work.[33]


Call to Pittsburgh:


By 1951 Shoemaker felt that his work in New York was completed and that the Lord would move him elsewhere.  The Shoemakers began considering calls to other parts of the country.  Helen had a sense that the call from Calvary Church, Pittsburgh, was right.  She urged Sam to respond.  After a visit to Pittsburgh by both of them, and much prayer, Sam agreed to accept the new post.

Leaving the Calvary New York parish family was difficult, but the Shoemaker’s move to Calvary, Pittsburgh, proved to usher in the greatest years of their ministry.  Everything that had worked in New York, such as the “Faith at Work” ministry of lay evangelism, and Helen’s schools of prayer was renewed and revived in the Pittsburgh parish.  Further, Sam’s excellent social connections with the Business community led to yet another successful ministry which came to be known as the “Pittsburgh Experiment.”  This was a prayer group of businessmen and labor leaders who met to exchange views and prayers of reconciliation, rather than follow the traditional pattern of confrontations between labor and management.  The teachings given by Sam stressed the old Puritan ideals that all work, wither at the highest levels of management or the simplest tasks of manual labor, should be done “unto the Lord.”[34]

The Calvary Pittsburgh years were also the best for Helen’s ministry.  The girls were now grown and Helen could dedicate more effort into her ministry of prayer, a ministry that blossomed into the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer.

The Shoemakers retired to their beloved Burnside in 1961.  Sam had labored for the Lord in full time ministry for over 50 years and was quite exhausted. He had only a little time of earthly rest before the Lord called him to his eternal home. Sam went to the Lord on the eve of All Saint’s Day, 1963.  He had been ill for months, and hospitalized for three weeks.  Helen spent many hours at his bedside and wrote of a phenomenon that occurred three days before his death:


Suddenly, in spite of the fact that he was only semiconscious, all the lines and marks of desperate illness were erased and for a few hours his face was young and beautiful and radiant.[35]


Like Dorothy Kerin and other great saints of Christian history, the Lord seemed to have gifted Shoemaker with his special rejuvenating presence at the very end of his earthly time.  Helen went on to live for another twenty years of active ministry (see side bar).\



[1] Book on Buchman.

[2]The data on Sam Shoemaker’s life is taken from the excellent biography written by his wife, Helen Smith Shoemaker, I Stand by the Door:  The Life of Sam Shoemaker (Waco: Word Books, 1967).

[3]Helen Shoemaker, I Stand by the Door,  22

[4]SD 23 – in spite of this success, Shoemaker later evaluated his ministry in Kent as a failure.  Sam Shoemaker,  How to Become a Christian, 74

[5]A major biographical work on Buchman see: TAIL, for a critical view see: Tom Driberg, The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament:  A Study of Frank Buchman and his movement.   New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1965.

[6]Based on the earlier work of Dr. Robert E. Speer (GET DATA – EMORY LIB)

[7]Lean, On The Tail, 56

[8]Cited in Dick B. NLA, 41


[10]He was executive director of Phiadephian Society for the academic year 1919-1920, and (after seminary) 1922-1923.

[11]Tail, 85.

[12]Stand Door35

[13]Tail, 114-115.

[14]This lay witnessing became a seperate ministry calle “Faith at Work” and established its own national magazine.

[15]Helen Shoemaker, I Stand by the Door, 188.

[16]See an account of  Calvary Mission as it helped alcoholics a full decade before the formation of AA in Amelia Reynolds’ New Lives For Old  (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1929), chapter 5, “The Carpenter’s Shop.”

[17]A.J. Russell, For Sinners Only, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932), 179-180.

[18]Due to a successful tour of Oxford University, where a reporter refered to the evangelical team as “the Oxford Group.”  Buchman, always alert to publicity opportunities for his movement, liked the idea and made sure it stuck.  The university was not happy with the association.

[19]The Oxford Group meetings were often held at fashionable hotels, and in may ways anticipated the ministry of the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship International Founded by Demos Sharakian in the 1960s.

[20]Erdman Haris, “The Buchman Movement:  An Attempt at an Impartial Appraisal,” Religion in Life 2 (Winter 1933), 17-18.

[21]G. H. Stevenson, M.D., “A Psychiatrist Looks at the Oxford Group,”  The Churchman, Jan. 21, 1933, 11.

[22]The nature and source of this experience remains controversial, as it was only described as a healing encounter with “light.”  As we shall note Wilson never accepted the role of the Church in his understanding of spiritualty.

[23]Dick, B[urns]. , New Light on Alcoholism: The A.A Legacy from Sam Shoemaker,

Corte Madera, CA: Good Book Publisheing Co., 1994, p.45.

[24]Woolverton, “Evangelical Protestantism…”

[25]Wilson later admitted that AA was sorely deficient in true prayer and meditation. Woolverton, 61

[26]Dick B[urns]. , New Light on Alcoholism: The A.A Legacy from Sam Shoemaker,

Corte Madera, CA: Good Book Publisheing Co., 1994, passim.

[27]Gosta Ekman, Experiment With God:  Frank Buchman Reconsidered, trans by John Morrison, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972, Appendix III.

[28]Ibid., 12 Interestingly Shoemaker’s own reputation would rapidly fade his death, for much the same reason.

[29]John F. Wooverton, “Evangelical Protestantism and Alcoholism 1933-1962: Episcopalian Samuel Shoemaker, the Oxford Group and Alcoholics Anonymous,”  Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, 52 (March 1983), 61-62

[30]Samuel m. Shoemaker, How to Become a Christian.  Waco: Word Books, 1953. 151.

[31]Samuel M. Shoemaker, Twice-born Ministers, Fleming H. Revell, 1926, and his The Conversion of the Church, Flemming H. Revell, 1932.

[32]Samuel M. Shoemaker,  By the Power of God, (New York: harper & roe, 1954), 119-121.

[33]Helen Smith Shoemaker, I stand By the Door, 161-164.

[34]For a detailed description of the Pittsburgh Experiment see: Samuel M. Shoemaker,  The Experiment of Faith, (New York: Harper & row, 1957).

[35]Helen Shoemaker, I Stand By the Door, 213.

William DeArteaga

William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations.

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