The Serenity Prayer
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
~ Reinhold Niebuhr
Originally part of a sermon in 1943 and later used by Alcoholics Anonymous, quoted by June Bingham Courage to Change
...despite years of research by numerous individuals, the exact origin of the prayer is shrouded in overlays of history, even mystery. Moreover, every time a researcher appears to uncover the definitive source, another one crops up to refute the former's claim, at the same time that it raises new, intriguing facts. What is undisputed is the claim of authorship by the theologian Dr. Rheinhold Niebuhr, who recounted to interviewers on several occasions that he had written the prayer as a "tag line" to a sermon he had delivered on Practical Christianity. Yet even Dr. Niebuhr added at least a touch of doubt to his claim, when he told one interviewer, "Of course, it may have been spooking around for years, even centuries, but I don't think so. I honestly do believe that I wrote it myself."
Many citings give this a 1934 date of origin:
The 1934 prayer written by Dr Reinhold Niebuhr for a congregational church service in Massachusetts -- "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other"
Gott gebe mir die Gelassenheit, Dinge hinzunehmen, die ich nicht ändern kann, den Mut, Dinge zu ändern, die ich ändern kann, und die Weisheit, das eine vom anderen zu unterscheiden.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Letter of Ursula Niebuhr - without date:
Concerning the "Serenity Prayer" of Reinhold Niebuhr
My husband wrote that prayer in early 1940's during the war. He wrote it and used it for service when he was preaching in the Congregational Church of Heath, a little hill village in Western Massachusetts, where for many years we used to spend the summer.
After the service, a good friend and neighbor, the late Howard Chandler Robbins, who formerly had been Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York and also Professor of Pastoral Theology at General Theological Seminary, asked him for a copy of the prayer. My husband reached into his pocket and handed it over to Dr. Robbins. Dr. Robbins asked my husband if he might have it printed in a monthly bulletin which was issued by the Commission on Social Justice of the then Federal Council of Churches of which he, Dr. Robbins, was then Chairman. Of course, my husband assented.
After this, the prayer had quite a history. The U.S.O. or some such organization asked for the use of it, and copies were printed, I believe, by the million for the armed forces. Various personages, admirals, commanders and others used it and indeed often authorship was ascribed to them.
At times, other organizations have asked for the use of it. I remember an Episcopalian Sisterhood in the Middle West; I think Michigan, printed it very nicely on little cards. Also, the Alcoholics Anonymous have used it widely with the permission of my husband. When they use it, apparently, in their sessions or in their literature they do not always give the author's name. Every so often, however, in their periodicals they would give the story of the prayer and of its authorship.
My husband often would use it in his own services, indeed sometimes I have come across part of the prayer in one of his own longer prayers, or worship services.
Often the prayer is not quite as he wrote it. The form he preferred was as follows:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, courage
to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other
There is also a little problem about the date. My husband and I were never quite sure whether it was 1941 or 1942. By 1943, it was in circulation, and so we used that as the date of its "Publication". I have been told that Bartlett's Quotations have it attributed to my husband and give a date of 1934. My husband may have used it in his prayers by that time, but it certainly was not then in circulation. This has been corrected in later editions.
My husband used to have several letters a week about this prayer, and in these later years, I also have had many inquiries. The prayer obviously has been very much appreciated, also much used, even though sometimes the form has been rather varied.
Ursula M. Niebuhr
Stockbridge, MA 01262
Letter of Reinhold Niebuhr 1965.04.28 to a certain Mrs. Winters:
April 28, 1965
Mrs. Austin P. Winters
121 Ashland Road
Summit, New Jersey
Dear Mrs. Winters:
For twenty years I have had letters about that "serenity prayer" of mine, but I must say that either I or someone else ought to give you a prize for the diligence in which you have conducted your research.
About the prayer itself, I can give you a very simple history. I wrote the prayer many years ago, I think before the last war. It was part of a prayer that I used when taking the service in a little country church in western Massachusetts, where we went for the summer. One of our friends and neighbors, Howard C. Robbins who used to be Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine here in New York, asked if he could use it in a collection he was getting out for a Commission on Social Responsibility for the Federal (now National) Council of Churches. It was issued in a little pocket paperback with other prayers, and after the start of the war, the USO printed it on a little card. Since then, it has been much used and quoted and sometimes slightly altered in expression. The Alcoholics Anonymous have used it for years, and it turns up all over the place. But the confusion about this prayer in your letter seems to be more confounded after your experience in tracking it down. I have had correspondence which asked me whether I or Admiral Hart or Admiral Nimitz were the authors. This was an understandable error, for according to Navy regulations, the Admiral conducts religious services on the ship and used my prayer. But the idea that General MacArthur used it is absolutely new, and incidentally, rather absurd.
Another rumor is that this prayer stems from St. Francis of Assisi, you mention in your letter. This was first communicated to me by a friend, a Bishop in the Episcopal Church. I asked him for the source of the prayer, and he said that he had not been able to find the source, but that it was the kind of simple prayer that Francis would have written. I find this all very mysterious because both the Federal Council and Alcoholics Anonymous always attributed the prayer to me. Perhaps the mystery is due to the fact that I refused, for obvious reasons, to copyright it.
Give my regards to your son-in-law.
http://www.wlb-stuttgart.de/referate/th ... geb00.html