The Spirit of Rotation in AA

The spirit of rotation refers to the idea that it’s important for people not to hold onto service positions for too long.

Experience shows that this limits the number of people who are able and willing to be of service in groups, and that this can even eventually create such a limited view that newcomers are discouraged first from service and ultimately from the group as a whole.

The Principle of Rotation

Traditionally, rotation ensures that group tasks, like nearly everything else in A.A., are passed around for all to share. Many groups have alternates to each trusted servant who can step into the service positions if needed. To step out of an A.A. office you love can be hard. If you have been doing a good job, if you honestly don’t see anyone else around willing, qualified, or with the time to do it, and if your friends agree, it’s especially tough. But it can be a real step forward in growth—a step into the humility that is, for some people, the spiritual essence of anonymity.

Among other things, anonymity in the Fellowship means that we forgo personal prestige for any A.A. work we do to help alcoholics. And, in the spirit of Tradition Twelve, it ever reminds us “to place principles before personalities.”

Many outgoing service position holders find it rewarding to take time to share their experience with the incoming person. Rotation helps to bring us spiritual rewards far more enduring than any fame. With no A.A. “status” at stake, we needn’t compete for titles or praise—we have complete freedom to serve as we are needed.

From the AA Grapevine:

One of the most valuable resources of any organization is the experience of those who have gone before. The sharing of what they’ve done right, and the sharing of the mistakes they’ve made, become a solid foundation for continued healthy growth.

Because of the wise and spiritual principle of rotation, we in Alcoholics Anonymous are blessed with a constantly vital and always growing pool of people whose primary aim is to serve the AA Fellowship. They are willing to share both success and failure in order to preserve what we have been given.

How then can we continue to benefit from the experience of those who have rotated? My understanding of rotation has led me from one service job to another. I don’t believe rotation means “I quit.” I don’t think rotation means “I’ve done my time, now it’s someone else’s turn.” I do believe rotation means that “I have made my contribution in this capacity. Where can I be of use next?” I feel a deep need to pass the message on. I have an obligation to the new person to pass on the message of recovery, but my obligation goes beyond today.

It extends to those who will come through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous fifty years from now, when I am dead and gone. Part of our message must be how to preserve this precious gift so that those yet to come will have the same chance at recovery and life we had. From the beginning of AA, the concept of sponsorship has been one of our most important means of passing on experience. My early sponsors lovingly showed me simple and direct steps I could take that would produce very specific results. They demonstrated these results in their lives in such a way that I wanted what they had. I followed their suggestions and got the same results. I began to recover and walk the spiritual path as they did. How nice it was to have someone who had been over the path before to show me the rough spots and to explain the new things that were happening to me. When the time came, my sponsors shared with me about serving the Fellowship. I was to do for the new people what had been done for me. I was to make my time and my experience available. One of the things I like best about spiritual people is that they are seldom rude. They don’t often demand their own way, nor do they seem to be driven by a need to be right all the time. They do seem to be around and available, but usually wait to be asked. As I’ve gone from service assignment to service assignment, I’ve found that those who preceded me were always willing to share with me, but they also allowed me to make my own mistakes. They told me what they had done, what had worked and what had not.

Often when I would go to my service sponsors, they listened, then said, “Let’s see what the manual says” or “How does that idea fit the Concepts?” A “loving invitation” always seems to work with me. So perhaps one of the best ways for us to continue to benefit from our rotated servants would be to request that they put on a workshop at an assembly or be on a panel with others who share their experience. I once heard that the condition of “bleeding deaconism” was caused by service people who got out of service. I don’t need a title, but I do need to be involved. I love the action of service. I love service people. I would be less if I couldn’t participate. If this is so for me, then perhaps it is so for others. I need to ask them to continue to be part of my service life so that their precious learning is not lost. When I’m allowed to help plan a function, I try always to give out those “loving invitations.” I need, and have, service sponsors. I call on the phone or stop by and visit.

I don’t always agree with my sponsors, but I always listen. But there will be nothing to listen to if I don’t ask. As is usually the case, the answer to most of my questions is in the question itself. “How can we continue to benefit from the experience of those who have rotated?” The best way I can think of to benefit from their experience is to be certain that they are a part of mine.

Don P., Aurora, Colorado  June 1996

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