Archives: The Connection of the Serenity Prayer to Detroit, Michigan

…its origin is traced…

Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr

At long last the mystery of the Serenity Prayer has been solved!

We have learned who wrote it, when it was written and how it came to the attention of the early members of AA. We have learned, too, how it was originally written, a bit of information which should lay to rest all arguments as to which is the correct quotation.

The timeless little prayer has been credited to almost every theologian, philosopher and saint known to man. The most popular opinion on its ownership favors St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis of Assisi

Our version was written by Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, of the Union Theological Seminary, New York City, in about 1932 as the ending book of prayers.

Dr. Niebuhr says, “Of Course, it may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don’t think so, I honestly do believe I wrote it myself.”

The AA Grapevine

It came to the attention of an early member of AA in 1939. He read it in an obituary appearing in the New York Times. He liked it so much he brought it in to the little office on Versey St. for Bill W. to read. When Bill and the staff read the little prayer, they felt that it particularly suited the needs of AA. Cards were printed and passed around. Thus the simple little prayer became an integral part of the AA movement.

Today it is in the pockets of thousands of AAs; it is framed and placed on the wall of AA meeting rooms throughout the world; it appears monthly on the back cover of our magazine, The AA Grapevine and every now and then someone tells us that we have quoted it incorrectly. We have.

Union Theological Seminary

As it appears in The AA Grapevine, it reads:

  • God grant me the serenity
  • To accept things I cannot change,
  • Courage to change things I can,
  • And wisdom to know the difference.

Many tell us that it should read:

  • God grant me the serenity
  • To accept the things I cannot change;
  • The courage to change the things I can;
  • And the wisdom to know the difference.

The way it was originally written by Dr. Niebuhr is as follows:

  • God grant me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed;
  • Give me the courage to change things which must be changed;
  • And the wisdom to distinguish one from others.

Dr. Niebuhr doesn’t seem to mind that his prayer is incorrectly quoted…a comma…a preposition…even several verbs…the meaning and message remain intact.

“In fact,” says the good doctor, “In some respects, I believe your way is better.”

The AA Grapevine.


Bethel Evangelical Church

What this great article doesn’t state is his early life:

In 1915, Reinhold became an ordained pastor. The German Evangelical Mission Board sent him to serve at Bethel Evangelical Church, 2270 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, Michigan. The congregation numbered 65 on his arrival and grew to nearly 700 under his leadership. He served as a parish minister in Detroit, Michigan, an industrial city for 13 years.

Thus the connection of the Serenity Prayer to Detroit, Michigan.


  • References: The AA Grapevine; Burton Historical Collection.
  • © 2013 by Bill T, Archivist, General Service of Southeastern Michigan, Area 33
  • For further 
  • Updated; 2020-10-04