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Born in Baltimore in 1893, Sam Shoemaker was a highly influential priest of the Episcopal Church and is remembered for his empowerment of the ministry of the laity.
While attending Princeton University, Shoemaker came under the influence of several major evangelical thinkers, among them Robert Speer and John Mott. After college he spent several years in China and came under the influence of Frank Buchman, founder of The Oxford Group, a group initially oriented toward the personal evangelization of the wealthy and influential. Although he would eventually break from Buchman, aspects of the Oxford Group’s approach would influence Shoemaker for the rest of his life.
Training for the priesthood at The General Seminary, Shoemaker became an Episcopal priest in 1921. After a brief curacy and further involvement with student ministry at Princeton, Shoemaker was called in 1925 to become the Rector of Calvary Church, New York City, a post he held for sixteen years. During his tenure, Calvary’s ministry grew exponentially, largely through Shoemaker’s ability to hold in creative tension the power of personal evangelism and giving authentic witness to one’s faith while remaining faithful to the liturgical and sacramental traditions of the church.
Two significant movements—Faith at Work and Alcoholics Anonymous—have their roots in Shoemaker’s work at Calvary Church, New York City. Faith at Work, founded in 1926, grew out of Shoemaker’s passion for personal witness in the workplace. In the 1940’s, the movement became increasingly ecumenical and many of the leaders of spiritual renewal in mainstream American evangelicalism have connections to Shoemaker’s Faith at Work movement.
Also during Shoemaker’s tenure at Calvary, New York, Alcoholics Anonymous was founded. Although Shoemaker did not create A.A., his work provided the foundation, based upon principles he learned earlier from the Oxford Group, for the need to be recognized and the movement to flourish. Much of the teaching upon which A.A. is built bears the unmistakable influence of Shoemaker who is generally regarded as the spiritual mentor of the movement.
Later in life, Shoemaker served as Rector of Calvary Church, Pittsburgh. He died in 1963.
i Holy God, we offer thanks for the vision of Samuel Shoemaker, priest and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous; and we pray that we may follow his example to help others find salvation through knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
ii Holy God, we thank you for the vision of Samuel Shoemaker, priest and co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous; and we pray that we may follow his example to help others find salvation through knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 5:6–8
Preface of God the Holy Spirit
Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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